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We hope you like acronyms, because Google is making some big changes — and that means nonprofits will need to understand some important technical details in order to effectively reach, track, and mobilize supporters. We’ll do our best to make this as clear as possible, but some technical background is going to be helpful here. A strong cup of coffee might not hurt either.
Note: The purpose of this document is to both outline new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) functionality and develop a set of M+R recommendations. This is from the perspective of a web developer, and this overview leans towards the implementation of GA and Google Tag Manager (GTM) and not on building reports within the GA4 interface once data is flowing.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into what’s changing, and what you need to know.
Analytics are an essential tool for digital marketers and there’s a big shift underway as Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is being implemented. Universal Analytics (a.k.a. GA3) is being phased out effective July 1, 2023, and there are a number of significant changes to the new product. GA4 has been built to provide cross-platform data, so user activity can be tracked across web and app access. Changes also address increased data security and privacy requirements like GDPR in the EU and CCPA in California (we warned you about the acronyms). GA4 also incorporates Artificial Intelligence into its data analysis, to enable an enhanced level of forecasting.
- GA4 standardizes a lot of Universal Analytics (UA) features into something that is more consistent feature to feature;
- Events are a lot different in the new GA4. Currently, UA separates things like pageviews and eCommerce purchases from custom events, which have hierarchical attributes in the form of event_category, event_action, and event_label. GA4 is extremely event-based in that pageviews and purchases are now just different types of events and there are also a large number of events built-in.
- The Default Events start collecting data as soon as GA4 is successfully installed on your site(s). A number of default events are app-only and web-only. A full list of default events can be found here.
- We recommend that you enable Enhanced Measurement Events, which track additional events plus additional parameters on some standard, default events. More information about enabling enhanced measurements and the data collected can be found here.
- Recommended Events are useful and should be implemented, but they require additional context to be used. Examples of recommended events are purchase, with additional information about the form (monthly vs. one-time, etc.); and sign_up, which allows you to provide a signup method. Recommended events can be found here.
- Custom Events are for tracking information or interactions that cannot be easily mapped to any of the categories above, but these can be tricky to set up and configure correctly.
If your UA implementation uses eCommerce to track donations, you will likely create the recommended purchase event in GA4. However, there are a number of additional recommended events that you can start collecting more information on:
- If your donation forms have form blocks, you can track add_payment_info and add_shipping_info (although “shipping” might seem a little off);
- join_group, share, and generate_lead are all recommended events that could be useful depending on the design and features on your website.
Note: Many Recommended Events aren’t quite in line with typical donation behavior because GA4 eCommerce is oriented towards online sales where a given user has a cart that they can add items to and remove items from, and eventually begin a checkout process.
M+R’s Actual Guidance
First, it is important to always follow best practices for handling Personally Identifiable Information and preventing that information from entering the data layer.
- Enable Enhanced Measurement for eCommerce.
- If you use Google Ads, link your Google Ads account to GA4 to better integrate advertising and acquisition data into your GA4. More information can be found here.
- For eCommerce:
- Include currency regardless of whether or not you offer multiple currencies.
- Assuming that you send a purchase event when a user donates, and you are passing with it a variable called items: We recommend treating the item as the donation form, requiring variables item_id and item_name which map to the form id and form name.
- item_variant is a good option for recording the recurring frequency of a gift (i.e. onetime, monthly, annual) but note that item_variant is not currently available in the report-building tools of GA4. An official support thread listed this as becoming available in the “second half of 2022” but is not yet available. M+R recommends saving gift frequency in both item_brand and item_variant for the time being so frequency can still be viewed. Hopefully, when item_variant becomes available, the data will be retroactive and item_brand will free up as an option.
- Include a quantity of 1.
- If your organization contains more than one internal structure (i.e. C3 vs C4), use the affiliation parameter to differentiate between them.
We also want to mention that Google is aggressively adding more features and improving existing ones. Our notes even changed between drafts of this post. We expect more things to change and it’ll be an adventure for sure. If you need more insight into how GA4 can help you analyze your digital activity, that’s what we’re here for!
Our author is a Principal Developer on M+R’s Technology team. His areas of expertise include backend and front-end web development, numerous CRMs and digital platforms, and yes, Google Tag Manager and analytics.