November 6, 2023 Content Chat Recap: What Content Marketers Need to Know About Google Analytics 4

A Content Chat header image that says today’s topic is what content marketers need to know about Google Analytics 4 with guest Kyle Akerman.

Google Analytics (GA) offers marketers a treasure trove of audience behavior insights that help them improve their content and campaign performance. Of course, that’s if they set up GA and understand how to navigate its interface.

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Kyle Akerman, web analyst, measurement marketer, and Google Analytics consultant, to explain how content marketers can use Google Analytics to access the vital KPIs that help them improve their strategy.

Watch the full conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below

Q1: Why is Google Analytics valuable for content marketers (at a high level)?

Google Analytics helps marketers understand which content is most popular, how people find that content, and what they do after viewing the content.

“[Google Analytics] is actually valuable for all marketers. Specific to content marketers, you can see:

  • Which content you’re creating is the most popular, including what’s getting consumed.
  • How people are finding that content. You can see [if] people are finding it through organic search, are they coming from LinkedIn or your monthly newsletter, or even ads.
  • What people do after they view the content. Are those people more likely to sign up for your newsletter, fill out a contact us form, sign up for a demo, whatever the conversion might be?” – Kyle Akerman

Q2: What insights can content marketers access through Google Analytics?

Google Analytics offers several valuable insights for marketers, such as traffic sources and engagement metrics.

“Google added in this new GA4 some engagement metrics to help marketers make it a little bit easier to decide how people are engaging with their content. It’s easier to see the path that people take on your website—whether that starts with a piece of content, or maybe that’s in the middle of the journey.” – Kyle Akerman

Marketers can create audience segments in Google Analytics to compare segments and understand their behavioral differences.

“You could create a segment of people, blog viewers, and compare them versus non-blog viewers and see if there’s any behavioral difference. Do some of those people become leads?” – Kyle Akerman

GA empowers teams to understand if their investments are paying off.

“It’s especially good to look at where you’re spending money. Are you promoting your content through paid ads? If you want to know what’s working or if you’re just spending a lot of money, it would be nice to know if you’re getting organic traffic from that stuff, too.” – Kyle Akerman

GA4 provides at-a-glance stats (including video interactions) and reports that are easier to run than working with your data in an Excel spreadsheet.

“An example for one of my clients is they have a website that the primary measure of success is people downloading PDFs. And they made the decision that because it’s really valuable content, they don’t want it to hide behind a form gate. They’re a nonprofit, and they had grant dollars attached to creating this really important content. They were struggling with figuring out how many people are clicking on these links and how many people actually downloaded the PDF after looking at them. But now with GA4, you can see that built-in, without having to do anything sneaky or tricky—no hacks involved!” – Erika Heald

“In GA4, they added a bunch of common measurements, and they call it enhanced measurement. These are things that out-of-the-box are there and will be measured. There’s a file download event that will measure any download, whether it’s an mp3, spreadsheet file, PDF, whatever it is.” – Kyle Akerman

“It now measures video interactions, only if it’s YouTube, because it’s a Google product. If your video is running through Vimeo or some other non-YouTube player, to measure those interactions you do have to create custom tags.” – Kyle Akerman

Q3: Can you share a few common GA4 use cases for content marketing?

You can answer practically any question about your data using Google Analytics (it might just take some help to set everything up!). Start by documenting your list of questions to then explore how to answer those using GA.

“What are the questions that you want to be able to answer with your data? I try to tell everybody that all of these tools help us answer our marketing questions or our business questions. Start with a list of your top three to five questions, document that, and it’ll be much easier to go into these tools and find the information that will answer those questions.” – Kyle Akerman

Erika reinforces that GA is great for better understanding how individual pieces of content fit in the buyer’s journey moving beyond ineffective first- and last-touch attribution.

“One of the big things I hear a lot is clients are trying to tie direct ROI to content. Frequently, because they’re so set on first-touch and last-touch because it’s hard to do the stuff in-between, it can end up looking like ‘we don’t really need to do any content marketing, because people are not clicking on and booking a demo from your blog.’ Which, as we know, is pretty short sighted, because [booking a demo] is very far down the awareness and engagement flow. To have that expectation that a blog post focused on awareness would immediately lead to that is a little sus.”

Q4: How is Google Analytics 4 different than previous versions?

GA4 collects data differently than Universal Analytics (UA), the previous GA version, so you can’t compare GA4 data to UA data.

“There’s a lot different, the biggest thing is the way they collect data. So it’s a different data model. It’s an event-based data model. Without getting too technical, just know that they’re collecting the data differently. So that means you can’t compare your GA4 data with your UA data.” – Kyle Akerman

GA4 also features a new interface.

“If you go into the tool, you’ll see that the admin looks completely different, the interface, so you have to kind of learn how to navigate around the tool. When you’re actually looking at reports, the report interfaces are different, they’ve renamed things. Before, we had categories like acquisition, behavior, and conversions, and now they’re called acquisition, engagement, and monetization.” – Kyle Akerman

Everything you track in GA4 is an event, which you need to set up.

“When it comes to creating conversions, it’s kind of easier, but also harder. What I mean by that is everything in this data model is an event. So it’s different than UA. Every single thing you track will now be an event. We have some default ones we’ve talked about—file download, video play—but if you wanted to measure newsletter sign up, or sign up for a demo, you have to create that. So you need to know how to create that, whether it’s through Tag Manager or through the GA4 interface. But once you’ve got the event created, turning it into a conversion is easy, you just toggle a button on. So they made the very last step super easy” – Kyle Akerman

Kyle recommends getting at least one conversion set up, because they don’t start measuring until you do!

“I always tell people, even with UA, try to get at least one conversion set up, because conversions don’t start measuring until the moment you set them up. And they’re only time forward, so you can’t go back in time to see conversions. If you know what your conversions are, get those set up as events as soon as you can.” – Kyle Akerman

“I recommend everybody do everything with Google Tag Manager. And I know that can be a little scary to work with, but there’s a few simple things you can track. Did you hit a certain page? You can create an event that said ‘I got to the newsletter.’ Those are pretty easy to track, or just a specific click.” – Kyle Akerman

In addition to the built-in engagement tracking capabilities, GA4 offers new customization features.

“They added this idea of engagement and an engaged session. That can be if somebody is on your site for more than 10 seconds, if they go to two or more pages, or if they activated a conversion event. If any of those three happen, then it’s considered an engaged session. And then out of that, they can calculate an engagement rate, which is the number of engaged sessions over total sessions. And that engagement rate is supposed to kind of replace bounce rate as a way to measure engagement.” – Kyle Akerman

“They added a lot of customization features, so you can customize the reports and names of reports that are in the left-hand navigation. You can customize what’s in the standard reports, like the primary dimensions and all the metrics. There’s like 10 columns of metrics, you can delete those, you can add new ones, you can reorder them—there’s a level of customization we didn’t have before.” – Kyle Akerman

“There’s a whole section of reports called explorations. These are more advanced reports that you could create if the standard reports aren’t giving you what you need. There’s a path analysis report, and it makes it a little bit easier to see that path that people take as they’re moving through your site. And they have a forward and a reverse path, which is pretty cool. So if you have to see how someone got to a specific thank you page, you could look at the reverse path, start with that page and look backward.” – Kyle Akerman

You can access all your raw data, which is helpful for data scientists. This is especially useful for plugging data into AI tools.

“For the people that are really advanced and maybe even have a data scientist on your team, you have access to all of your raw data. What you can do is send all that GA4 data to a data warehouse like Big Query, and then you can do really high-powered number crunching on that. But that requires someone that has those skills, like knows how to do SQL calls and things like that.” – Kyle Akerman

“I think sooner than later, a lot of us are going to have AI tools in-house that we can feed those kinds of raw data files to, and they will be able to spit out insights for us.” – Erika Heald

“A word of warning: If you’re trying to use AI to analyze your data, make sure you’re doing it on a local AI that only lives on your servers or your computer. If you push that out to ChatGPT, now all that data is out there. If you’re working with clients, you don’t want to put their data out there.” – Kyle Akerman

Q5: What do content marketers need to know about getting started with GA4?

When getting started with GA4, seek to replicate the reports you would access through UA.

“How did you use UA? As a content marketer, what were the two to three reporters that you always looked at in UA. I would try to find those in the new menu structure. It should be pretty easy to find the traffic report, because they still call those groups of reports acquisition. You can go into the acquisition section and then find the report that closely matches what you used to look at to see traffic sources.” – Kyle Akerman

“If you want to know pageviews for blog content, that one’s a little trickier to find, but it’s in the category called engagement. If you click on that, you’ll find a report—I think it’s called pages and screens. The reason it says screens is because you can have website data and app data. If you have an app, measuring that would be a screen, not a page. If you go to that page and screens report, you’ll see that’s where you can find your blog data and do the same thing you always did.” – Kyle Akerman

Q6: What are the common pitfalls to avoid when working in GA4?

Tag Manager is a key tool for getting the most value from GA4, however, it can be tricky to set up. Be sure to seek assistance when setting up your tags, and revisit the basics of UTMs.

“Google always promoted Tag Manager as a tool for marketers making it easy to make changes to your site. And that’s only partially true, because Tag Manager can get pretty technical. You have to set up the thing that you want to fire, and then you have to give conditions where that thing will happen. Usually, it’s the conditions part that people mess up.” – Kyle Akerman

“You need to understand how the UTM tagging works at a high level, and then just set up a process of how you want to tag everything. Are you going to call Facebook ‘facebook.com,’ ‘Facebook,’ or ‘FB?'” – Kyle Akerman

Data retention is a GA4 setting you should review.

“There’s an area called data retention. GA4 focuses a lot on data privacy, and part of the way they’re doing that is they’re not retaining data as long as they used to. So you have two options now, and in that data retention setting, one of the options is two months. And then the other choice is 14 months. Everyone should go in there and verify that is set to 14 months.” – Kyle Akerman

“There’s also a little nuance: that setting doesn’t affect the standard reports. So your standard reports, you can go back as far in time as you want. It doesn’t matter what that setting is. But where it affects things is in the explorations. If you want to do any kind of custom reporting in that exploration section and want to look back farther than two months, then you need that setting to be at 14.” – Kyle Akerman

Q7: Are there lesser-used GA4 features that you think content marketers should know about?

Use the customization features to create an interface that works for you.

“Those customization features are actually pretty cool. There’s something like maybe 15 reports on the left-hand navigation, and you can go in and if you only cared about three reports, you could remove all the reports you don’t want to use. You can really streamline your reporting. Same thing when you go into the actual tables of data. I think the default has 10 columns of data, most of them are kind of useless. I’ll go in and delete half of those so that you only have maybe five columns of data.” – Kyle Akerman

Exploration reports show the paths your visitors take.

“Those exploration reports can be super useful for looking at the path that you want to see. If you’re trying to figure out how people get to your content or what they do after looking at your content, it’s a pretty powerful way to do that. There’s also a funnel report in that section, so if you have a specific set of pages that you want to know how people are moving, you can set that up.” – Kyle Akerman

Connect Google Search Console to GA4.

“You can still link Search Console to GA4. That gives you the actual keywords that people typed into Google search that then ended up on your site and the actual pages that they entered on.” – Kyle Akerman

Q8: Is there routine maintenance marketers need to perform when working in GA4?

Monitor your conversions to ensure your GA4 setup is still working.

“Monitor your top conversions maybe once a week or once a month. Make sure they haven’t flatlined because that’s usually a sign that something broke. If I see a bunch of zeros when I’m looking at an account, I usually try to widen the time range to figure out where it dropped off. And then I ask what happened on that day.” – Kyle Akerman

Q9: Where can marketers access more resources about Google Analytics?

Kyle recommends the following resources:

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