Clear-Cut Strategies for GA4 and A/B Testing Success

It has been nearly 4 years since GA4 launched (previously known as Universal Analytics), and yet a lot of people who use it are still foggy on why the numbers do not match your expectations. We recently hosted a webinar to unpack the challenges and common pitfalls of GA4 migration, and to outline strategies for how to get the most out of it. Hosted by Stuart Rex (Commercial Director at Webtrends Optimize), Jill Quick (Analytics Consultant at The Coloring In Department), Michael Patten (Analytics Manager at Rocket Mill) and James Harber (Head of Customer Success at Webtrends Optimize) have come together to highlight the ways in which leverage your digital strategy and testing programme. This blog recaps the main issues discussed and how you can overcome them.

Key things to know about Google Analytics

The panel of experts start by discussing the main things businesses and individuals should be aware of when trying to understand more about Google Analytics. Google is constantly changing and evolving. There are some pros to this but there are also cons. The main challenge is for people who are not in the world of Google Analytics 24/7 to keep up these changes.

We dissect some of these challenges below and how you can mitigate the impact they have on your digital strategy.

Google is always changing

Google is always changing, and that is something all users need to get onboard with. As Jill explains, part of the difficulty and confusion around the analytics tools is due to the fact that Google didn’t make any changes for a long time. So, people got very used to the same processes and ways of doing things.

Jill highlights a recent example of when Google changed some terminology. They have changed how they highlight what a key objective is for a business. Initially it was a Goal, then in GA4 it was a Conversion, and now, they are changing it to Key Events. What this means is, when you log into GA4, you won’t see ‘Sessions, Conversion Rate’, you will see ‘Session, Key Event Rate’. On top of this, they haven’t actually gotten rid of ‘Conversions’. These ‘Conversions’ will now only relate to the previous conversions that were loaded to Google Ads. As Jill says, this is particularly confusing as they are changing terminology which made sense to a whole industry of people who were familiar with these sorts of terms.

Whilst this can be a hurdle for lot’s of users (and rightly so), Google do provide information on the latest release and changes in Google Analytics, which can be useful for understanding more about the changes being made.

Consent Mode

At the end of last year, Google announced that Consent Mode V2 will be introduced in 2024, meaning that website owners operating with Europe and the UK would need to ensure changes were implemented in order to prevent any impact to other Google tools (such as Google Ads and Google Analytics).

Essentially, Google Consent Mode was developed in order to allow for the measuring of conversions and gathering of website insights, whilst respecting a visitors cookie consent choice. So, if your visitor opts out of cookies, you can still send basic information that didn’t use cookies, or any local identifiers stored in a user’s browser to give very basic information.

Whilst this is something that is common knowledge for a lot of businesses, there are also many businesses who have completely ignored the fact that you need a compliant cookie ban on your website, and now suddenly had to catch up. This might mean implementing Consent Mode V2 was more rushed and last minute than you hoped. It’s quite normal in this scenario for the traffic to tank as soon as the Consent Mode is implemented. The main issue though, is that it has become much more difficult to look at GA4 and say whether the data and numbers are right or wrong.

From a testing perspective, James explains that keeping on top of things is the key. GA4 often sits at the heart of the strategy as the analytics informs lots of other areas, so keeping up with the updates and being clear on the pattern you are following, means that everyone else in the business can also be on the same page as you. From our experience, a lot of the investigations we do tend to be negligible as the route cause is an update hasn’t been done or something is out of date.

Understanding and Managing Data

Google’s latest figures states that they will reclaim 65% of the ‘lost’ traffic from people opting out of cookies. They have since introduced Consent Mode V2 towards the end of 2023, as discussed above. As Google are a big processor of data, they are being held to stricter standards, which means the declaration of the level of consent that a user has chosen via the cookie banner, must be attached to every hit that is sent to Google servers in order to declare that the website is tracking users compliantly. If you are just looking to comply with the law and track people who have opted in, you can utilise their basic package. If you want to utilise the cookie-less modelling, you can do this through Consent Mode V2 advanced. After you have run the tool for about 72 days, Google Ads, GA4, etc. will then start to work out those missing gaps in your traffic using that cookie-less data.

This can also affect testing, as it can cause delays or some visitors won’t accept the cookies, which then means that the data that comes through in the conversion package compared to the data in GA4 and other reporting platforms might not match up. James reiterates the importance of businesses who want to be testing to understand what they are tracking and how to measure the impact of what they are doing. Managing it efficiently will mean you aren’t penalised by Consent Mode rules and can still get out valuable information.

Practical advice and strategies

There are lots of things we can highlight about why Google makes using their analytics platform difficult, but what can we actually do about it? In the webinar, our experts highlighted actionable advice that you can use in your strategy to get the most out of your data.

What are some of the practical steps businesses can take to gain confidence in data and their analytics practices?

Mike says he sees two solutions to this. The first is to get very hands-on and very familiar with all of the new factors that Jill has highlighted. The second option is to make sure you partner with an organisation that can not only help you with the technical side, but can help translate it. Mike explains that part of the request they’ve had from clients is to be a translation service for them to be able to report to their internal stakeholders in a simple and coherent way.

Furthermore, there are also some practical things you can do in terms of questioning the setup and tailoring the reports to make sure you are getting the data matters most. Mike says some things they have typically seen is people becoming so fixated on the drop in the volume of traffic (when people are opting out), they don’t stop to question why we are tracking this and what actually is valuable to track. For example, unless you are running content marketing or you are a blog site, you probably don’t need to know the bounce rate as it won’t be relevant for you when generating bottom line value. So, whilst there is always going to be a discrepancy, the important thing to think about is ‘what are we not tracking that would be really important for our business to know more about so we can generate growth and understand our user’s needs? Which of course, is the beauty of GA4, as it is highly customisable so you can create things that really mean something to your data.

How should businesses approach AB testing with GA4 and why is having a hypothesis so crucial?

Having a hypothesis when investigating anything is crucial so you know what you are trying to achieve and what you are looking for. As James highlights, it’s really easy to get lost in tools that try to show you an overview of everything without any key areas for you to focus on. He argues it is incredibly inefficient to go in and just look at all the information as one. Whether it’s testing, investigating something new or delving into something you don’t understand, your hypothesis should be at the centre of all you do. This will also help when using different tools that might use different terminology or have a higher level of detail than previous sites used. Understanding the data and what you are looking at will all feedback to your hypothesis and give you something to work towards, which you can then easily share with people of all levels within the business.

What are some examples of commons themes and questions that businesses should be asking when analysing their data?

Whilst scope surveys can be time consuming, they are useful to understand how clients are feeling, what their pain points are and what they wish they saw more of. As Jill describes, the key is ensuring the survey is sent to anyone that is impacted by data collection, (so anyone from marketing, to sales, to the agencies you work with, tech stack partners, etc.) instead of just one group of people. Some of Jills favourite questions to ask are:

  • What data don’t you trust and why don’t you trust it?
    Which helps to understand if there is a gap in their knowledge, if they’ve had a bad experience with something, or anything else.
  • What is important for you and your performance reviews?
    People are selfish in a good way as they care about their work, what they are doing and how that is going to impact their bottom line.
  • What are the business objectives and measurement objectives we need to focus on?
    This ensures you have a focus and aren’t just looking at the data as a whole.
  • What questions do you get about your work that you would love to have a report on?
    This can help narrow down key areas to focus on to show to senior stakeholders and prove the value of what you are doing.

What strategies do you recommend for businesses to ensure data integrity and trustworthiness in their reports?

A very important thing for data integrity and trustworthiness is keeping things up to date. Someone has to be accountable for that management as often certain teams within a business will interpret things in different ways and may even use different tools that means they are unsure how the data matches up. So, when there are updates, making sure you know what the impacts are going to be and that you have it covered. Another important thing is communication of this and ensuring you are sending communication out to any of the people who are going to be using the platform and understanding what those changes are going to do. But ahead of all of this, if you’re starting off from a bad place, you will never get to a good place. Auditing what you have and understanding what it is you are currently doing against your objectives is a really key starting place. As explained by James, we will often track various things when people are testing and they’ll very quickly align it with stuff they’re doing in GA4, but more often than not there is a knowledge gap on how the different platforms compare. For example, it might seem on the face of things that we are tracking a purchase, but the reality is we might be tracking a page visit and GA4 is tracking something completely different. So, starting at a place where you are happy with what you are tracking is important, so when changes come along the impact of those changes are pushed out across all the tools they will impact.

Key takeaways and concluding thoughts

Google Analytics is a powerful platform that has the potential to provide rich and meaningful insights to your data. Whilst it can be a tricky tool to navigate, taking the time to learn and understand more about it is only going to benefit you in the long run.

Our expert panel share their final thoughts and main things to remember when working with GA4:

  • Start with the foundations. Reports should be really easy to understand by people at all levels and this comes from having a good understanding of what you want to achieve, what data you want to see and why.
  • Google Chrome extensions can be a really useful alternative to Developer Tools. They can tell you not only how and when things are firing in the page load sequence, but also where the consent indicators are coming in. This can be especially useful for businesses who are conscious of whether they have followed the rules correctly and implemented everything in the correct way.
  • If you’re seeing a discrepancy across platforms, don’t try and tackle the whole thing. Instead, take a single metric that sits across the platforms that you’re unsure on, and take the time to understand and gain the knowledge on what those things are tracking and how they are working. Once you understand that, you can apply the same logic to the rest of the metrics seeing discrepancies.

If you want to speak in more detail about any of the topics covered, get in touch and we are happy to help.

You can also watch the full recording of the webinar on our YouTube channel.