URGENT NOTE: Google will be sunsetting Universal Analytics as of July 1, 2024. This means you will lose access to all of the historical data you have captured about your website performance. In order to maintain that information, you must back up your historical data before July. For more information, please see below or contact our team of digital analytics experts.

Your website is arguably the most important tool you have in your fundraising arsenal. But if it’s not set up correctly, you’re missing an opportunity to capture all the traffic (i.e., leads) it’s bringing in.

It’s critical to actively track and measure your website traffic against your goals. Thankfully, Google Analytics makes it easy. This secret weapon will help you meet your strategic plans in 2024.

You’ve likely heard that Google has released its new version, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Making the switch is vital — if you’re still using the old version, your data is no longer being tracked. This topic can feel too technical and overwhelming, but not to worry. We’ll walk you through what GA4 is, how it differs from previous versions, and how you can get set up. You’ll be pulling in rich data in no time! 

What Is Google Analytics 4? 

The previous version of Google Analytics (GA3 or Universal Analytics) was around for over a decade and helped organizations of all shapes and sizes track and analyze data around their website traffic. GA4 has much of the same functionality but with some key differences.

Your donation platform can help you distinguish one donation from another. But Google Analytics—and GA4 in particular—brings an extra layer of information to the table. Where did the donor come from? How long did they stay on your website? What pages did they visit? What was the navigation journey? This granular-level data uncovers a donor’s precise path on your website that led to a donation.

These insights can give you a clear picture of which parts of your website—pages, images, forms, buttons—are working to drive conversions and which ones need some help. 

How GA4 Differs from the Previous Version 

While Google Analytics’s basic functions have remained the same, GA4 introduces some changes that your fundraisers will find very helpful.

  • Event-Based Tracking: Where the previous version was session-based, GA4 is event-based. An event is any kind of action a user performs on your website, such as clicking a button, downloading a file, or submitting a form. It doesn’t only track where users go on your website but also what they do. The free version can track up to a million events a day.
  • Customizable Reports: While GA4 doesn’t have as many pre-built reports as GA3 does, it does let you build reports and customize them to your specific needs. You can also use the Explorations feature to dig deeper into your reports to learn more about your donors’ behavior.
  • Built-In Tracking: GA4 includes robust tracking right out of the box, with no additional customizations needed. This includes things like file downloads, form interactions, video views, and site searches.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) Features: GA4 uses AI to detect anomalies in your website. Examples might include a steep drop in sessions that’s out of the norm or Google no longer indexing your site. You can set up alerts for these anomalies so you never get caught off guard.
  • Predictive Metrics: This feature can help you predict points like the number of donations you can expect in a certain period. However, GA4 does need to collect about four weeks of data before this function can begin.
  • Data Retention: Where GA3 would retain your data for 10 or more years, GA4 has a 14-month retention window—but only for certain types of data. Your aggregate-level data will still be saved, but event-level data, such as file downloads, will only be kept for 14 months. 

What These Changes Mean for You 

The strength of GA4 lies in its event-based model. This means you can better track actions that result in a lead acquisition or a donation. Say you want to learn more about why a specific donation form on your site is performing poorly. You can create a funnel of steps you want GA4 to track that lead up to that form’s completion. This enables you to map the entire journey to the form so you can see where people are falling off.

You can then determine the points in the journey that are causing friction or may be a bit cumbersome. It could be as simple as people not seeing the next page on the form.

GA4 has the power to optimize your website pages overall and the campaigns within them. When you understand how donors interact with your site, you can deliver an improved user experience, which will boost your conversion rates. GA4’s flexible and customizable nature means you can do much more with the data you have. 

You’ve Switched to GA4 — Now What? 

Getting started with GA4 is easier than you think. Let’s go through it step by step. 

1. Identify Your Goals 

First, identify your business goals. These are more high-level than key performance indicators (KPIs)—you can even start with your mission statement. For example, your goal might be to maximize your donations and revenue so you can better get your message to the people who care about your cause.

Next, think about an action you want users to perform on your site that will lead to accomplishing your business goals incrementally. We consider this a primary conversion; an example would be “make a donation.” You’ll likely have several primary conversions that are key to your organization.

Now, get more granular and identify a secondary conversion. This will help your users eventually complete a primary conversion. Think submitting a form or signing up for your newsletter or webinar. But don’t pick something at random—dig into your data and look for patterns. For instance, are people who visit your “About Us” page more or less likely to donate? Is there a correlation between the time spent on a page and email signups? 

2. Implement Your Data Collection Strategy 

Once you’ve identified your primary and secondary conversions, determine what other layers of information you want from those conversions. Let’s take donation conversion as an example. When a donation is made, you may want to track the donation form ID or name, the donation value, whether the donation is one-time or recurring, and the transaction ID. These parameters show you exactly what users are looking at and which donation form is converting.

You can implement these parameters through tools like Google Tag Manager, which lets you install, store, and manage marketing tags that track user actions and collect data. A donation form submission might be the trigger that tells Google Tag Manager to track that action.

In addition, when you build a campaign landing page, be sure to include your own parameters within the landing page URL. For Google Analytics, that would be a UTM parameter. Basically, this is code placed at the end of a URL that defines the source, medium, campaign, term, or content that sent a user to your site. 

3. Integrate Your Data 

This step is optional, but you might find it helpful to integrate your data with other marketing tools you use, like Google Ads. Say you had 100 new donors over the last month. In GA4, you can create a lookalike audience based on those donors, then import it into Google Ads and target them directly.

You can also link your GA4 property with Google BigQuery, which allows you to store your event-level data in a virtual data warehouse. You get a free data storage and computation tier suitable for most organizations. But if you exceed the free tier, an extra gigabyte of storage costs just 2 to 4 cents. This makes BigQuery a very affordable solution for your long-term data storage needs. 

4. Analyze Your Data 

This is a broad topic, but looking at your data in different ways is the point. Some questions you might ask in this process are:

  • What traffic channels or sources lead to the best name acquisition?
  • How far along in the funnel do donors get from these different channels or sources?
  • How far in various conversion funnels do users get?
  • How can we reduce friction within that funnel?

With the insights you gain from data analysis, you can iterate on your campaign strategy and improve it for the next month, quarter, or year. All in all, GA4 takes the guesswork out of your decision-making. 

Make the Most of GA4 With Expert Help 

When it comes to Google Analytics, there’s a lot to learn and understand, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. The bottom line is that GA4 is a powerful tool that can help you optimize every action on your website.

If you need help navigating GA4 or any of your data, our Analytics and Insights Team is here to help. We can identify the key metrics that you should be monitoring. We’ll also dig into your data to uncover your opportunities to raise more money. Specifically, we offer:

  • Fundraising Analysis and Reporting
  • Web Analytics
  • Optimization and A/B Testing
  • Multi-Channel Attribution
  • A Data-Driven Content Strategy
  • Data Enhancement and Analytics

Contact us today to make better sense of your data.

This article is based on an episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Listen to the full episode now.