A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Google Analytics 4 for Digital PR Execs

If you’re one of the Digital PR and corporate communications executives who recently received an email entitled, “We’ll soon configure Google Analytics 4 for you,” then you should be nervous. If you didn’t get the email, then you should be afraid. And if you don’t know how Google’s machine learning technology will start surfacing and predicting new insights, then you should be terrified.

Now, if you mistakenly think that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) doesn’t impact Digital PR and communications executives, then you will be shocked when GA4’s Analytics Intelligence, which uses machine learning and conditions that you can configure, starts providing two types of insights:

  • Automated insights: Analytics Intelligence detects unusual changes or emerging trends in your data and notifies you automatically, on the Insights dashboard, within the GA4 platform.
  • Custom insights: You can create conditions that detect changes in your data that are important to Digital PR and communications execs. When these conditions are triggered, you will see the insights on the Insights dashboard, or you can receive optional email alerts.

And GA4’s Analytics Intelligence uses Anomaly detection to analyze your website’s data and surface statistical insights. And for anomalies over time, Analytics Intelligence uses historical data:

  • For detection of hourly anomalies, the training period is 2 weeks.
  • For detection of daily anomalies, the training period is 90 days.
  • For detection of weekly anomalies, the training period is 32 weeks.

So, at some point in the foreseeable future, somebody somewhere within your company or over at your biggest client is going to see an “insight” in GA4 that says, “Traffic from the source ‘Referrals’ dropped.”

(Referrals are the segment of traffic that arrives on your website through another source, like through a link on a third-party domain. In many cases, these links appear in stories about your company, products, services, or brands. So, if you don’t generate as much Digital PR this week as you did last week, then your traffic from Referrals will drop.)

Now, we all know that it’s virtually impossible to generate a steady stream of PR week after week. But if you haven’t learned how GA4’s Analytics Intelligence uses Anomaly detection, then you won’t be able to explain this to the Product Managers or Brand Managers at your company – let alone to your Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) – when they ask you for an explanation.

So, whether you got the email from Google or not, you’ll want to know what GA4 means for your communications program. Oh, and don’t let Google configure GA4 for you. As the second paragraph in Google’s email said, “For any customer who does not set up a GA4 property with basic settings, starting in March, we will configure one with a few basic settings consistent with the existing Universal Analytics property; this includes certain conversion events, Google Ads links, and existing website tags.”

In other words, Google will take care of Google Ads links, because 80.2% of Google’s revenue came from advertising in 2022. But from Google’s point of view, revenue from Digital PR and communications is non-existent.

So, if you don’t configure “Events” yourself and don’t have a seat at the table when your company or client decides which “Events” to mark as “Conversions,” then GA4 is never going to attribute credit to Digital PR campaigns and Communications programs or report on your contribution to the bottom line.

If you are the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) or Public Relations Officer (PRO) at your company, then this means you need to get an Editor’s role, which will give you full edit access to data and settings. You’ll need to get this from the Administrator of your GA4 account, who is often in the IT department.

And if you’re an account executive at a PR agency or communications company, then ask for an Analyst’s role, which lets you create and edit shared assets in addition to viewing data and configurations in your client’s account, but settle for a Viewer’s role, which is someone who can see report data and configuration settings.

But if you can’t manage to wangle access to your company or client’s GA4 account, then good luck with your future endeavors.

Now, a lot of organizations have put off migrating to GA4. That’s why Google is offering to configure the next generation of Google Analytics for them.

And Google sent their email to people who already have access to their company or client’s Universal Analytics (UA) account. So, if you don’t currently have access to UA, then it’s perfectly understandable why you didn’t get the email about GA4, right?

Well, that depends. SEO-PR was using Web Analytics to link $2.5 million in ticket sales for Southwest Airlines to a series of optimized press releases a year before Google acquired Urchin Software in April 2005 and renamed it Google Analytics in November 2005. So, it’s possible that someone, somewhere within your company will think you should have gotten access to UA before now.

And even if you did get the email, the subject line said, “We’ll soon configure Google Analytics 4 for you.” So, you can’t really be blamed for sitting on your hands, can you?

Well, Google introduced GA4 in October 2020. And Google announced the UA deprecation date would be July 1, 2023, back in March 2022. So, maybe somebody, somewhere down the hall will decide to make you the scapegoat for not reading Google’s email.

This reminds me of the scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, when Arthur Dent learns the Vogons plan to destroy Earth to make way for an intergalactic bypass. (Originally a 1978 radio broadcast, it was later adapted into a novel in 1979, a TV series in 1981, and a movie in 2005.)

And even if you aren’t familiar with the comic science fiction franchise, Arthur is told in this scene, “There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.”

Well, Google now says GA4 is coming in March, although they told us a year ago to expect it in July. So, whether you’re ready or not, Don’t Panic: You have two options.

Your first option is to ask ChatGPT to explain Google Analytics 4 in simple terms. When I asked the artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI to do just that, here’s what it said:

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a tool that helps website owners and marketers understand how users interact with their website or app. It provides insights into how people find and use the website or app, what pages or features are popular, and where users drop off or exit.

GA4 tracks user behavior using a tracking code that is installed on the website or app. This code collects data about user actions such as pageviews, clicks, and purchases, and sends it to Google’s servers where it is processed and organized into reports.

Unlike its predecessor, Universal Analytics, GA4 focuses on event-based tracking, which means it tracks specific user actions rather than just pageviews. This allows marketers to get a more comprehensive view of user behavior and to track custom events that are relevant to their business goals.

GA4 also includes machine learning capabilities that can help identify trends and patterns in the data, and provides cross-device tracking that allows marketers to see how users interact with their website or app across different devices and platforms.

Overall, GA4 is a powerful tool that can help website owners and marketers make data-driven decisions to optimize their website or app and improve the user experience. 

Your second option is to find a character like Ford Prefect, who really knows where his towel is, to rescue you in the nick of time with A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Google Analytics 4.

And I know two characters who really know where their towels are.

One is Katie Delahaye Paine, aka The Measurement Queen. She’s been a pioneer in the field of measurement for over three decades. She’s the author of Measuring Public Relationships (2007) and Measure What Matters (2011), as well as the co-author of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit (2012), which are considered must-reads for anyone tasked with measuring public relations and social media.

And the other character is me. I have more than 30 years of experience in public relations, corporate communications, and marketing. I’m regarded as one of the pioneers and leading authorities on online publicity. I’m the author of YouTube and Video Marketing (2009 and 2011) and the co-author of Digital Marketing Fundamentals (2023). I’m one of the 25 successful gurus interviewed in Online Marketing Heroes by Michael Miller.

Katie and I also co-authored the Communications Measurement Handbook for Higher Education.

Together, we offering a Google Analytics 4 training course that is designed around the needs of Digital PR and communications executives who not only need to understand how the next generation of Google’s analytics service works, but also want to learn how to use GA4 to show their contribution to their company’s or client’s bottom line.

Google Analytics 4 for PR & Communications will take place via Zoom every Wednesday for 3 weeks starting on Wednesday April 5 and ending on April 19, 2023. By the end of the third class, executives will be able to:

  • Double-check how Google configured GA4.
  • Collect campaign data.
  • Configure events.
  • Mark conversions.
  • Measure lead generation.
  • Compare attribution models.
  • Analyze life cycle reports.
  • Explore deeper insights.
  • Act on Analytics Intelligence.
  • Create PR audiences and enable remarketing.

Now, why should you take a class taught by two experts, who have more than 60 years of combined experience in public relations and corporate communications, instead of using ChatGPT, which has limited knowledge of world and events after 2021? Hey, how hard could it be to explain to the Product Managers or Brand Managers at your company why traffic from Referrals dropped this week, or tell your CEO or CMO what you intend to do about it next week?

I know, this as a biased question. it is phrased in a way that skews people towards a certain answer.

But this really isn’t an objective survey, is it? So, when you come to our training course, don’t forget your towel.

Leave a Reply