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Google Analytics 4 (GA4): What Contractors Need to Know

July 31st, 2023
10 Min Read

“Your Google Analytics account needs immediate attention.” Sound familiar? 

While you might have ignored recent emails with that subject line, now’s the time to take action.

Starting July 1, Google Analytics is forcing all users to switch to its new version: GA4. If you use Google Ads to market your company’s services, or Google Analytics to track and measure customer engagement, and you don’t make the switch, you’ll essentially lose the ability to track what’s happening on your website.

Johnny Wenzel, a ServiceTitan Product Manager for Marketing Pro’s Google Ads and Reputation teams, helps to get everyone up to speed on this new standard for online measurement in a recent webinar. In this recap, you’ll learn:

  • What’s different about this new version of Google Analytics

  • How ServiceTitan integrates with GA4

  • How to switch to GA4

  • How to use GA4 to become a better marketer

First, let’s take a look back.

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2007: The Start of Google Analytics

The original Google Analytics is Google's platform to track what happens on your website. It uses standard Universal Analytics properties to monitor website visitors, call conversions, form submissions, and other important customer data. But, as of July 1, the standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data, Wenzel says.

The basis of how Google Analytics operates was first released in 2007, with several updates since then. Wenzel says it’s interesting to note the following changes in our digital world in the past 16 years, including:

  • FaceBook was starting to gain popularity, but still trailing behind MySpace

  • Apple released its first iPhone 

  • Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin

“The basis of measuring digital activity was invented right when the iPhone came out,” Wenzel says. “Obviously, smartphones have completely changed the way we live our lives and the way we respond to marketing and websites. But online measurement hasn't changed much to account for that.”

Fast forward to 2023, and that’s where GA4 takes the lead on developing a new standard for online measurement.

“It's designed for a world where most people don't just have phones, but live on their phones. And it's designed for a world that cares a lot more about digital privacy than it ever has previously,” Wenzel explains.

New version of Google Analytics focuses on privacy and attribution

What’s mostly new about the GA4 version, Wenzel says, is its focus on privacy and attribution. Many people prefer privacy when browsing online, and attribution from a digital standpoint means tracking a customer’s journey to see how they found your business.

“GA4 seeks to give you more attribution options as well as adapting to a world that's focused more on privacy,” he explains.

Take cookies, for example. Most e-commerce sites display a banner across the bottom of the page telling users that the site collects cookies and asking them to accept or decline. And we just automatically accept, without really knowing what we’re agreeing to. Do you actually know what you're accepting when you click “accept cookies”?

“Essentially, you're telling the website that they can put a little snippet or a tracker on your browser or your device, so that when you come back to that site they know it's you. And they can show you personalized content. They can remember your preferences, remember your logins. That's what it is,” Wenzel explains.

Those are called “first-party cookies,” where only that particular website gains access to your personal data. Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are the same type of cookies passed on from one website to another, such as Amazon, for example, which stores your personal information and shares it with other websites and advertisers so they can also send you more personalized advertising content.

With rumors swirling about “cookies going away,” Wenzel says this idea mainly relates to those third-party cookies, which are starting to be phased out.

“As a marketer, I like third-party cookies because it allows me to, when I'm creating an ad and trying to show it to someone, it's going to be more relevant because I have the data of who you are and what you're interested in. Therefore, I can show you relevant ads,” he says. 

With third-party cookies being phased out, customers may start receiving ads that are obviously less relevant to them and their interests.

“So, ads are going to get less relevant, and that's the price we pay for more privacy because governments and different lawmakers are starting to crack down on these big tech companies, they know too much about us. The ads are creepy, and that's not okay,” Wenzel says. “That's the world we're getting to.”

With GA4, Wenzel says Google Analytics uses Google's own cookies, but utilizes different tracking mechanisms that bypass cookies and allow you to get more user information without actually using any third-party cookies.

When it comes to attribution, even Google Analytics may fall victim to collecting incomplete data due to website visitors using ad blockers or VPN (virtual private networks). GA4 tries to fill in those data gaps with AI machine learning.

For example, let’s say Google Analytics captures data on 80% of your website visitors for analysis. The AI takes it from there and fills in the rest, based on its analysis of that 80% of real customer data. 

“And it reports on it in a way that's not 100% accurate, but it's maybe 97% accurate, as opposed to before, where it's just 80% accurate,” Wenzel explains. “So, that one’s pretty cool.”

GA4 is also now offering a “privacy sandbox,” Wenzel says, which basically blocks the ability of advertisers to collect personal information about each customer as an individual, but rather more general information about their interests.

“So, that's a big change that Google's doing. They're grouping. They're not tracking users, but they're assigning characteristics to users, and they're tracking the movement of those characteristics,” he explains, which allows marketers to produce content specifically relevant to those interest groups or target audiences.

Another big change for Google is tracking “events,” rather than website user sessions. 

“They're trying to track every event that a person does from landing on the page, to watching a video, to navigating to other pages,” Wenzel says. “Just really seeing every action that's being taken, tracking that, and then using that to determine common customer journeys to understand how users interact with your website.

“Whereas before, it was more they came to the website, did they convert? Did they not? Did they leave? This is a more granular way of approaching measurement,” he says.

How ServiceTitan integrates with GA4

If your company utilizes the full suite of Marketing Pro services, which includes Marketing Pro Ads, then you can integrate with Google Analytics

“But just integrating with Google Analytics itself doesn't really do anything. You have to do the next step of connecting Dynamic Number Tracking or DNI,” Wenzel advises. “When you do that, and we're able to track the phone calls that come to your website, then we will push phone call events into Google Analytics for you.”

ServiceTitan is also in the open beta stage of offering its Ads Optimizer, which tracks calls attributed to a specific marketing campaign, then waits to see if they turn into revenue. If they do, the Ad Optimizer sends that revenue data back to Google Ads, and allows Google to optimize off of those revenue signals.

“We actually push transactions into Google Analytics, so you can track revenue there as well as phone calls. This lets you use Analytics almost like an e-commerce tracking system, which is very valuable,” he adds.

And the digital advertising future looks bright for GA4 and ServiceTitan ads, Wenzel says, with planned updates that will allow users to track every step of their customers’ journeys from the first point of contact to booking and completing the job.

“We're going to be sending that information into GA4, so you can view this as though you were running an e-commerce business, where a booked job is adding something to cart and a completed job is processing the sale,” he explains.

How to switch to GA4

Log into your Google Analytics account to start the process of switching from Universal Analytics to GA4. Click the dropdown to find the ID for your website properties. If it's just a numeric code with no letters, then it's GA4. If the ID starts with UA, then it's the old version. 

To make the switch to GA4, click “create property” and give it a name. Then, just follow the prompts to set it up correctly. Wenzel says he typically picks “home and garden” for the trades category, as well as a few other boxes such as enhanced measurement, which scans your website to identify common conversion actions and automatically starts tracking page views, scrolls, outbound clicks, and more. 

You also need to install the GA4 tag on the website, usually just by copying and pasting the tag onto the header of your website. Check out ServiceTitan Community for more tips and instructions. Once this code is installed properly, you can start tracking everything that’s happening on your website.

Some other settings to look at include:

  • Activate data settings to capture the most data signals 

  • Change data retention to 14 months to capture more historical data

  • Link to your Google Ads account to track campaigns in real-time

  • Access Google Search Console to see a better view of organic search traffic

Once you’ve made the switch to GA4, you can use the search bar to look for various customer data. Wenzel says he likes to go straight to the reports to find real-time data for traffic acquisition, or how many sessions each customer experienced. GA4 now measures “engaged sessions,” which shows you exactly which pages they engaged with during their website browsing session.

“There used to be something called the ‘bounce rate.’ This is what they're doing instead,” Wenzel says. “So, you can splice the data, play with it a bit to find out where people are coming from and what events or conversions they're doing.”

An “event” is any part of the customer’s journey that you might want to track on your website, but just visiting a page on your website is not necessarily counted as a “conversion.” This is where you can specify certain events to count as conversions. ServiceTitan, for instance, tells lead calls and transactions to default as conversions.

“Those are KPIs you really want to be tracking,” Wenzel says.

How to use GA4 to become a better marketer

Another helpful report is user attributes, which shows your customers’ groupings and interests. 

“What you can do here is find out which one of these interest groups are leading to the best business outcomes, then you can adjust your Google Ad targeting or other targeting to focus on those groups to improve your profitability of advertising,” Wenzel explains. “I also like path exploration, which shows you the journey your customers are taking to get to a conversion.”

Another useful section for marketers is advertising, where you can view performance by marketing channel to see which campaign produces the most revenue. 

“It's a similar view as before, but if you've integrated your Ads account, then you can see how it performs from an ROI perspective,” Wenzel says. “The ServiceTitan Ads Optimizer integration is really cool because we don't just send revenue for Ads, we send it for all channels. It really allows you to see which marketing channels are leading to certain revenues.”

You can also search data based on users’ last-click attribution, which tells you the last thing the customer clicked on before converting to a sale. With GA4 integrated with ServiceTitan Ads, you can do model comparisons and change this field to “first click,” for instance, and see what attracted them to click in the first place.

And ServiceTitan’s Marketing Pro Ads Optimizer helps the GA4 platform overcome those third-party cookie advertising hurdles with better data to target higher-quality leads, Wenzel says.

“By feeding it better data, it can target leads that are higher quality, which is why we're seeing people experience a decrease of cost per lead and an increase in average revenue from their Google Ad leads when they're plugged into Optimizer,” he adds. 

>>Are you a ServiceTitan customer who’s interested in Marketing Pro? Request a demo.

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