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Are you seeing a countdown when you log into your school’s Google Analytics? You’re not alone.

In case you haven’t been able to keep tabs on the latest news, Google Analytics 3 (Universal Analytics) will stop measuring site traffic on July 1st, 2023. More likely than not, this is the analytics platform your school relies on for measuring KPIs and other important actions taken on your website by perspectives and applicants. The only solution Google offers to keep a pulse on your marketing channels is to migrate your efforts to the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4). 

GA4, in case you have never used it, is a very different platform than its predecessor. It collects data differently, takes a different approach to data privacy, and even relies on different metrics than in GA3 (for instance, gone are bounce rate and time on site metrics, replacing them are newer engagement rate metrics). At first glance, it can be a little overwhelming and even confusing to navigate if you are not overly familiar with the platform or even its predecessor.

Fortunately for schools (many of which do not have a full team on hand to handle their analytics), it’s easy to deploy a basic installation of GA4 for your school. Simply click that blue button asking you to “Go to Setup Assistant,” and from there, you can follow the next steps to deploy the basic functions of the platform.

In case you’re not sure how to do that, we’ll walk you through the next steps and provide a few other best practice tips for taking care of the initial setup.

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Accessing the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Setup Assistant

Using the GA4 Setup Assistant is the simplest way to get started with GA4 if you’re new or unfamiliar with the platform.

When you click the blue button from the countdown pop-up, you’ll be taken to a screen similar to the one below. Note that you can also find this screen again if you previously closed the pop-up by going to your Admin settings (accessible via the cog symbol in the bottom left of your navigation pane).

Here, you will find two options: 1) to Get Started with a new setup, or 2) if you have a webmaster who previously created a GA4 property but never configured it, you might have the option as well (see below if the grayed out button is blue for you).

If you have the second option available, choose that one to avoid creating two properties by accident. Otherwise, start afresh with the first option.

Creating and Deploying Your GA4 Through the Tag Assistant

Once you’ve selected your option, you will be presented with a screen like the one below.

Here, you have two options to proceed. The simplest is to select the option for using the existing gtag.js and then continue. This will deploy your tag through any pre-existing Google Analytics setup you already have on your site.

Alternatively, if you are more familiar with the process, you will want to opt out of any pre-existing tags and create them afresh. Doing so will allow you to find another means to deploy your new property tag (such as through Google Tag Manager) and potentially avoid cluttering up your site with too many older code strings.

Note: in cases where our team sets up GA4, we almost always use Google Tag Manager because of the ease of adding additional tags and triggers to complete your most advanced setup options down the line. However, since we simply want to ensure you have a GA4 before the deadline, you can choose whichever option is the simplest for your team.

Once you choose your option, you will likely see the next screen like the one below.

This will allow you to visually confirm that the new property isn’t being created and again offer you two ways to install the tag – either through an existing tag or else manually as a new snippet to be copy pasted into your site’s code.

Once set, you will now see the message replaced and can go to your new GA4 property.

Additional GA4 Setup Best Practices

Now that you’ve installed your GA4, the following section outlines a few best practices that are still fairly simple to do.

  1. Check that the tag collects data. Once installed correctly, your new GA4 will start measuring basic traffic metrics such as visitors, source, location, etc. However, you will want to double-check that it is collecting correctly. To do so, select the “Real Time” report while you are on your site. You should see yourself as a visitor from your present location. Otherwise, it may be best to wait a day before checking that data is being collected.

  1. Consider blocking internal IP addresses. If your school has one or more administrators who visit the site frequently, they could be muddying up the data (such as showing a large volume of views from the city you are located). In GA4, you can choose not to count up to ten different IP addresses by going to Admin > Data Streams > Selecting your site > Configure Tag Settings > Show all settings > Define internal traffic.

  1. Block out any unwanted referrals. Some schools have secondary sites for sports teams, student associations, or strategic plans that use a different URL. To differentiate visitors who go to your main site from a secondary site, you will want to exclude them from your referrals list (and ideally, set up cross-domain tracking by deploying your GA4 tag on those properties as well). To set up the exclusions, follow almost the same steps as the item above: Admin > Data Streams > Selecting your site > Configure Tag Settings > Show all settings > List unwanted referrals.

After following these steps above, the data collected in your new GA4 should be coherent and only show external visitors to your site.

Advanced Setup: How to Get the Most Out of Your GA4 Property

To get the most out of your GA4 and understand how your traffic and marketing channels contribute to your different KPIs, you will need to set up your conversion events. Conversion events are basically tags that count each time a visitor completes a critical action on your website (for instance, they can be set up to track calls to your admissions team, request for information forms submitted, applications, etc.). 

While these events can be done from within the GA4 interface, ideally, you will want to use Google Tag Manager since you can easily create, pause, or adjust any tags to match your current KPIs.

You can set up one tag per conversion event and then use the built-in Preview mode to debug and ensure your conversion tags are firing and counting correctly. 

Once your tags have been created and tested, be sure to submit the new changes so that your conversion events go live and will start measuring your KPIs.

Final Thoughts

Setting up GA4 to handle basic data tracking is easy, and most schools should have little to no problem taking the initial steps to maintain their data integrity. The more advanced (and essential) configuration steps, however, do require more expertise than following the step-by-step instructions laid out by Google.

If you’re unsure about that process or any part of the migration, HEM has a team of analytics experts ready to assist and offer a FREE consultation on the GA4 migration process.

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