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Get the most from Google Analytics 4

Monitoring your website’s key statistics can help you to further the goals of your website, track user behaviours, and understand any improvements you need to make. However, the digital world changes constantly and what we need to measure to create the best user experiences and ensure that the goals on our recruitment websites are being met have changed – and continue to change – with it.

After first introducing Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to users in 2020, Google announced early in 2022 that it would be sunsetting Universal Analytics (UA) on 1st July 2023. That date has now passed and every website that uses Google Analytics will be running GA4. We break down why this change has happened, what’s different, why that matters, how to make the most of the data GA4 collects, and offer a link to an exclusive guide detailing how to set up GA4 if you haven’t yet. 

What’s happened to UA?

When Google Analytics launched in 2005 it was a huge moment in the tech arena. It was the first enterprise analytics product offered to website owners for free. 1,000 new accounts were created within the first week of its launch, a figure four times the size of the entire analytics industry at the time. In 2012, UA was launched and by 2015 Google Analytics was being used on 30 million websites, becoming the standard for website analytics. 
 
However, the digital landscape has vastly changed since the launch of UA. Users access websites and apps from a spectrum of different devices and data privacy – both laws and expectations – has significantly tightened. GA4 reflects this monumental change, representing the biggest update since the inception of Google Analytics.

What is GA4 and why should I care?

GA4 is the latest version of Google’s analytics platform. It serves to provide data on user behaviour and engagement, just as UA did, but the data model is different – you’ll have access to more data, and it offers advanced reporting capabilities. 

Why is this important to you? As of 1st July 2023, Google is no longer recording any new data for UA properties (although historical data will be available until the end of 2023). This means it’s essential that GA4 is set up properly, with a number of configurations that should be completed in order to track essential data (if you have a website built by Wave, we have already set this up for you).
 
As a recruitment website owner, you can take advantage of GA4 to track performance metrics across a variety of key areas. You can see which content resonates with your audience, where they’re dropping off on the page, and what their journey from first visit to application looks like.You’ll be able to track metrics like clicks on the ‘Apply for Job’ button, application and contact form submissions, and much more. Data from GA4 can help you understand where traffic is coming from, how interested users are in your job postings, and how successful your recruitment efforts are.

What’s the main difference between GA4 and UA?

Arguably the most significant difference between UA and GA4 is the data model – UA used a session-based model, whereas GA4 is event-based. What does that mean? A session is a group of interactions recorded when a user visits your website, ending when they leave or after 30 minutes of inactivity (whichever comes first), i.e. each user visit is counted as a session. UA monitored sessions and page views and you could analyse the data within that framework.

An event is a specific action that a user makes on your website, e.g. clicking on a button, playing a video, submitting a form, etc., and this is what GA4 tracks, allowing you to easily set up conversions for specific events. You will still be able to see session data but it will be more detailed, broken down into individual events –  every metric is an event and can contain its own parameters. The data that you can collect and analyse is far greater with GA4. 

What you can do with GA4 and how to get the most from it

Conversions – As all conversions are event-based with GA4, you need to use Google Tag Manager (GTM) to set up conversion tracking. An event tag (conversion) could be a submitted application form, contact message, CV upload, registered job vacancy or any other desired action on your website. This is very different from UA, which allowed for multiple types of conversions (called ‘goals’), such as pages per session and session duration.

With GA4, you can no longer create destination page conversions within Google Analytics itself. However, setting up custom events provides more flexibility and also granularity in what you track. Once the GA4 Event is tracked in Google Analytics, you can mark it as a conversion in the Events settings. This allows you to track every single conversion that occurs on your website. 
 
Advanced reporting – Unlike UA, GA4 doesn’t offer a large number of immediately available reports. This may seem like a downside but many of those reports wouldn’t have been relevant to your recruitment business anyway. Instead, you will have more flexibility in what you track. The customisation of reports does mean more work to begin with, but it allows you to gain greater insights into metrics that directly feed into what you need to know at any given time.
 
There are some basic reports available (although it may at first be hard to find the metric you want as some reports might have a different layout). These are acquisition reports (where traffic is coming from), engagement reports (insights into user behaviour), and user reports (insights into your website users, including the devices they’re using and their location).

Something that’s important to note is that, because of GA4’s move away from session-based measurements, bounce rate no longer exists. Instead, this metric is replaced with ‘engagement rate’. If a ‘session’ lasts longer than 10 seconds, contains more than one page view and contains more than one conversion event, it is counted as an ‘engagement session.’ The engagement rate is calculated as the number of engaged sessions per total number of sessions. This is a far more reliable measurement than bounce rate and is another positive move by Google Analytics.   
 
Once you’re comfortable with the existing reports, head to the ‘Explore’ area where you can create custom reports to extrapolate the data that is most useful for you. This can be tricky to set up, however, so we also recommend using the Google Looker Studio to create an analytics dashboard. This will allow you to gain quick insights into key metrics and conversions from Google Analytics. It is the perfect tool for quickly finding important data metrics and creating easy-to-read reports. 
 
Google Signals – Users today use multiple devices to complete their user journeys, switching between desktop and mobile for example, which was harder to track in UA. GA4 no longer focuses on views, replacing them with data streams. In GA4, a data stream can be a website, an iOS app or an Android app. So whereas the structure of UA was Accounts>Properties>Views (where you had a unique property for each source of data), the structure of GA4 is Account>Property>Data streams, so each property can include one or all three data sources. What this means is that, whereas under UA your app and website would be two distinct properties within a single account, with GA4 a single property contains data for both the app and the website. This change enables cross-device reporting, cross-device re-marketing, and cross-device conversion export to Google Ads.
 
Link to Google Search Console – Integrating with Google Search Console can help you gain a better understanding of how users interact with your website when they come from organic search. You’ll be able to see where each page ranks in the SERPs, what keywords are driving clicks, and how that traffic behaves once it reaches your site. You can find those settings under property name in the ‘admin’ view. 
 
Filter unwanted data – There’s a host of data that is valuable to collect and analyse but some data will only create anomalies in your reports. In GA4 you can exclude data generated by certain IP addresses – useful if, for example, you want to disregard internal traffic from measurement and test traffic generated by developers. To do this, you’ll need to create a filter within Google Analytics and specify the IP addresses you’d like to block. Once this is done, any data generated from those IPs will no longer appear in your reports. 

Extra GA4 benefits

Increased privacy protection – Users are increasingly concerned about the protection of their data and tracking (or third-party) cookies are becoming obsolete as a growing number of browsers have blocked or plan to block them. GA4 does not rely exclusively on cookies and does not store IP addresses – a really positive move in a world where consumers and brands want increased data security.

Back-ups to Google BigQuery – Previously a feature only available to Analytics 360 premium customers, Google’s cloud data warehouse is available to everyone using GA4. This gives you long-term storage of and access to most of your analytics data.

What are the key metrics to measure?

In a Recruitment Cheat Codes podcast episode centred on recruitment website analytics, Wave’s Data Analyst Kamila Fitchett highlighted the 3 key metrics that recruitment agencies should be measuring:

1. Application submissions – The primary metric to consider is application submissions, which can be compared with clicks on the ‘apply’ button. If there is a significant gap between these two numbers, you may need to examine your application forms for potential issues, such as length or functionality.

2. Keyword searches – Tracking job seeker behaviour is another important metric. You can do this by checking things such as ‘keyword searches’ which help recruiters to better understand the types of roles candidates are interested in.  

3. Job alerts – Monitoring the number of job alerts set up and client contact form submissions can also offer useful insights for recruitment professionals as to what is working and allow them to optimise their processes and strategies accordingly. 

The switchover to GA4 may have been a necessity but it presents an enormous opportunity to gain a better insight into journeys across multiple devices and greater flexibility in terms of the events you want to track and the reports you want to see. Once you’re set up, it will take time to familiarise yourself with the new interface and the data you can analyse but Google launched GA4 to enable you to maximise the ROI of your website through data analytics and that is exactly what it can do for your recruitment business. 

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