Ready or Not, Google Analytics 4 Is About to Change Your Nonprofit’s World
Nonprofit leaders are going to wake up on Saturday, July 1 and discover their main tool for counting the number of people who visit their websites has disappeared, replaced by a new and alien system. Google is retiring its Universal Analytics (UA) to make way for Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
If you are tech savvy, this is good news. It gives you a better way to track your visitors and what they do when they come to your website. If you’re not tech savvy, this could be a time-consuming headache that burns through time and money.
What’s Universal Analytics?
For more than a decade, UA tracked your visitors and produced reports. It offered three things nonprofits love:
- Kind of idiot proof
Perfect for busy executive directors who just wanted to make sure their websites worked.
The problem is UA tracks visitors through cookies, those little bits of data that follow you as you wander around the internet. Cookies are a privacy red flag. Apple iPhones started blocking them in 2021. Google itself plans to stop using them next year. UA was also created for a time before we used different devices to look at websites, apps and mobile websites. So, UA became obsolete.
Why Google Analytics 4 is a radical change.
Instead of tracking people through cookies, it tracks events. What does someone do when they come to your site? Do they take the time to read your carefully crafted mission statement? Which links do they click? If you want a tutorial on how to set up GA4, James Herlihy wrote one of the best guides I have seen for Nonprofit PRO.
So What’s the problem?
The wonderful thing about UA was it collected tracking data, and you could decide what to do with it. I might want to know how many people went to my website last month. I could find that. You might want to do a deep dive into user behavior on your site. You could find it. UA collected data and you pulled answers from it.
GA4 forces you to anticipate the right question first or the answer won’t help you. With GA4, before you can collect data, you have to decide what you want to know, the best way to track it and then create data queries using — there is no other term for it — “Google speak.” It’s the difference between riding a bus or driving in rush hour traffic. With UA, you just went along for the ride. With GA4, you have to plot your route before you start.
It is confusing. Some have said it is so confusing that it will be a playground for consultants. Do most nonprofits have a staffer with the time to learn the vernacular, map out the structure, set up the queries, interpret the data and continually update it as your needs change? Probably not.
For some, the alternative is to hire an outside expert to manage it. Large organizations do this all of the time. Contractors handle their site security, SEO search words and social media ads. This would just be one more line item in the budget.
What If My Nonprofit Can’t Afford Outside Experts?
GA4 is still free. Google did automatically migrate most websites to GA4 this spring. However, the company says the data may not be worth much if you don’t set it up for your unique needs. There are also companies that are wading in with their own tools and even alternatives to Google.
‘Just Say No’ Is an Option
Seriously. What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t have to go back far to remember a time when we didn’t even have these tracking tools. If a business put a sale sign in the window, the boss asked, “how many sales did we make today?” not “how many views did the sign get?”
Yes, it is better to have a way to track web traffic, but there is no reason to panic if you can’t. Here are three things to consider.
1. Decide What You Want First
You have options and you get to choose. Do the advantages outweigh the time needed to set up GA4? Learn enough to make an informed decision.
2. Focus on the Quality of Your Website
Data doesn’t help if you don’t get the basics right.
- Does your website tell your story?
- Have you created it with the user in mind?
- Do you make it easy for users to donate?
- Is it formatted for smartphones and tablets?
3. Remember: You are a Cause, Not a Website
We’ve all seen nonprofits that are all flash and no substance. Don’t be one of them. Get your mission right. Get your brand right. Then you can worry about website metrics.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.