Digital Marketing Industry Updates: August 2023

In this month’s digital marketing industry updates, we’re tackling common questions about understanding GA4 data, new guidelines from Google for Merchant Center trust signals, and platform updates in Google Ads, Microsoft, and LinkedIn. Happy August!


FAAQ’s (Frequently Asked Analytics Questions)

Now that people have completely switched from Universal Analytics to GA4, we are noticing that some questions tend to come up a lot. Here are a few of the most common questions and answers:

Why am I seeing fewer users in GA4?

Also asked, “should I report on Active users or Total users?” 

The ‘Users’ metric you see in GA4 reports is actually Active users, so if you are building a Looker Studio dashboard or GA4 Exploration, pick Active users. Note that Google sets a really low bar for “Active”. It is defined as a user that is new to the site or has at least one millisecond of engagement time. Since Users in Universal Analytics is more equivalent to Total Users in GA4, you may notice fewer ‘Users’ in GA4 since not all users are active.

This question is pretty common, but we’ve also been getting questions about a wide variety of other discrepancies between Universal Analytics and GA4. For an overview of discrepancies, check out this blog post: Understanding GA4 and UA discrepancies.

Should I report on Avg. session duration or Avg. engagement time per session?

Also asked, “where did Average Session Duration go?” and “what does engagement mean?”

One of my favorite things about GA4 is its ability to measure engagement. GA4 actually keeps track of when a user is on a tab and interacting, versus just has the tab open while they are doing something else. When the user is looking at the tab (the tab is “in focus” in browser parlance), they count as engaged. In contrast, Universal Analytics counted session duration as the timestamp of the last interaction minus the timestamp of the first interaction. Since the standard Universal Analytics implementation only measured page views, many sessions counted as zero-second duration, since only one interaction occurred. On the other hand, some users would leave a tab open while they did other things, then come back and engage, inflating session duration for those users. 

In comparison, GA4 measures a much wider variety of interactions out of the box, including whether or not the browser tab is in focus, providing a much more accurate view of how much time users are spending on a site. So hands down, Average engagement time per session is more meaningful than Average session duration, but the latter is also a lot more accurate than it was in Universal Analytics. For more specifics on how engagement is measured, check out our video GA4 Engagement Metrics: Session Duration, Average Engagement Time, & More.

Google actually got rid of Average session duration when they first introduced GA4, but eventually added it back in. You won’t find it in standard reports, but it is available in Explorations and Looker Studio. You can compare it to Average engagement time per session in an Exploration. If you find that Average session duration is a lot longer, you know that users are likely to leave your site open while they do other stuff. From the data I’m seeing, this is actually very common behavior.

Why am I not seeing any page views for /a-specific-page-path/?

Also asked, “Why am I not seeing any traffic for [source x] / [medium y]?” and “Why can’t I see any data for event such_and_such”.

This one is beastly, and unfortunately very common, especially if you have Google Signals enabled. I was working with a client last week, and the Pages and screens report was only showing traffic for about 15% of the pages that were actually getting views. If you are experiencing something similar, the cause is likely thresholding. Google ostensibly introduced thresholding to protect user privacy, but the impact can be devastating. When thresholding is applied, they just plain don’t show you all of the data, so you could be missing metrics for key pages, traffic sources, or any other reporting dimension.

Luckily, there is a simple fix that almost completely solves the problem. Analytics guru Julius Federovicius describes it in his article Thresholding in GA4, but here is the short version:

  • In GA4, go to Admin > Reporting identity
  • In the lower-right, click ‘Show all’
  • Change the reporting identity to Device-based

You should now see all of your data in most reports. You may still notice the dreaded ‘Thresholding applied’ icon in reports that include demographic data, but for the most part it should go away.

spotting ga4 threshold applied

Note that changing the reporting identity does not change underlying data, so you can switch it back and forth to test the impact of the change.

Why am I seeing so many sessions with (not set) in the Landing page report?

Also asked, “Does the Landing page report attribute conversions to landing pages?” and “Does the Landing page report even work?”

The Landing Page report in Universal Analytics was on many people’s short list of favorite reports. If you are one of those people, the Landing page report in GA4 is likely a bit of a disappointment. For many of the GA4 properties I’ve worked on, the first row in the report is (not set), and for some the majority of conversions show up in that row. What gives? 

I’ve identified three main causes for activity showing up in the (not set) row:

  • Audience-triggered events – so far 100% of the audience-triggered events I’ve created show up in the Landing page (not set) row.
  • Events sent by the Measurement Protocol – this one seems more variable, but in particular I’ve noticed that 100% of call tracking events sent by the measurement protocol show up as (not set)
  • What I call sessions-not-sessions. These are cases where a user is on the site, loads one or more pages, leaves the tab open, then comes back > 30 minutes later and closes the tab without doing anything else. This creates a session with two events: session_start and user_engagement. Since there is no page view in these cases, they also show up as (not set)

If none of this makes sense to you, not to worry – reach out and we can have a look and tell you which issues are affecting your report. If your property is only affected by the third bullet above, conversions should be accurately attributed to landing pages and I think it’s fine to ignore the (not set) row and proceed with analyzing landing page performance. If your property is affected by one or both of the first two bullets, the report may be pretty much useless for you.

Paid Media

Google regulates click trackers

Google is moving to allowing only certified click-trackers. Click trackers are third-party services which track Google Ad clicks, used for fraud monitoring or advanced analytics. Many existing click trackers have been certified and can continue to be used by advertisers. And Google will offer a grace period: any existing uses of click trackers, even if not on the approved list, can continue for the time being. 

Performance Max Expansion Continues

The Performance Max ad type continues to get love, in the way of expanded functionality on Google, and the availability of Performance Max in an open beta in Microsoft ads.

Google is now advocating migrating Dynamic Search Ads and Display campaigns to Performance Max, with additional features to support these ads. They will offer the ability to specify landing page URLs to include or exclude in advertising.

Microsoft announced an open beta for Performance Max ads, and ad format they’ve been testing for the last year that offers parity with Google’s functionality. This is an upgrade to what was accessible to most advertisers, where Google Performance Max could be imported, but were converted to smart shopping or local inventory ads. 

Performance Max ads on both platforms are designed to simplify tasks for marketers, while offering expanded audience reach and better ROI.

LinkedIn Feed Algorithm Updates  

LinkedIn is shifting feed prioritization in several algorithm updates. First, the focus is shifting to business and marketing topics rather than personal updates. The social platform aims to put more emphasis on expert knowledge and advice.  

Second, the platform will prioritize feed content by 1st-degree connections. Posts from your closest connections will appear first on your LinkedIn feed. This is because you are more likely to engage with the content they share on their profiles.  


How To Build Trust With Google Merchant Center

Google has updated their guidelines on how building trust can help ensure websites have their organic and paid products featured on the search results. Here is some of the primary criteria for building trust:

  • Provide information in the Business information settings in Merchant Center.
  • Create and verify a Google Business Profile
  • Improve your eligibility for seller ratings, by opting into Google Customer Reviews or other third-party review services
  • Follow proper SEO guidelines
  • Match your product data in your product feed with your website
  • Keep a professional website design that features an SSL certificate, is accessible to all users, and is easy to navigate
  • Provide detailed information about your policies including shipping, returns and privacy policies
  • Display important business identity information such as the correct business name, an about us page, and links to social media platforms

Failing to adhere to these trust guidelines may violate Google’s misrepresentation policy and cause products from your feed to not be featured for organic or paid listings. The closer you follow these guidelines, the more likely Google will see your site as a trustworthy marketplace for users to make purchases. Review your site and assess how well you’re following this trust criteria.

Google Updates Site Name Eligibility

Site names were introduced for subdomains on mobile devices in May 2023, but are now available for subdomains on all devices for English, French, German, and Japanese languages. 

site name in serp

Google has also updated the criteria to better ensure that site names appear properly on search results:

  • Add WebSite structured data on the homepage, and indicate the desired site name within the name property
  • Provide an alternative name within the alternativeName schema property in case the main site name isn’t available
  • If the site has multiple versions (http vs https, www vs non-www), make sure all homepages have the same WebSite schema

Making sure your site is featuring the correct site map is important in keeping branding consistent. Search for your company name and see if the correct site name is populating. If not, check to see if your site is crawlable, and has the correct schema implemented.

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