A deep dive into Shopify’s Google Channel for GA4

GA4 for shopify

You might have seen the message below in your Shopify store settings about setting up the Google Channel app. What should you do when you see this message?

Shopify offers a number of sales channels to make it easy to sell products on different online channels like Facebook and the Shop app. The Google sales channel is a bit different, since 1) it now also includes Google Analytics 4 (GA4) tracking, and 2) it is now managed directly by Google.

Although we work with larger merchants at Littledata, who typically use external apps and agency partners to manage sales channels and analytics, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the recent updates.

Here’s a first look at what the Google Channel app does, and how that compares with other ways to set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

What is the Google Channel app?

Shopify launched the Google Channel app back in 2017 to provide an easier way for stores to sell on Google, using Google Ads and Google Shopping. It’s free to install, though of course you pay for the Ads 😉

“Sync your products to Google Merchant Center, list products for free on Search, YouTube and more and even run paid Performance Max campaigns.”

In the relaunch in March 2023 Shopify/Google added tracking for GA4, along with better support for Google PMax (Performance Max) campaigns.

Shopify wants to offer you with a no-code install process for GA4, but adding the Google Channel won’t “avoid any data disruptions” for all stores.

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Why Shopify is moving GA4 tracking to the Google Channel

Universal Analytics – the previous GA version – will stop collecting data on 1st July 2023, so Shopify was under pressure from customers to offer in-built GA4 tracking ahead of that deadline.

GA4 is also Google’s preferred way of tracking conversions in Google Ads, and PMax campaigns need conversions (purchases) tracked to maximize Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).

I also think Shopify wants to push support for GA4 onto Google by moving all of the Google connections out of their core platform and into a ‘third party’ app.

What’s included in Google Channel tracking?

The Google Channel app allows a store to pick a GA4 property and copies most of the ecommerce event tracking available from Shopify to Universal Analytics:

  • Page views
  • Product views (including product name and price)
  • Add to cart
  • Checkout started
  • Purchase (Order completed)

Note: Are you tracking conversions in GA4? Find out in 5 minutes with our free order checker app

What are the limitations of Google Channel for tracking GA4?

Firstly, the Google Channel is built to work with Google Ads. However, there’s many other reasons to use Google Analytics other than for Google Ads targeting: tracking all marketing channels, understanding on -site conversion, checkout conversion, product performance and more. Shopify’s channel hasn’t optimized the tracking for that.

So there are some limitations with the events sent to GA:

  • No tracking of product list views or clicks
  • No checkout steps, beyond begin_checkout *
  • No currency field on Product Detail views
  • No reporting on product SKUs
  • No tracking of coupons and discount codes
  • No server-side tracking for accurate orders and revenue
  • No Enhanced Conversions for cross-device tracking of Google Ads
  • Inconsistent order numbers sent from the thank you page
  • Duplicate purchase events when users load the thank you page again

* Theoretically, an event is triggered when users add payment info, but we couldn’t get this to fire in multiple tests.

See a full comparison with Littledata tracking.

Secondly, the GA4 tracking is tightly coupled with the implementation of Google Shopping feed (which has some bugs, judging by the thirty 1-star reviews from the last month) so while you can just use the GA4 part of the Google Channel app, you run the risk of disrupting Google Analytics when you edit Google Ads settings. In fact, some users reported that adding the GA4 tracking beaks the Google Ads tracking.

Thirdly, there are no settings to adjust the Google Channel tracking – so if you want only certain events tracked, or integrate with third-party apps, your hands are tied.

“There are no settings to adjust the Google Channel tracking. So if you want only certain events tracked, or integrate with third-party apps, your hands are tied.”

Lastly, Shopify does not provide full support for GA4 tracking via the Google Channel app. The app is theoretically supported by Google, but Google only provides technical support if you pay $50k+ a year for Google Analytics 360. Other than that you’d need to pay a consultant to check the set up for you.

What is the best way to set up GA4?

You need to start getting data into GA4 by July this year – not just for analysis, but also for building audiences and retargeting your own customer base in Google Ads. So beyond this app, you have two options:

1. Add Google Tag Manager to your store theme

Pros: Reliable page view tracking, simple to customize settings, free to run

Cons: No tracking of the checkout steps (even for Plus stores), revenue in GA won’t match revenue in Shopify, lots of time (and developer cost) required to set up all the shopping behavior events

2. Use a proven, highly rated app like Littledata

Pros: Reliable tracking of the whole customer journey in GA4, 100% match between orders and revenue in Shopify, no implementation effort, no developers needed, instant data quality; and Littledata is optimized for Shopify Plus, including headless tracking, Shop App tracking and multi-currency tracking in GA4

Cons: Ongoing app charge to maintain data quality

Note: Are you tracking conversions in GA4? Find out in 5 minutes with our free order checker app

Why server-side tracking?

The basic limitation of the Google Channel is client-side tracking — which means all the events to Google are sent from the end user’s browser. This isn’t a reliable way to attribute sales to marketing campaigns in an age when many browsers and ad blockers limit tracking.

The world of web analytics has changed a lot since Shopify added GA via the Shopify store preferences back in 2014 – but Google Channel isn’t changing how the event data is actually tracked.

In contrast, server-side tracking allows apps like Littledata to hook into what is happening on Shopify’s servers from the add to cart onwards. This means 100% of revenue can be tracked and the vast majority (~90%) of that can be linked to a pre-checkout user journey and marketing campaign.

There’s many apps that promise to ‘fix’ marketing attribution (Rockerbox, Northbeam, etc), but the only way to get truly reliable tracking of orders and revenue is server-side tracking.

What your store should do today

While I understand that Shopify wants to provide an out-the-box integration with Google Analytics for smaller stores, this Google Channel won’t be suitable for any scaling brand spending heavily on online customer acquisition and retention.

You DO need to start tracking in Google Analytics 4 ASAP!

If your brand turns over less than $1M a year, and you don’t have the time to dive into marketing attribution and targeting, then the Google Channel may be enough right now. And that’s great!

But if you are doing $1M+, or need to dive into the details of what drives customers to purchase, then I don’t think the Google Channel will be robust enough for you. If you’re ready to be truly data-driven this year, consider applying for a Littledata Plus plan so we can support you fully with higher SLAs and analytics training for your team.

Shopify has reason to launch limited free apps (eg reviews, email and geolocation) to address the concern that their sticker price doesn’t reflect all the paid app add-ons you need to run a store.

Yet professionals at growing brands know you need paid apps to guarantee quality and support. Littledata’s Google Analytics connection is no exception — try it for free in the Shopify App store today!

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