Setting up Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for Chinese Visitors – May 2023 update
Let me guess…
You’re here because you’re making a website or currently have a site or app that serves Chinese customers residing in China. You need to track their visitor numbers or traffic but are unsure of what tool to use, because you assume Google Analytics 4(GA4) is blocked in China, atleast as of May 2023. You need to migrate to GA4 are not sure if its worth it
To be fair, you’re thinking is correct. And for many of us, even for a web agency like ours that operates in China, traffic tracking in China is a major issue. Other traffic tracking programs exist, but none, at least not for free, are as effective as Google Analytics (spoiler alert: including for China).
Therefore, it makes sense that you would like to use Google Analytics if you can, but you believe that it is restricted by China’s Great Firewall. You also assume that there must be some local China search engines behind this China firewall that provide more accurate reporting better (spoiler alert: they do not perform as well as Google Analytics).
The misconception of Google Analytics in China
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you would know that the biggest search engine in China is not Google but Baidu. Google is restricted in China, and even with Google’s recent attempts to work with the Chinese government to bring Google back into China, most of the Google-related products are simply inaccessible to the 1.3 billion internet users in China right now.
However, there are a few expectations…
While many people believe that since Google is inaccessible in China, then anything hosted or related to Google is inaccessible in China. And since GA is owned and run by Google, it is only logical to assume that GA4 doesn’t work in China. And this is partially true, but not entirely
Google vs Baidu – Why Google is Better in China
a) Easier to sign-up, No online license needed
Signing up for Google Analytics is very straight forward. Get a google account, fill out their three-step register form, connect your site to receive traffic numbers the very next day. No fancy online license needed. Baidu also has similar steps but you get traffic numbers after two to three days. Baidu will still connect to sites that have no license, but gives a substantial ranking preference to those with a Internet Content Provider (ICP) license (only available for Chinese companies).
b) Better Analytics Data Accuracy
Ever since inception, many have known that Baidu’s search results allow companies to “pay their way to the top”, unlike Google which blends paid results with organic listings as labels them as promotions. For analytics this means difficulty in judging real numbers, paid ads traffic and organic traffic separation is miserable.
This is where Google analytics shines, Google analytics offers a lot more tools to define and filter traffic, audiences that are more accurate than Baidu.
Google has a way better AI that takes care of filtering bots and spam from analytics compared to Baidu. Baidu’s Analytics dashboard is also ridden with bugs, at times you feel like you’re using a work in progress tool. This makes trusting the information of your visitors a more tenuous task of setting up other ways to filter the data.
c) Available in English, Chinese, and 20 other languages
Google Analytics is available in over 20 languages making it an important reason why most of our clients choose to stick with Google Analytics even in China. Baidu is offered only in Chinese. It is possible to translate the Baidu interface but even its English version is in ‘chinglish’ – literally translated from English.
Does Google Analytics work in China?
Contrary to popular beliefs as of today, May 2017, Google Analytics does actually work in China or at least partially anyway, depending on what type of user traffic information you need to collect from your website or app.
The two versions of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) both work in China but are slow. Almost all of our global clients use Google Analytics, and some use other additional website analytics tools, such as Baidu Tongji as a compare tool to their Google Analytics data.
Google Analytics works best in China with modifications which include turning off Google Remarketing and Advance Audience Reporting. We also tend to host most of the code needed on local servers, which means Google Analytics code is locally hosted on the server – not Google’s.
Oh and you will need a VPN if you plan to view your Google Analytics reports if you reside in China. Your China team will need VPN connection to view visitor numbers though Google Analytics which may not be an issue since most foreign companies and expats in China use VPNs daily.
4. Setting up GA4
By now if you have used Google Analytics you will know that in July Google will officially launch its Google Analytics 4 (GA4), killing the older analytics. Many companies and individuals are now racing to migrate and sign up for GA4 in China but are unsure how.
Lucky for you, we have done this for the new GA4 in China, we’ll go over some important steps that we recommend you take. Like all things in China and Great Firewall we hope that these steps will still keep working past 15 May 2023.
Go to https://analytics.google.com/ and sign up by clicking “Create New Property”. If you have an existing Google Analytics account property setup this will be under “Admin”. You will arrive on a form like this below:
Fill up only the Account Name, we usually don’t sign up for any account data sharing with Google for its “development” purposes. Click “Next” , and you will be on the 2nd step (image below). Fill in your Google Analytics property (your site or app) a name. Also chose China timezone and local currency to help your data become more localized and accurate. Click “Next”.
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By now you’re on the third step (below image). Chose your company industry. Also apparently Google wants to know how big your company is? Fill out whichever size you like, click “Next”.
Then Google wants to know what you intend to do with their awesome analytics tool (image below). For China we stay away from Google Ads or its advanced services to help not slow down our China websites. For this chose only the first option – just measure regular visitor traffic, then click “Create.”
Here is some legal stuff to be aware of, for this we chose “China” as the country (image below) but not really sure how enforceable is the agreement in China with Google. We can only trust Google as do billions of companies around the world do everything. Check the box and click “Accept”
We now get to choose the what platform Google analytics should collect data from about our visitors (image below). If you have a native app, choose Android or iOS. If you have a website then choose “web.”
After chosing your platform your next presented with options to connect your platform. In our example we use “Web” on the previous step and are now asked for our website url (domain link) and a “Stream Name”. These two are important, we use a clean domain example “https://mydomain.com” without the “www”, and a stream name that describes what it is, you can multiple streams incase you want to measure different analytics about your website.
Congratulations, you will now be given Google Analytics code to add to your website in order for Google Analytics 4 to be able to collect information about your visitors (image below). Chose “manual installation” as this works best for China. We typically install this code high above any other code including Baidu Analytics code to avoid conflicts or slow collection of data (header of your website).
If you’re successful with installing the Google Analytics code from the previous step, you end up with some numbers on your Google Analytics dashboard (like image below) and no warnings about and unconnected website.
b) Customize Reports
If your intention is to capture China specific traffic then there are a few customizations we recommend you make to get more accurate traffic about visits your website or app from China.
• Create a Segment for Chinese Traffic
We’ve discovered that many organizations have no idea how much Chinese traffic they’re generating. Chinese-language marketing not only drives traffic within mainland China, but it also attracts consumers from other countries or not easily identified by geography. Overall these Chinese who are hard to detect as Chinese users fall under one of the following categories:
a) Chinese citizens traveling overseas.
b) Chinese-reading nationals living overseas.
c) Chinese nationals living in China. However, they appear in your analytics as being elsewhere because they’re using a VPN.
So we recommend using a Google Analytics “Audience” that allows you to analyze traffic that is either a) coming from China or b) from a browser set to Chinese.
This is how to make Chinese visitors audience report in GA4
a. While logged into Google Analytics 4, click “Settings” on the left-side admin panel, “Admin” , then “Audiences. You will end up on a select screen allowing you to manage audiences (image below). Click “New Audience” to start defining its conditions.
b. You’re now on the new audience customization page (image below). Click on “Build new Audience”.
c. The form that follows allows (image below) you to input logic and conditions that Google Analytics will then to understand and report as Chinese visitors (irrespective of their location) as much as possible.
d. You can then input the following information into this form.
Add Audience Title: “Chinese Visitors”
Add Description of Title: “Chinese speaking or writing visitors in and outside of China”
Then we’ll make 3 conditions. Include Users when:
i ) “Platform / Device” > “Language Code” ( Add Filter: Condition : Contains : “zh” ) , make this condition as “OR”. Check the “at any point in time” checkbox.
ii) “Country ID” > ( Add Filter: Condition : Contains : “cn” ) , make this condition as “OR”. Check the “at any point in time” checkbox.
Note: Make sure to choose the “or” variable, not “and”.Or means that the segment will include traffic from a Chinese-language browser or from China (or both).
Under “Additional Audience Settings chose “Set to maximum limit”
You’ll then end up with an Audience of Chinese visitors without limit on China location looking like the setup below. Click “Save.”
To view your Chinese visitors analytics reports while logged in go to “Settings” > “Admin” > “Audiences”, then click on the name of the Audience you just made “Chinese Visitors” . You should see then a report with charts and tables that you can further customize and filter, see image below.
Note: When you create a new audience, it can take a day or two for new users to be included in the audience.
5. Our Advise
Google Analytics 4(GA4) data collection is great, but perfect. GA4 will pick up most data from your users but might miss a small percentage. This will probably be less than 7%, but we’ve seen differences as high as 20% depending on how you setup your analytics reporting.
If analytics collection for your China website or app is super important to you, then we recommend:
1. Use Baidu Analytics(Baidu Tongji) in conjunction with Google Analytics. It’s good to countercheck the analysis small differences in reporting, which will happen since each tool measures users differently. Of course its easier just to use one if you need cleaner numbers…use GA4.
3. If it’s critical that you track each goal or transaction on the site or your forms, it would be best for you to do so onsite or through a back end system. This means you build your own little analytics tool, it will slow your site or app, but you will get better specific conversion and analytics data.
4. Depending on your target Chinese market, Google analytics is the best way to track their visits. If its Chinese living overseas or English speaking Chinese that use a VPN then most likely they still use Google to search and your audience setup will work well. For local Chinese in China as well Google Analytics picks them up too, even by Region, but you may want to dig deeper into visits by China provinces by using Baudi Analytics (Tongi) for keywords as Google may not have as much details as Baidu (using its search engine). You will have to verify, filter, and balance out the Google and Baidu reports if you are serious about China visitors.
Should you need more advise on this, please contact us as this is what our agency specializes for foreign and Chinese companies operating in and outside of China.
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