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Your Guide to Google Analytics 4

In October of 2020, Google announced it was releasing Google Analytics 4, a newer more intelligent version of Google Analytics. This was a major update. If you recall your time using Google Analytics before, you might have noticed the Beta symbol at the bottom of your analytics menu that said ‘App + Web’ properties. This beta is essentially now Google Analytics 4.  So what is different? What does this mean for your marketing strategies? This blog is your essential guide to Google Analytics 4.

Data on desktop from Google Analytics

The first Question on Everyone’s Mind, Why?

Google Analytics 4 was released to catch up with our current lifestyles. Two things have happened over the past few years that have marketers adapting. Both significant shits in privacy-related modifications to industry standards and shifts in consumer behavior. GA4 was released to accommodate these shifts.

While these shifts in industry standards and consumer behavior pushed the release of GA4, Google themselves also needed to update its infrastructure. In 2005, Google acquired a San Diego based company called Urchin.  While that product was called Urchin from Google, the name soon became “Google Analytics”[1]. This technology is ~15 years old; if you remember back to 2005, the internet was an entirely different space. After running on javascript and cookies for close to two decades, it was time for an adjustment.

While the previous Google Analytics (dubbed Universal Analytics) gave marketers a view of their consumer data, Google still wanted to give us more. GA4 was designed to give marketers a better ROI and a better understanding of how customers interact with their brand.

 

What is New in Google Analytics 4?

1.) Smarter insights from machine learning 

Google Analytics Smarter insights from machine learning 

Google analytics 4 gives users a whole new expanded view of their data. This is in part due to the use of machine learning to identify trends giving you smarter insights. GA4 allows marketers to plan and predict user behavior. With these predictive capabilities, users can create different audiences and run tests based on the audience’s likelihood of conversion.

Google states, “We’re continuing to add new predictive metrics, like the potential revenue you could earn from a particular group of customers. predictive metrics allow you to create audiences to reach higher-value customers and run analyses to better understand why some customers are likely to spend more than others, so you can take action to improve your results.”[2] Predictive analytics allows the marketer to be more proactive in their decision making and strategies.

2.) Google Ads integration that goes deeper than before

To continue to allow you to increase your ROI, Google Analytics 4 has deeper integration with Google Ads. Users can create audiences based on their data and reach more relevant information. This feature is not just specific to Google Ads. Marketers will see user conversions from non-google channels such as YouTube and email, giving them a customer-centric view of their marketing and brand engagement.

Google Analytics Google Ads integration that goes deeper than before

3.) Customer-centric data measurement

The release of Google Analytics 4 allows marketers to understand how their audience and users engage with their websites and their business as a whole. Marketers can track users across software, website, and apps. Now marketers can understand the impact of marketing campaigns because it gives more insights into the customer journey and how those users engage with the brand in its entirety.

Google Analytics Customer-centric data measurement

Have you ever wondered what a lifetime customer’s first interaction with your brand was? Now you can find out and strategize. Pageview data does not give marketers much in terms of understanding customer behavior or their lifecycle, which is why Google moved away from this. Alexandra Poulopoulou states “this new feature of Analytics will try to collect basic events such as scrolls, clicks, downloads, even video engagement, without the need for additional implementation [3].”

4.) More Granular data controls

Google Analytics More Granular data controls

Privacy laws and regulations that have recently come into effect have had an impact on Universal Analytics. With greater concerns over user privacy and the ultimate phase-out of cookies, the analytic platform needed to be reflective of this. Google Analytics 4 gives you the ability to manage how data is collected and used in the platform. Google analytics 4 is also more centered around events. Now everything that you measure will be an event. Kristina Popat wrote a fantastic article where she compared the two analytics platforms. She broke down the events into categories like this:

  • Automatically Collected – these are automatically logged from the gtag or gtm configuration
  • Enhanced Measurement – a special set of events that can be enabled or disabled via the GA4 interface. Events include file_download, scroll and video_start.
  • Recommended Events – events with predefined names and parameters that are recommended for different business types. These events require custom code changes.
  • Custom Event – events that you name and implement yourself (similar to Universal analytics). These events also require custom code changes [4]

 

How is My Data Being Tracked?

Privacy concerns and changes in regulations is one of the main reasons Universal Analytics needed an upgrade. GA 4 tracks users with a Google tracking code, much like Universal Analytics. In fact, users can use the same tracking code from their Universal Analytics accounts. All they need to do is link both accounts, and set up a data stream from your website and or application. This helps you collect data from all the sources related to your brand.

 

What About My Current Data?

No worries, it is all still there, and Google will continue to track your data inside Universal Analytics. If you set up Google Analytics as a new property, you will still be able to use Universal Analytics and have access to that data and reports. These two properties will run side by side for a while, giving you more access to even more customer data and trends than with one property. This will allow you to make more informed marketing decisions based on data.

Google Analytics Realtime reports

There will however come a time, probably in late 2021, where Google Analytics 4 will be the only Analytics platform offered by Google. This exact timing is unknown, however, it is important to know that Google does not want you to lose your data. They stated, “we know there are capabilities many marketers need before fully replacing their existing Analytics setup”[5].

 

What Happens At the End of 2021?

At the end of 2021, Universal Analytics will stop collecting data from Google Site tags. Google analytics 4 will become the core analytics platform offered by Google. Your historical data will still be accessible, however, any new data collected in 2022 will have to be collected and analyzed through google analytics 4. Essentially, you are going to want to set up your Google Analytics 4 account before that happens to ensure you’re not missing out on any potential data.

Google Sign in Google building

In Conclusion…For Now

While Google Analytics 4 started out as a beta last year, what Google has accomplished in a short time is astounding. If you’re worried about losing access to a platform you know and love, Google Analytics 4 is just as intuitive and even more user friendly than Universal Analytics. Google isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel by rolling this out, they are simply trying to give you more access to potential data and increase your ROI to help you make more informed decisions about your marketing strategies.

 

Heads Up! Facts We’ve Learned About Google Analytics 4

  • Google suggests “Dual Tracking” which is both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics properties running at the same time using the Google Tag Manager
  • Google Analytics 4 is now the default property when setting up an analytics account. You can still build out Universal Analytics accounts, but you will need to select that property.
  • Google Analytics 4 is where all of the future updates to Google Analytics will be.
  • The classic graphs in Universal Analytics do not make a comeback in Analytics 4. Now users view cards on their dashboard, each with specific data that can be drilled down and analyzed.
  • Google analytics 4 helps marketers comply with data regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.
  • Take this opportunity to address your business goals and objectives, now is your chance to test it out.

 

Thinking about installing Google Analytics 4? Let us know, we’d love to get started

 


Sources:

[1] – Urchin Software Corp. – The unlikely origin story of Google Analytics, 1996–2005-ish

[2] – Google – Introducing the New Google Analytics

[3] – Towards Data Science – Meet Google Analytics 4

[4] – Trackify – Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics

[5] – Google – Introducing the New Google Analytics

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