Google has released its next gen analytics platform, Google Analytics 4, which marks a major shift in how data is collected, stored and filtered.
In this post I’ll cover what’s new in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and what this means for business, including steps towards adoption in your organisation and some frequently asked questions.
- Headline: GA4 draws upon components of the Google ecosystem to support modern marketing needs.
- Highlight: GA4 has baked in machine learning at its core, providing advanced intelligence, reporting and predictive analytic capability.
- Cross-platform tracking: GA4 integrates web and app analytics to track the customer journey across platforms.
- Privacy: GA4 is a big step in preparing for a cookie-free future.
- Recommended action: Set up a new property in GA4 and run in parallel with Universal Analytics using dual tagging to get familiar with GA4 and build historical data before an eventual migration to GA4 in the future.
WHAT’S GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4?
Google Analytics 4 – or GA4 – is the latest version of Google Analytics (aka Universal Analytics). GA4 isn’t just an update, it represents an entirely new data model. This means an entirely new approach for collecting, storing and filtering data, which means businesses will need to start collecting historical data within GA4 before the eventual shift from Universal Analytics. Doing so requires the creation of a new analytics property in GA4 to get familiar with the new interface, translate KPI into reports, and collect historical data.
As businesses need time to collect historical data before making the switch, it will be at least 18 months before Google flips the switch and GA4 becomes the default. It’s not a question of if you should migrate to GA4 but getting prepared now for an eventual transition.
WHAT’S NEW IN GA4?
GA4 draws on various components of the Google ecosystem to support modern marketing needs. It is also a leap towards a cookie-free future and mass adoption of machine learning for digital marketing.
Google said they have a big roadmap full of new features that will be rolled over coming months. In the meantime, here’s a taste of what’s new in GA4.
1.Tracking events over sessions
Google Analytics currently tracks activity over a given time frame, known as a session. In GA4 all interactions – or events – will be tied to the user rather than the session. According to Google, “Events can collect and send pieces of information that more fully specify the action the user took or add further context to the event or user. The benefit is a more customer centric approach to tracking, prioritising people over sessions, which will provide greater insight and help optimise the user experience.
2.Enhanced measurements to capture high-volume interactions
Enhanced measurement is a new feature that will help marketers track common user actions without updating website tags. Common actions include:
The benefit is tracking common events becomes a straightforward task than anyone can setup. This is particularly helpful for small and medium business with small digital teams that typically have to outsource tag management.
3. Cross device tracking
This is a big one...
The inability of tracking users across multiple devices has been a growing challenge for marketers as cross-device and cross-channel experiences become increasingly common.
GA4 will do this using signed-in data from Google, as well as your own first party data from signed-in experiences. For those users signed-in to Google in their browser, as well as various Google platforms, we’ll have a much more detailed view of the customer journey. Likewise, for brands that offer a signed-in app and desktop experience. This additional first-party data will now be unified in GA4.
This data will again help us optimise the customer journey and improve advertising performance.
4.Farewell to channel groupings… sort of
This is something I’m a little nervous about. Custom channel groupings are something most marketers rely on to measure and optimise channel performance.
Channel groupings will vanish in GA4 with medium becoming the new standard. What you can however do is go to Acquisition > Traffic Acquisition and change the default filter from medium to source.
What this means for marketers is we’ll need maintain a disciplined approach to using UTM for all media, which is something everyone should be doing (WTF is a UTM you ask? Or want to read more on custom channel groupings?)
5.Machine Learning for better predictions and insights
Machine Learning (ML) is the future of analytics. It uses big data to identify trends and make recommendations.
Usually something only leveraged by larger enterprises, ML is now baked into GA4 and accessible through the Analysis Hub. I’m looking forward to playing with this functionality more to get a better sense of what is can and can’t do for business of various sizes. This includes seeing if the ML can draw on big data at the category level or if it’s limited by the volume of users receives over a given time period.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
GA4 is a big shift that will have a relatively steep learning curve. Luckily Google will not flip the switch and force all properties to GA4 (for some time). The benefit being we all have time to be proactive and prepare.
It’s important to note that GA4 is not simple an upgrade to your analytics property, it’s an entirely new data model altogether. You’ll therefore want to preserve historical data in Universal Analytics by setting up a new GA4 property that runs in parallel. Doing so is a simple and just involves setting up dual tagging.
Dual tagging means you’ll hold on to historical data while having time to learn and adjust to the new reporting interface, missing data or reports, as well as new features that Google will add in coming months. You’ll also start collecting historical data within GA4.
In summary, it’s worth being proactive and setting up a new analytics property with GA4. You can still use Universal Analytics as your official reporting tool while preparing for an eventual migration to GA4.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How is Google Analytics 4 different to Universal Analytics?
GA4 uses a different data model than Google Analytics, which fundamentally changes how data is collected, stored and presented. A core difference is that everything is now event driven rather than being session based. Finally, the look of the UI is also very different and will take some time to get used to.
What are the perks of transitioning to Google Analytics 4?
The biggest benefit is transitioning to Google Analytics 4 now will give you a bigger data set when the time comes to move away from Universal Analytics. You’ll also have access to new features as their added including enhanced measurements, Analysis Hub, and access to Big Query with greater limits in the free version.
What are the first things I should setup in Google Analytics 4?
The first thing worth configuring is pageviews. This includes demarcating content into groups (i.e. news, sales, service). The second thing to do is map your business KPI into useful reports within GA4. If you’re already using User ID’s then bringing these over as soon as possible is worthwhile. The forth’ish thing you should do is integrate your Google Ads account. Setting up your Big Query feed is also worth your time early on.
Are there any reasons I shouldn’t switch to Google Analytics 4?
To be clear, Google does not recommend switching to GA4 yet. What they do recommend is setting up a new analytics property and using dual tagging to run both GA4 and Universal Analytics in parallel. Doing so means you’ve got time to get used to GA4, setup correctly and collect historical data before GA4 is ready to become the default option. With that said, every business will need to embrace GA4 eventually so starting to prepare for that future now is the wise option – I can’t think of a reason why a business wouldn’t start this journey sooner rather than later.
Where can I see details on automatic events such as pdf downloads?
First you will need to have enabled enhanced measurements and given the new property some time to collect a little data. To see automatic events such as pdf downloads, just head to the Engagement tab and select Events.
Where can I find my acquisition channels in Google Analytics 4?
Google no longer has the straight up default or custom channels report we’re all used to. However, you can still see channels performance by selecting the Acquisition tab and Traffic Acquisition. This currently defaults to medium but you can filter by source from the dropdown menu. Good use of UTM is needed to make the most of this report.
When will Google sunset Universal Analytics?
There’s no word on when Google will sunset Universal Analytics and force everyone onto Google Analytics 4. According to Google, Universal Analytics will be around for while longer as they want to give everyone time to setup GA4 and collected a year or two worth of historical data. That said, their advice is to use dual tagging to run both properties in parallel until the time comes.
What are the benefits of using Google Analytics 4?
The benefit of using Google Analytics 4 is it’s the future of digital analytics. It incorporates machine learning, enhanced tracking, as well as adding new features over the coming year. It is however still worth maintaining your current Universal Analytics property.
If I’m creating a new website should I set it up in Google Analytics 4?
Even if you’re create a brand new website, the best advice is to still use dual tagging to set up a property in both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.
Contact us for a chat about your readiness for GA4 across people, process and technology.