Have you heard about Google Analytics 4? It’s the next big thing in Google Analytics and it’s coming with numerous changes and features. With the arrival of GA 4, Google announced that it will retire the current Universal Analytics (UA) entirely in 2023. If you haven’t prepared for Google Analytics 4 yet, now’s the perfect time to start. In this article, we’ll tell you what you need to know and do to get ready. Read on!
Why is Google making the switch to GA 4?
The current version of Google Analytics that we’re all accustomed to was first introduced for public use in 2013. It was built in a different era. Back in 2013, desktops accounted for more than 72% of total internet traffic. But as we all know, mobile usage has been accelerating throughout the years. Now in 2022, 58% of total internet traffic originates from mobile devices. And it’s not just that. People are constantly switching between using mobile browsers, mobile apps, tablets, personal computers and work laptops.
This makes tracking users and mapping out customer journeys increasingly difficult for businesses. There were always some versions of Google Analytics for mobile app tracking. But because data collection was different between app and web, syncing data became another challenge. So Google needed to find a way to unify all this data in one platform. Next to that, new data and privacy protection laws are being implemented around the world and users are starting to pay close attention to their online privacy. As a result of these changes, Universal Analytics can longer keep up with the demands of businesses and users. It’s time for something new. That’s where Google Analytics 4 comes in.
When is Google Analytics 4 coming out?
Actually, Google already launched GA 4 back in October 2020. If you created your analytics property after October 14, 2020, you’re very likely using a Google Analytics 4 property already. Here’s how you check your Google Analytics version.
If you’re not already using GA 4 then you’ll still have until the 1st of July 2023 to make the switch. And you don’t have to make a complete switch right away. You can create GA 4 properties and let them run parallel with your UA properties too. Google will let you view Universal Analytics reports for another few months after the 1st of July. After that, it will retire Universal Analytics entirely. There is a possibility that you won’t be able to access your previously collected data after this point. So if you start using GA 4 now, you won’t have to worry about losing your data when the time comes.
What has changed in Google Analytics 4?
What is different in this new analytics you may ask? Well, a lot actually. It’s almost an entirely different platform to Universal Analytics, so there are loads and loads of changes. In fact, Google even introduces AI-powered features that provide better predictive capabilities and prepare businesses for a cookieless future. These are some of the things you can expect in Google Analytic 4:
1. It’s built with privacy in mind so it’s durable for the future.
2. It reduces the load on Google’s server. This is great news for marketers as you will find sampling data to be a bit quicker.
3. You can do more in terms of customer segmentation thanks to the new data model.
4. It integrates better with Google ads, partly thanks to the enhanced customer segmentation capability.
5. Cross-device and cross-platform tracking capabilities. GA 4 can use machine learning to fill in data gaps occurred in cross-device and cross-platform tracking. All these features in combination with each other help businesses to better map customer journeys.
6. Automated events tracking. You can track many events by simply enabling them in the settings.
7. Machine learning features provide predictive metrics, including purchase probability, revenue prediction, and churn probability. You can use these predictions to create targeted campaigns and increase conversion probability.
8. The reports, UI and navigations are updated so you will need to spend some time getting used to them.
9. Easy cross-domain tracking setup.
Next, we want to point you to the major changes in GA 4’s data collection model because this has the most impact on how you prepare yourself moving forward. So let’s quickly discuss how Google Analytics 4 collects data in comparison to Universal Analytics.
A new data collection model
Google Analytics 4 uses a completely different data model compared to Universal Analytics. The Universal Analytics measurement model is based on sessions and pageviews. A Universal Analytics session almost always starts with a pageview. During a session, user interactions are recorded as “hits” and sent to Google’s servers. Some common examples of hit types include:
1. Page tracking hits, such as page views when a user views a page.
2. Event tracking hits, such as when a user clicks a button or downloads a file.
3. Ecommerce tracking hits, such as when a user clicks on add to cart.
Instead, Google Analytics 4 uses an event-based data model. In GA 4, everything is recorded as events, both for your app and website. To name a few, there are page load events, file download events, link click events and many more. Nearly any activity that a visitor can take on your site can have a corresponding event in GA 4. Accompanying events are parameters. Parameters are additional data points that correspond to that specific event. Each event can have up to 25 parameters, which means that you have more flexibility in collecting data specific to your needs.
Events in Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
We mentioned above that event is its own hit type in Universal Analytics. An event has 4 fixed attributes: a category, action, label and value. Since there are only 4 attributes, event tracking setup in UA is not as flexible as in GA 4. Next to that, many events in UA require Google Tag Manager to set up tracking.
GA 4 automatically tracks many events for you without having to navigate outside of the analytics environment. Some of these events include scrolls, video engagement, outbound clicks and site search. This is especially huge for small business owners and independent entrepreneurs who don’t have so much time and/or resources to invest in analytics. You will still have to rely on Google Tag Manager for tracking some events. But nevertheless, GA 4 saves you some time by doing certain things for you.
What Google Analytics 4 means for you and your website
Google Analytics 4 brings fundamental changes to the Google Analytics platform that will affect almost all businesses. This new data collection method means that you will need to rethink all your measurement plans and rebuild existing tags to support GA 4. Since the data is different, the reports will also be different. This coupled with tweaks in the UI and navigations means you will need some time to get used to the tool.
The retirement of Universal Analytics also means that you won’t be able to access old data anymore. Historical data is important because it allows you to compare how you perform year to year. That’s why we advise you to set up GA 4 as soon as possible. Doing so will allow you to build the necessary historical data to prepare you for continuity once Universal Analytics is no longer available.
How to get ready for Google Analytics 4
At the moment you don’t have to completely switch to GA 4 because it can run in parallel with your UA property. But Google does recommend setting up GA 4 as soon as possible. Let’s quickly go through the steps to make this happen.
Creating a GA 4 property
To start using Google Analytics 4, you will first need to create a new GA 4 property. Don’t worry, creating a new property won’t change anything about your current analytics setup. You can always access both properties via the property selector or Admin screen. Google has a setup assistant wizard to guide you through the process of creating a new property. Go to their page on adding a Google Analytics 4 property for the steps you need to follow.
After you create a GA 4 property, it’s time to properly set it up to use all the new and exciting features. Google has a page that guides you through the process of making the switch to Google Analytics 4. You’ll want to set up data streams coming from your websites and/or apps and enable data collection. On this page, you will also find instructions on how to completely migrate to Google Analytics 4, including how to map custom events to GA 4 as well as how to migrate audiences. We think you should definitely spend some time and read through this page.
Are you not using Google Analytics yet? Then you will have to create a Google Analytics account on google.com/analytics. Google has detailed instructions about setting up Analytics for a website and/or app and lots of materials to learn more about Google Analytics. They even let you create a demo account to explore and play with all the controls and settings.
The good news is that there’s nothing Universal Analytics does at the moment that GA 4 won’t be able to do. The tricky part is going to be in the transition, which means having to re-learn to use the platform. This is going to take some time so you don’t want to wait until the last minute to make this transition. Making the switch to GA 4 early also ensures you’ll have enough time to build up historical data for future usage. You’ll definitely thank yourself for that. And for new users of the platform, this is a nice and fresh introduction to Google Analytics.
If you’re looking for support on making the switch to Google Analytics 4, our teams of experts at Blue Sky are always ready to help you!