Google Analytics 4 (GA4) replacing the current standard of Universal Analytics brings unavoidable change that will affect the way you gather data and the information you can leverage in your marketing efforts. At a high level, the new analytics tool provides a more granular report interface, while also adapting to the evolving privacy landscape. GA4 no longer relies solely on Cookies, and now pulls its user measurements through conversion modeling — accuracy and ease are at the forefront of the new platform.
What’s the Big Deal?
Since Google’s Universal Analytics was unveiled in 2012, your business has had over a decade to become comfortable with this version to analyze the digital customer journey. One of its main perks over the years has been its zero-cost component, which GA4 carries on. This tool proves to be a primary resource for small and big businesses alike. However, for those who require additional complexity and data management, Google Analytics 360 remains an option — though it carries a substantial fee at $150,000 per year. A few important variables to consider with this transition is that data collected with Universal does not have the option to be placed into GA4, with the new tool only collecting fresh incoming data. Furthermore, the two models use differing data collection methods — GA4 will require you to establish the types of hits you want to collect compared to the predetermined set of measurements that already came with Universal.
GA4’s announcement also brings the looming deadline of July 1, 2023 which marks the last opportunity for all Universal data to be transferred to another storage platform before the old analytics tool is discontinued, no longer collecting new data. This 12-month time frame creates urgency to begin shifting over to GA4 and beginning the search for data warehousing — allowing you to continue leveraging historic data — sooner rather than later. Big Query is a go-to data storage option, but multiple other alternatives exist depending on your needs and preferences.
New Perks For Your Marketing Team
Adapting and keeping your business present on all digital platforms is essential to remain relevant to customers. Gone are the days of exclusively gathering data from one device at a time. Users are jumping from apps to web experiences, making cross-platform tracking key to creating a full view of your customers. GA4 fills that cross-platform and domain tracking gap. Whether a user is present on a website, app, or any type of web experience, GA4 allows tracking of their activity — within a certain timeframe — to be seamlessly compiled into one report. This cohesive reporting eliminates return users being classified as ‘new’ when they visit your digital platform from a different device.
Universal’s measurements of sessions and pageviews offer great insights into high-level activity, but GA4’s new measurement classification based on events allows for a more customized reporting system. The sessions and pageview data remain, however, they will now be categorized as individual events. An event simply translates to any hit or activity on one of your platforms. GA4 also offers a new feature: enhanced measurements. By enabling this feature on your account, your business can automatically gather more data on digital interactions with less effort. Reports on outbound link clinks, video engagements, file downloads, and activity under 90% page depth are automatically collected and recorded. These automatically-gathered events allow further tracking of data such as link domain, page referrer, and search terms — creating even more insight into users’ paths across your platforms. One helpful component of the enhanced video measurement is the reporting of starting point, progress, completion, duration, and more. These expanded data points give you a step-by-step view of users’ time on all platforms.
Data Collection & Reports
Universal’s limit of 10 million hits per property, per month has been expanded — removing the cap with GA4. The Path Exploration report produces detailed tracking of the customer journey from the initial point of contact to the final conversion point. Another neat feature is the DebugView report, where you can see the exact events. Real Time reports are still featured in GA4, but the DebugView reports differ by going more in-depth to analyze in-the-moment data for a specific device; it also allows reporting on activity lasting longer than 30 minutes. Segmenting users has become easier and more customized by virtue of the Audience Builder feature, which gives you complete control over grouping by the distinct metrics of your choice.
The homepage of GA4 has a new layout. The information from Universal Analytics’ homepage is still available, but it has shifted to new tabs. The refreshed look to the homepage — by default — adds metrics for new users, average engagement time, total revenue, and number of recent users. The sidebar menu structure looks relatively familiar and holds four simple tabs: Reports, Explore, Advertising, and Configure. These each contain similar reports to Universal, plus a few new layouts that condense information into a quick overview — like the Advertising Snapshot, with quick access to conversion data.
Even with a year grace period before Universal Analytics data is no longer gathered, now is the time to begin implementing GA4 if you haven’t already with the opportunity for both tools to coexist and collect data simultaneously in the interim. By setting up GA4 before July 1, 2022, you will be able to compare year-over-year data once the full transition has occurred. Also of note, the default data storage option in GA4 is only 2 months, so we recommend jumping into the settings and updating this to the maximum allowable 14-month window once your instance is set up.
The revised features of Google’s latest analytics update make collecting your customers’ information easier than ever before. Your business can now be a fly on the wall to virtually all of your users’ digital interactions. The next steps lie with your marketing team in their ability to familiarize themselves with Google Analytics 4 data and implement this information into your marketing strategies. Oh, and make sure you find that new data storage platform to ensure you don’t lose historic information. Don’t let the unknown prevent you from diving in, GA4 has a lot to offer with the mapping of your digital user journeys — adding new, actionable data to your marketing toolkit.