Towards the end of last year, Google introduced their latest web analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Over the last few years, a couple of key trends have emerged which have had an impact on the collection of data and how marketers are now finding it more difficult to understand their customers.
The first is that the traditional user journey has changed. In the past, a customer journey involved one device, and as a result, the old analytics platforms were designed around this and focused on measuring site visits. Nowadays, people may use a whole range of devices to make a purchase decision, often switching between a laptop, tablet or mobile device. This change in behaviour has made it more difficult to map out a user journey from start to finish.
The second trend is the privacy changes that have come into effect over the last couple of years. GDPR and data privacy have changed the online landscape massively, making it much harder for companies to track metrics that they used to.
These two factors combined meant that something new was required and this is when GA4 was born.
So in this short blog, we like to introduce you to GA4 and explain a couple of the bigger differences between this new analytics platform and Universal Analytics that everyone is so familiar with.
What is Google Analytics 4?
The simple answer is that Google Analytics 4 is Google's newest version of its analytics platform. In their own words, this new platform is event-driven, as opposed to the page view-driven setup of Universal Analytics. One of the big advantages of this new setup is that it can be used to look at data for a website, an app, or both together.
It also relies on machine learning to do predictive modelling instead of third-party cookies. Google said that:
Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers.
These smart insights via this machine learning will help to spot key trends in your data allowing you to identify potential issues as well as understand your audiences.
What are the biggest changes from Universal Analytics?
We all know change can be daunting sometimes. With so many businesses familiar with the Universal Analytics setup, making the switch to this new system that has a different layout, different functionality and different reports may understandably be lower on people's to-do list. That is why we wanted to share some of the main changes and what you can expect to see from GA4.
1. The Data Model
We alluded earlier that one of the biggest changes of this new analytics platform is the data model. In Universal Analytics, it used a 'sessions' data model, which records various hit types, such as pageview hits and event hits.
In GA4, every user interaction type is classed as an event (e.g. pageviews, conversions, clicks, etc.) There are 4 event category types, which are:
- Automatically collected events
- Enhanced measurement events
- Recommended events
- Custom events
The first two types can be set up directly in GA4 without the additional help of Google Tag Manager (GTM). This is different from UA, as this type of event data needed additional tags and triggers to be configured in GTM in order to access it.
2. The Interface
When you access GA4 for the first time, this is maybe the first thing you will notice! Looking at the image below, you will see that the navigation has changed completely.
You can see that Google has moved away from the 'ABC reporting' of Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour & Conversion, to data being grouped into Lifecycle, User and Events. As always when you change away from something familiar, it may take some getting used to but once up to speed, you will see how they should help you follow the user journey.
3. Cross-device tracking
Google Analytics 4 properties combine app and web measurement, which will now mean marketers can track both apps and websites. In contrast, Universal Analytics properties are web-focused only.
4. Reporting views
This will be a big difference for those who are familiar with the old setup. In UA, you are able to create up to 25 different reporting views, but with GA4, you will only be able to have one reporting view. And it doesn't look like this will change any time soon. However, you will be able to get around this by creating a new audience, which can replace the old filtered view.
5. Measuring Engagement
The final change we are sharing relates to engagement metrics, which have received an update in GA4. You will now have a new set of metrics, which include:
- engaged sessions
- engagement rate
- engaged sessions per user
- average engagement time
This is a shift from the page views and bounce rate that was used in UA, with these new metrics giving you much more accurate tracking of how your users engage with both your website and mobile app.
Should you make the leap to Google Analytics 4?
The new iteration of Google Analytics certainly brings a whole host of new features that will no doubt enhance your ability to gain valuable insights from your reports. That said, there will continue to be improvements to GA4, with more features and reports being introduced, so we don't think now is the time to abandon Universal Analytics completely.
Whilst we would definitely recommend setting up your Google Analytics 4 profile and starting to harness the benefits, it will be a little while until we think people and businesses should abandon UA completely.
While the platform continues to evolve, we'd recommend you run both analytics platforms on your website, allowing GA4 to start collecting key data and allow yourself to become familiar with the new version.
If you have any questions about making the most of your Google Analytics, we're always open for a chat - so don't hesitate to get in touch!