What is Google Analytics GA4 and How Should You Prepare for the Change?

Why is change a constant? As they say in Texas: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many marketers have used Google’s universal analytics for years and are now wondering why the change. Google explains some of the key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 as follows:

“Google Analytics 4 (formerly known as “App + Web) is a new kind of property, with different reports than what you’re used to seeing in Universal Analytics properties.  One advantage of a Google Analytics 4 property is that you can use it for a website, an app, or both a website and app together. Universal Analytics properties only support websites.”

Along with leveraging machine learning, Google’s new Analytics is designed to cross the divide between multiple web properties like websites and apps (mobile or web). The new GA4 also includes an attempt to further identify the cross-device user journey as traffic passes from desktop to mobile, and a touch of privacy control for the upcoming “cookieless future”. Blend all these elements together and the result is the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

What’s the rationale for making these changes? According to Google’s official announcement, the main goal of the new platform is to provide “a more complete understanding of how customers interact with your business.” By applying Google’s advanced machine learning models, the new Analytics can automatically alert you to significant trends in your data – like products seeing rising demand because of new customer needs. It even helps you anticipate future actions your customers may take. For example, it calculates churn probability so you can more efficiently invest in retaining customers at a time when marketing budgets are under pressure. We’re continuing to add new predictive metrics, like the potential revenue you could earn from a particular group of customers.”

Highlights of the new Google analytics 4

  • Built-in machine learning, modeling, alerts, and insights
  • Deeper audience integration with Google Ads
  • Customer lifecycle-framed reporting
  • Greater visualization of the cross-device journey
  • “Future proof” built for a cookieless environment and changes in data privacy
  • Built-in Automated Event Tracking with greater “fine-tuning” of events and conversions
  • Conversions (formerly named Goals) are no longer limited by 20 Goal events, enhancing conversion tracking abilities
  • No more views – we have yet to determine the impact of how this will affect the filtering of internal and bot traffic (which is why we loved the raw vs filtered views in universal analytics)
  • Cross-domain tracking without sophisticated coding requirements
  • Codeless Event tracking
  • Seamless integration with Google tools

What Business Need to Know About and Prepare for with GA4

First, GA4 is the future and Google has officially ceased advancements in the traditional “Universal Analytics”. Prepare to embrace it now because, as we learned with the revised ad interface, at some point the adoption will be forced. Additionally, all new Analytics accounts will start as GA4 accounts, but before you dive into accepting the future, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

  • Data in GA4 is not retroactive.
    • You won’t be able to look back past the day you install the new GA4 instance.
  • Start GA4 today, but hold on to your Universal Analytics (UA).
    • Since data will be fresh from the day that GA4 is installed, it won’t allow historical or comparison reporting period over period.
    • Once you start the new interface many of the traditional reports have been renamed, adjusted, or may be difficult to find in the transition 
    • Rely on your UA account for quick data pulls as you adapt to the new interface
    • If you are starting a new Analytics account create the Universal Analytics alongside your GA4 while this options is still available
  • Prepare yourself for changes to interface and terminology
    • Goals are gone and have been replaced with conversions
    • Some elements within the interface have moved and it will take time to find previously familiar elements
    • Prepare yourself to rethink data collection in terms of the Google Analytics 4 model
  • Setup changes may take time to learn when working on a new implementation

Pros and Cons of GA4

With every significant change there are some inevitable head-scratching moments. Some elements of GA4 flip traditional reporting into a new style and you may find even simple, common reports hard to find. Other elements are still in production and development and have yet to be added to the system.

  • Landing page reports are somewhat difficult to find and are now located under “Life Cycle > Engagement > Pages and screens.”
  • Digital Source and Medium are now located in several new data filters
  • No categories, actions, or event shortcuts
  • Views have been removed – but how that affects the filtering of data is yet to be determined
  • Conversion “Events” are automatically labeled with a predefined naming structure
  • Realtime events are currently limited, making conversion testing in real-time dependent on the new GA4 recognizing and categorizing your new conversion event for the first time

Reasons not to rush with the GA4 transition

Google Analytics 4 is the most profound update ever to the logic of Google Analytics. Now, everything is built around events, event parameters, and users — not around sessions as it was before.

We don’t urge anyone to abandon the old Universal Analytics (yet) and wholly switch to the new GA4. While it offers a more stylish interface, the new Google Analytics 4 does have “flaws” and not all features are available yet. 

Developers continue to work on features and reports and they are being released gradually. Publishers and Platforms (Shopify, WordPress, Salesforce, and more) are also separately adjusting to the changes resulting from the new interface. Google Analytics is still in a relatively early phase of its development, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for the changes now.

Instead of jumping in head first, begin running the new Google Analytics 4 in parallel with Google Analytics. Keep the source of historical data in the standard Universal Analytics, and begin data collection in GA4 for the future, because the future starts today.

Sources:

https://blog.google/products/marketingplatform/analytics/new_google_analytics/

https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10089681?hl=en#:~:text=Google%20Analytics%204%20

Jeff Cline

Director of PPC