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What your business needs to know about Google Analytics 4?

Universal Analytics Pain Points

If you’re a business looking to improve your marketing analysis, there are plenty of avenues to venture down. But maybe you’re wondering about the new release of Google Analytics 4. Should you add it to your website, and will it change the way your company measures its marketing?

With the increase of information being gathered through analytics, data has become more valuable than ever to businesses. However, trends have emerged that have made it increasingly more difficult for marketers to measure compared to the way they used to. For instance, using multiple devices or analyzing cross-device behaviors since most of us have a computer, either a laptop or a desktop, maybe a tablet, and all of us have mobile phones. Five to ten years ago, people used a single computer for online activity.

Universal Analytics, the current version of Google Analytics, was built to measure specific data, such as our example of device tracking. Users have multiple devices and frequently use these various devices to complete specific and varying tasks, like making purchases. Personally, I research many items on my phone because it’s convenient and handy during downtime but I’ll move to my laptop to create and complete the purchase. For businesses, this makes it difficult to track and can skew numbers on user data.

Universal Analytics was introduced in 2012. It’s been improved upon, updated, and remodeled, but there are restrictions, and it is old. So it makes sense that there are pain points when it comes to cross-device tracking. Google is a giant in the world of analytics and is the largest search engine globally. Yet, platforms like Facebook have built their analytics from the ground up, are current, and have a lot of data to offer their users. So Google decided to create a new platform from the ground up that would help address significant pain points for marketers, like tracking user journeys between apps, websites, devices, etc.

Introducing Google Analytics 4

Google understands marketplace trends, user trends, where data is going with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and that browsers, people, and extensions will hide and block data from being used. The current version of Universal Analytics relies on the data it can see. This can force marketers to make decisions on smaller sample data from just a segment of your site visitors.

Google designed Google Analytics 4 using artificial intelligence or machine learning to measure data and feed that into its algorithms. It builds reports from that data that model your actual site users and create a forecast of what the data might look like if all your site user data could be collected.

These new GA4 reports can now help marketers and businesses make more accurate assessments of their websites’ audiences and their journey. Furthermore, the data can be used to decide what other marketing tools to use for your business, like advertising on Facebook, running Google Ads, and other marketing avenues.

Using Google Analytics 4

When you first dive into Google Analytics 4 you should temper your expectation, yes there’s so many goodies to explore but one thing you need to remember about GA4 is that it’s less of a reporting tool and more of an analysis engine. Forecasting, reviewing, analyzing your data, it’s operating a lot differently than Universal Analytics and will take time to learn. Even the most advanced UA users will still have questions and will need to dig around GA4 before feeling comfortable using this system.

To start using GA4, a few things need to happen first. If you’re currently using Universal Analytics, you won’t be able to make a quick switch to GA4 by upgrading your existing accounts. When you switch over, you’ll start with new data across the board. That’s right. It’s not a quick, flip the switch transition. You’ll need to keep your existing Universal Analytics properties running for any historical data. While you’re running the new GA4, you will not lose data, and you can continue to use Universal Analytics on your website. The Google Analytics 4 property you created will start collecting new session and user data side-by-side with Universal Analytics.

So what’s the difference between the current Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

One of the first questions you’re probably asking is, what’s the most significant difference between Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4? Makes sense! Well, the most considerable difference I first noticed was the user-interface and how you’ll get the answers you want from the data. Universal Analytics was built to collect information, store the data, and build out reports. With Google Analytics 4, it’s built to store information for the different Google suites associated with tracking, tagging, and data, like Google Tag Manager, GA4, and Google Data Studio. For example, Google Tag Manager will collect the website’s data you want to track. Then Google Analytics 4 will store that data. Another key difference between Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 is GA4 keeps the data.

For example, in Universal Analytics you add the code/script to your website’s pages and the platform will automatically track page views. Then you need to use something like Google Tag Manager to track specific events such as video views, page scrolls, or button clicks. With Google Analytics 4, all that data is stored together as an event. Everything from a page view to purchasing to a click is an event. Since everything is treated as an event in GA4, it’s easier to analyze and cross-reference all your website’s data and information.

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If you’re new to Google Analytics, event and conversion tracking in GA4 is both more straightforward and more complicated at the same time. Creating additional event types for ecommerce or custom form conversions is now harder to add for less technical people. Simultaneously, GA4 makes it easy for tracking standard event types like link clicks, file downloads, or video plays without using any code or Tag Manager, and can all be found in the same area without going to behaviors then conversion dropdowns in Universal Analytics.

One of the most exciting features of Google Analytics 4 is the expansion of the reporting, analysis, and customization tools. Google has introduced a robust set of new templates that allow marketers to analyze user behavior with improved user experience visibility in ways that we have never been able to before in Universal Analytics. GA4 also has a few other new additions to it’s reporting section, it’s added funnel analysis, user retention data, and cross-device tools for users to view

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Is there a downside to Google Analytics 4?

As with all new tools, there are downsides, and with Google Analytics 4, there are a few right now. GA4 is roughly using a third of what Universal Analytics is capable of, so it can’t fully take over for Universal Analytics yet, and you’ll want to keep using Universal analytics for the time being. The reason being, if you’re going to review historical data, you won’t have any yet, so turning on GA4 is essential so you can start building that base for your site’s data.

You’ll also need to add GA4 so the machine learning can start analyzing the data for your site. It won’t give you forecasts overnight, it needs time to look and develop projections. It has a learning curve. Because GA4 is new and there is no information that’s transferred from Universal Analytics, you’ll have to add IP filters, a Developer sandbox, and client IPs to your filters. You’ll also need to connect any Google ad properties to GA4. Again, this will help the AI build data for forecasting. If you’re using Google Tag Manager, it now has new tag types for GA4 that work for page view tracking and custom event tracking. This means you’ll need to set up new event tracking because old tracking won’t work. New syntax for all custom events will need updating as old UA events do not transfer over.

If you, as a marketer, use Google Data Studio for reporting, there will be an issue for you using Google Analytics 4. GA4 does not fully connect to Data Studio yet, but allows you to use the different reporting tools built into GA4 as an alternative for the time being. A major downfall is that GA4 also does not connect to the Google Search Console, another data platform that Google offers for website owners. Again if you continue to use Universal Analytics, this still allows you to stay connected to your Search Console data. These are all items Google is working on to improve Google Analytics 4 as it becomes the flagship for the future of Google’s data gathering. For the time being, though, it is still ramping up.

Conclusion

Google Analytics 4 will be a valuable tool with predictive analysis, a more central tool for tracking and reporting, and new technology. We recommend setting up GA4 alongside your existing Universal Analytics in order to gather data now and begin to learn the tool. If you’re looking for more information or need someone to help walk you through these analytic changes, we’re happy to help. Contact Evolve Systems for more information on website analytics and measurement.

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