In the fall of 2020, Google rolled out Google Analytics 4 (GA4) — the latest version of its massively popular Google Analytics Platform. With Google sunsetting Universal Analytics (UA) in 2023, now is the time to learn about the new platform.
This article will walk you through GA4’s
What’s changing from Universal Analytics (UA)
How those changes will affect your business
Why now is the time to change over
New Google update (July 11, 2022): Search Console Insights
We’ll also show you how to use those changes to your advantage. Here are the main takeaways that we’ve discovered.
Why businesses need to start paying attention
If your business runs any sort of digital marketing campaign, you probably heard about this release. But with Google’s continued support for its longstanding UA platform, many businesses have yet to make the leap. GA4 will likely become the new default for digital analytics measurement. With a steep learning curve and the historical data available in UA, however, it made sense for businesses to stick with the familiar option.
That’s about to change.
This year, Google announced that GA4 will be the only option for businesses’ Google Analytics measurement as of July 1st, 2023. That gives you just under a year to prepare for the change, and understand how to make the most of the new GA4 paradigm.
Luckily, Major Tom has been hard at work learning about GA4 properties. In fact, we’ve already been helping clients move their campaigns to the new platform.
Google Analytics 4: the need to knows
Per Google, GA4 is the next best-practice iteration of the Google digital analysis platform.
In other words, this isn’t change just for change’s sake.
GA4 offers key new features that Google claims will make it a better fit for the future of digital advertising. They’ve designed this new standard around the changing reality of user privacy online, as well as accounting for increasingly complex brand journeys that span multiple platforms and devices.
The key takeaways:
GA4 uses a new data collection and aggregation methodology that will support you through the cookieless near-future.
It’s able to integrate both mobile app and website usage data natively, without requiring individual properties for each.
GA4 natively (and without cost) integrates with BigQuery, allowing you to compile and analyze huge data sets more efficiently — although keep in mind that larger projects will incur charges from BigQuery itself.
GA4 takes advantage of Google’s machine learning to automatically provide insights and recommendations based on user behavior and activity.
A host of promised new tools not offered in UA.
Each of these features are designed to help you better understand and connect with your audience across platforms. They provide an essential solution as classic retargeting tools become less reliable
Of course, there are challenges, too. GA4 is still in development, and so still lacks some of the functionality we’ve become accustomed to in UA. But there are still opportunities to build a foundation for your brand now.
What’s changed from Universal Analytics?
1. Reliable support as the cookie crumbles
How are those features different from Google’s current toolkit? Well, UA was built for a generation of online measurement defined by the desktop web. Its tools were designed to work best with independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies.
This approach is quickly becoming obsolete.
In contrast, GA4 works across multiple platforms, and can understand your users without relying on cookies. That’s an essential feature for marketers, because cookie-based tracking will become less reliable and less available over the next few years. This is also helpful if your brand needs to support multiple apps and websites. It means that GA4 will provide a single source of truth that lets you track everything to the same property.
2. Eventful campaign tracking
Another big change? GA4 uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement. That means that classic campaign KPIs like page views are collectively grouped as “events”. UA’s standard hit/session/user event scoping will be no more, greatly simplifying how we track data. This will also allow us access to new dimensional segmentation not previously supported
Anything you’d want to track during a campaign is going to fall under this umbrella. However, there’s still plenty of room to filter and fine tune. You can now expand tracking to include detailed event parameters, expanding the amount of collected data at the event-level. This makes tracking even more robust across the full customer journey.
3. Learn how your users spend their time
GA4 also offers some improved options for time-based tracking. In UA, you’re usually stuck measuring the time spent on a page. While this can help as a baseline, it makes it difficult to track the time spent on different actions in your funnel, or how long a user is engaging with different content. In GA4, The “elapsed time” feature lets you do just that, tracking the time between actions — like watching a video and making a purchase.
4. Custom funnels that fit your users
Last but not least, GA4 offers up significantly improved funnel and tracking paths. This was previously locked behind the premium Google Analytics 360 platform. Now, GA4 will let you:
build and segment audiences,
create custom funnels, or
work within prepared templates by default.
This lets you follow your users’ steps throughout your funnel, customizing as you need to, and tracking where they’re converting or dropping off along the way.
Why is now the time to change?
Moving your business to GA4 is now a question of when, not if. But there are still plenty of reasons to embrace the change sooner rather than later.
First, with businesses scrambling to learn everything they can about the platform before July 1st, 2023, now is your chance to get ahead of the pack. An experienced GA4 partner can help you orient yourself more quickly for a strategic advantage over the stragglers — who may put off their migration until 2023.
It’s not just a question of expertise. There is an opportunity to collect historical data now — with a concurrent GA4 property — so that you don’t lack critical historical insights on the platform next year.
Building your foundation for the future, now
Remember: GA4 and UA use different data collection models, with new integrations and collection structures. While GA4 provides the option to track based on existing UA events, that functionality may not work after the changeover in 2023.
However, while both platforms are still available, you can run GA4 and UA properties in parallel. This will effectively preserve your historical data — but the window to do so will close once Google sunsets UA.
Dual tagging allows you to hold onto your historical data while giving you time to learn the new platform and prepare for upcoming features. This means you’ll also start collecting data within GA4 now, providing months’ worth of data to support your business decisions sooner. Like most platforms, GA4 does not collect data retroactively!
Search Console Insights now supports Google Analytics 4
In a new update released July 11, 2022, Google announced that Search Console Insights now supports Google Analytics 4 properties. Google launched Search Console Insights last year to provide helpful insights on how your site content performs, and how users discover it on the web. It got good feedback from both content creators and SEOs, who found it helpful for understanding how to improve their content.
Key tips and insights:
If you created a new Google Analytics property in the last year and a half, then it is probably a Google Analytics 4 property.
Associate (link) your Google Analytics property, as otherwise, you will only see 20% of possible content insights.
When Google can find a good recommendation for an association, it will show in Search Console Insights.
You can also visit the Associations settings page in order to manage your associations and control which Google Analytics property data you see in Search Console Insights.