Google Uses the Stick Approach for Google Analytics 4

Come July 1, 2023, the bell tolls for Google’s Universal Analytics (UA). Although UA has been a great friend over the years to most of us marketers, there’s no need to grieve. An even better relationship is just around the corner. You may not realize it yet, but you’ve been upgraded. Before long, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will bowl you over. Here’s why…

Why is Google Enforcing Google Analytics 4 Usage?

The switch to GA4 is no easy task for marketers and agencies. New ways of doing things will need to be learned. Views and reports will need to be re-built. Historical information will be lost. We feel your pain. Perhaps this is why Google has chosen to use the stick rather than the carrot to force people to make the change. Come July, if you want to use Google Analytics, you’ll need to use GA4. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. When they released GA4 in October, 2020, Google cited privacy standards and changes in consumer behaviours as the reason for the new analytics solution.

(GA4) has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms. It’s privacy-centric by design, so you can rely on Analytics even as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data. The new Google Analytics will give you the essential insights you need to be ready for what’s next.

How is Google Analytics 4 Better Than Universal Analytics?

Although we’ll delve more into the difference between the two systems below, there are a few main reasons we think GA4 will outshine UA once you start to use it (not listed in order of importance). First, you can track your website and apps all within GA4, making life easier for organizations that have both as well allowing you to measure app and web interactions together. Second, GA4 lets you track by events, rather than hits and sessions, which leads to a more precise understanding of user activity. Third, GA4 leverages machine learning, which will become increasingly important in our new world. And finally, the GA4 reporting tool provides better ways to analyze the buyer’s journey.

What’s Different Between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?

The main differences between GA4 and UA involve how they measure, report and leverage automation/machine learning.

How Data is Collected and Processed

As you already know, UA uses a session-based model, which groups users based on what they do within a given time frame. On the other hand, GA4 is an event-based model, which tracks all interactions as stand-alone events, whether it’s a web page hit, a scroll down the page, a button click or more. There are quite a few benefits of an event-based model over a session-based model including that you can collect more detailed information and perform more custom calculations that give a fuller picture of what users did on the site. And if you have a website and an app, there’s more flexibility when it comes to measuring a range of actions, so for example, for your website you can measure clicks and pageviews, while for your app, you could measure installs and opens, and how users engage or convert in either situation.

How Users are Tracked Across Devices

To track users, Google uses “identity spaces” which they define as User-IDs (when someone signs into your website), Google signals (data from users signed into Google) and Device ID (ID from your user browser or app-instance ID). UA relied heavily on Device ID, which made it difficult to compare and track users across different devices, which meant that your old UA report was inaccurate and had a number of “new users” that weren’t actually new. In GA4, Google uses all identity spaces, starting with User ID and then Google Signals (which are much more reliable ways to track people) than using device ID. Google is then able to de-dup and create a single user journey across devices and platforms. The benefit of this new type of tracking is, of course, you have a much more accurate understanding of how many new users and returning users you have and what they are doing. You’ll also be able to track conversions across platforms and devices getting a much better understanding of the true impact of your marketing campaigns.

Reports and Machine Learning

With GA4, Google threw away its very long list of predefined reports that you could customize, but ultimately were limiting for many organizations. In GA4, they’ve replaced these predefined reports with simplified overview reports that you can drill down into to get more insight. Out-of-the-box reports include Real-time, Acquisition, Engagement, Monetisation, Retention, User Demographics and User Tech. There’s also a much more comprehensive capability for custom reporting, referred to as Explore (or Explorations). The Explore capability comes with built-in techniques that guide your explorations, including funnel exploration (understanding steps to conversion), path exploration (understanding stages of a buyer’s journey), segment overlap (compare up to three user segments), user exploration (more detailed understanding of user group behaviour), cohort exploration (more detailed understanding of cohort behaviour) and if you’re in the mood to find your own path way, free form exploration. Both reports and explorations leverage machine learning to fill in gaps (which is inevitable in a cookie-less future) and give you better insights.

What Will be The Impact

We think overall that GA4 will have a positive impact on marketers and agencies. GA4 will provide us with much better insight into the buyer’s journey and the impact of marketing strategies and tactics. Much better insight is a win-win for marketers and Google alike.

For an in-depth review of everything GA4 related, including how to set it up, check out this post from Search Engine Journal: Get to Know Google Analytics 4: A Complete Guide.

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