Alastair is co-founder of Digital Marketing Agency Optix Solutions in the United Kingdom.
When you open Google Analytics, which researches according to w3techs more than half of the websites on the internet you are now confronted with the following message:
“Universal Analytics will no longer process new data in standard properties from July 1, 2023. Prepare now by setting up a Google Analytics 4 property and switching.”
This, my friends, is a revolution, not an evolution.
Google has decided that Universal Analytics will finally be discontinued, which will cause a major shock in the world of marketing analytics. The announcement of its successor, GA4, was received with mixed reactions, from conflicting tweets and memes to disappointed forum posts. But one thing’s for sure: it’s happening, and you need to make plans now to be prepared.
Universal Analytics has become the standard way of understanding the success of a website and after many years we have become accustomed to its intuitive format. The introduction of GA4 is a complete change, so I want to use this post to help you understand its new features.
GA4 has machine learning at its core, with one of the main drivers being that you can focus on mobile-first functionality to see unified user journeys across your websites and apps.
Another important feature of GA4 is that it aims to be privacy oriented and will no longer store IP addresses. While Google has not made this clear, the company is likely following increasing pressure on technology companies to provide better privacy and data protection and is responding to the recent ruling by European courts that the current version of Google Analytics is not fully compliant with the GDPR†
Universal Analytics vs GA4
A major difference with GA4 is the tracking model it is based on. Universal Analytics was based on the ABC model (acquisition, behavior, conversion). GA4 now has everything based on events and parameters. Events include everything from page views to transactions to scrolling to the bottom of a page. Even clicks on certain buttons are classified as events.
To really compare the difference, let’s talk about an old favorite – the bounce rate – which has been a major player in monthly reports for as long as I can remember; if a user landed on a website and only visited that page without triggering any other analytics interaction, that counted as a bounce.
However, GA4 focuses more on what the user is doing on a page and whether they have actually engaged in a meaningful way. Google has therefore replaced the bounce rate with the engagement rate. As an industry consultant for the past twenty years, I can’t tell you how many times people have spoken to me about how worrisome their bounce rate is. I’ve always told them I’d rather have 100% bounce if I knew everyone who read that one page of say a search result, read my content, and contacted me for help. Lowering the bounce rate kinda proves my point, so I’m a fan.
A visit meets the criteria of being involved if it includes one or more of the following:
• More than one page view.
• Results in one or more conversion events.
• Takes more than 10 seconds.
This appears to be a positive change in the way Google Analytics works. Previously, if a user clicked on a campaign landing page and submitted a request form, Universal Analytics counted this as a bounce because it only considered the visitor’s behavior (this is only true if you hadn’t tracked the form as an event/ goal). It therefore seems logical that Google has taken the step to become more action-oriented.
Another likely reason for the change is that GA4 no longer stores IP addresses. Google is also working on cookie-free data tracking methods.
What’s new with GA4?
Don’t worry, you can still track and analyze the same key stats you know and love, just in a slightly different way. Analytics staples like where your website visitors came from (source/medium), the actions they took (pages visited, buttons clicked – now classified as ‘events’) and the conversions will still be available.
But conversions, as well as goals, are now set differently in GA4. You need to set parameters to tell GA4 what to measure, such as logging visits to a specific page, for example. In addition, the term ‘goals’ no longer exists in GA4 and are now referred to as ‘conversions’.
One of the biggest changes is a greater focus on end-to-end user journeys, rather than simply tracking what users are doing on the page. In addition, GA4 allows you to see unified user journeys across websites and apps. There is also more flexibility to build conversion tracking without having to edit your website code as parameters can be set in GA4 itself. GA4 will also use machine learning for a new insights feature to automatically identify useful information and make assumptions about site traffic and user behavior.
Why you should start using GA4 now
Universal Analytics profiles will stop processing new data on July 1, next year. If you don’t set up a GA4 profile before July 2022, year-over-year comparisons in GA4 will not be possible because your old data is in Universal Analytics. I therefore strongly recommend that you set up your profile now so that you can compare data as soon as possible, get a head start and get used to all the changes that come with GA4.