14th July 2022

What switching to Google Analytics 4 means for your business

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Lauren Irwin

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You’ve probably seen the notification in your Universal Analytics stating that you’ll no longer be able to process new data in standard properties beginning 1 July 2023.

That gives you a year to prepare, set up and switch over to a Google Analytics 4 property, and learn how to use Google Analytics all over again.

So, here's what you need to know about GA4.

What’s actually changed?

A lot, and that's in terms of data, reporting and interface.

GA4 bases all of its reporting around users and events rather than session (hit) data. The new structure ("events-based model") processes each user interaction as a single standalone event.

In changing this structure, GA no longer groups user interactions within a given time frame. In theory, it will be easier to perform path analysis (understanding a chain of consecutive events that a user performs). For those with websites and apps, the cross-platform analysis will be more readily available and easier to understand.

An important change worth mentioning regarding the events-based model is the change in events themselves. We know that sessions can contain multiple page views, events and commerce transactions; however, with the events-based model in GA4, any interaction can be captured as an event. That means that Universal Analytics session (hit) types now translate to an event in GA4 (meaning event category, action and label are a thing of the past).

One of the differences in data (and volume) from Universal Analytics to GA4 is that the session counts in your GA4 property may be lower than the session counts in your Universal Analytics property. This is because GA4 doesn't create a new session when the campaign source changes mid-session, while Universal Analytics does create a new session under that circumstance.

In other words, it will be more intuitive and insightful for marketers (and UX designers) in its capabilities to predict user behaviour.

How does the new reporting work?

We’ve seen a massive move in recent years for user privacy with the introduction of GDPR and the need for strong cookie policies across websites. It has become much harder to track user behaviour and understand how they use our websites and find them.

GA4 is working to future-proof its data and our ability to understand how our users enter our site and interact. They’ve introduced ‘enhanced machine learning’ techniques to fill the missing data gap. This should create a single user journey for all data linked to the same identity.

What’s more, apparently, GA4 incorporates ‘cookie-less’ tracking and relies on first-party cookies, which keeps them compliant with GDPR laws. This is largely where their machine learning also comes into play and are calling it ‘blended data’ and is designed to adapt with or without cookies.

It has also changed how we see reporting. Suppose you’ve ever used tools like Salesforce. In that case, you’ll be well versed and used to seeing dashboards and reports represented as cards (that are clickable into reports) but gone are the days of the reports we’re used to digging into in Universal Analytics and building upon with segmentation and secondary dimensions.

You’ll see comparisons instead of segments, meta title data instead of URLs (in some cases), and many new acronyms like DAU, WAU and MAU (daily, weekly, monthly active users). Key metrics once tracked, such as “bounce rate”, is no more and are replaced by ‘engaged sessions per user’

This new and simplified reporting interface will ensure it’s easier to spot key trends and irregularities in our data.

The predefined reports covering different use cases in Universal Analytics will be no more, as GA4 uses overview reports in summary cards. If you want to dig in deeper, you’ll need to click on the dashboard card for more details.

Should you make the switch now?

Here at Abstrakt, we’ve created our GA4 property alongside our Universal Analytics so we can begin to learn its differences whilst still having the ‘old reliable.’ It also means that our GA4 property is collecting data already, and we won’t be starting from scratch when the switch happens. We’ll be more informed when considering future marketing and digital strategies.

What’s more, GA4 seeks to bridge the gap in user data lost due to the likes of GDPR and cookie policies, so in creating a property early, you’re allowing for its machine learning to get a kick start.

You can migrate your UA to GA4 if you’re prepared to leap immediately, but we recommend running alongside each other while learning the ropes.

Your key resource for all things GA4 can be found over at Google's Analytics Help.

In summary, we recommend creating a property for GA4 alongside your current Universal Analytics to understand its differences now and be ready for your future reporting—knowing what your new KPIs will be, what metrics you will need to track and what comparison reports are going to suit your business best.

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