Google Analytics 4: What Will Analytics Look Like in 2023?
You will have heard that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is on the horizon. GA4 represents the most significant change to Google Analytics (UA) in a decade, and it’s set to take over from the 3rd generation Universal Analytics soon.
With it, it brings a whole new way of collecting, presenting, and analysing your data. In this post, we’ll run over the basics of GA4 and what it means for you.
What is GA4?
Simply put, GA4 is the latest iteration of Google Analytics and launched in October 2020. Since then, it has been the default analytics property, replacing Universal Analytics.
The main difference between the two is that GA4 focuses on both websites and apps, with an emphasis on the user journey. Due to the different ways people behave on websites and apps, it required a new measurement model based on events and parameters rather than sessions.
It’s also an attempt to better focus on user privacy in response to legislation such as GDPR and CCPA.
As Russell Ketchum, Director of Product Management at Google Analytics, says:
“Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions, and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, Google Analytics 4 operates across platforms, does not rely exclusively on cookies, and uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.”
GA4 currently runs alongside Universal Analytics. However, on July 1st, 2023, UA will stop collecting data altogether. However, you will still have access to your historical data until the end of 2023.
The July 2023 cut-off point also means that unless you set up your GA4 property before June 2022, you will be unable to make YoY data and performance comparisons until you have a full 12 months of data within GA4. The best time to set up GA4 was October 2020, but the second best time is today!
What to expect from GA4, and how is it different from UA?
Google explains that GA4 is built for the future of measurement and:
- Collects both website and app data to better understand the customer journey
- Uses event-based data instead of session-based
- Includes privacy controls such as cookieless measurement, and behavioural and conversion modelling
- Predictive capabilities offer guidance without complex models
- Direct integrations to media platforms help drive actions on your website or app
This means that those who use GA on a regular basis will have to learn their way around a completely new platform, and change their approach to analysing these new metrics. However, by offering
Where UA had several different data points nested within each other, such as by User, Session, Hit (such as Pageview or Event), or Product (for e-commerce tracking), GA4 simplifies this by offering a much simpler structure.
All data sent through GA4 exists as events, and this is supplemented with a User ID. This makes data collection simpler, but also opens up a ton of opportunities for creating custom reports and dashboards to report on almost anything you need. However, where GA4 really shines is its integration of machine learning.
GA4 works with pre-built reports, which when backed up with machine learning can then be customised to produce a huge variety of dashboards on the fly. This vast new capability in data collection and exploration should make analysis and the gathering of insights much more useful to the end user. Users can also expect a more comprehensive integration with Data Studio for creating and sharing reports with clients and other stakeholders.
Heavy users of Universal Analytics will be delighted to hear that data sampling should be a thing of the past with GA4. Because GA4 is more responsive and scalable, building reports as it goes, the threshold for sampling will almost never be reached, and even large organisations will encounter it much less frequently. Gary Stubbenhagen at Builtvisible explains:
“Universal Analytics would start to sample if the property contained more than 500,000 sessions for the data range reported on. It doesn’t matter whether the data would be included in the report, or if the data was filtered out of the view. If [it was] collected, it counted. In GA4, sampling kicks in [above] more than 10 million events.”
How can brands adapt to GA4?
Brands, agencies and digital teams will have to adapt quickly to understand the new model and get the most out of it for clients and stakeholders. GA4 ensures a more complete view of the customer journey rather than separating data into independent sessions or platforms. Therefore, combining metrics such as e-commerce data from the web and apps into a single report will take some getting used to, but will provide a more accurate picture of overall digital performance.
Likewise, the new platform will enable marketing professionals to make truly data-driven decisions. For example, the attribution algorithm distributes conversion credits across different touchpoints, allowing you to see which marketing activity is driving conversions.
However, some of the metrics we have all gotten used to in UA, such as average session duration, do not have direct equivalents in GA4, while others such as bounce rate are calculated very differently. That said, in most instances, it should be possible to configure a report that tells you the same information, albeit with potentially different names. This will make YoY comparisons between old and new data impossible though.
On that point, there is no simple way to migrate data from UA to GA4, and as we’ve already discussed, you will eventually lose access to your historical data. Even if you export it all, due to the differences in the platform, there will be no way to import it back into GA4. Therefore, it’s really important you start collecting GA4 data as soon as you can to ensure the period where you are unable to compare YoY data is as short as possible.
One of the best ways for brands to adapt to GA4 is to simply get their hands dirty and start using it. Google provides a treasure trove of resources to help you familiarise yourself with the change. Also, sites like Moz and Search Engine Journal offer user guides to help you set up your GA4 property and start analysing data.
Google Analytics 4 represents the biggest change in data gathering and analysis in a decade. However, such a shakeup offers both challenges and opportunities to those that are ready to seize them. Utilising the new data and insights, especially around user journeys and behaviour, will give organisations a much greater understanding of what their customers are doing, and the marketing tactics that are effective in driving conversions.