Google’s long-anticipated switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is looming large for many resource-challenged manufacturing marketers. Google Analytics, which is free for most functions, has not had an upgrade in 10 years, which means their current version of web analytics is all a lot of marketers know. Google announced in March that starting July 1, 2023, the current free version, known as Universal Analytics (UA), will no longer collect data.
Web analytic veterans, who have been working in the new GA4 platform since it was released in October 2020, are warning that the transfer from UA to GA4 is a lot more complicated than the switch from Classic Analytics to Universal Analytics back in 2012. It’s a lot to consume and digest.
If the mention of GA4 raises your anxiety level, perhaps you can take solace in the fact that you have a lot of company; experts estimate Google Analytics has an 88 percent market share. We’re here to help you with our expertise in analytics and insights so here’s a look at the key points you need to understand as you get started on a migration to GA4.
Google Analytics 4 Is a Different Data Model, Not Just an Update
Google Analytics’ last major update 10 years ago was before apps, mobile devices and e-commerce were such powerful forces in B2B. It also was prior to the explosion of tracking, ad targeting and, ultimately, widespread privacy concerns. Google had a lot of catching up to do with this transition.
GA4 is promoted as privacy-centric and is designed to track usage with or without cookies. It leverages machine learning and statistical modeling to predict behaviors to offset the dependence on cookies. GA4 no longer uses third-party cookies to follow you across the internet and power behavioral and remarketing campaigns.
As a result, GA4 has an entirely different data model. UA was based on sessions and pageviews. The GA4 measurement model is based on events. An event allows you to measure a distinct user interaction on a website or app, such as loading a page, scrolling, clicking a link, or completing a purchase. The result is that more behavior-based data is collected.
Three of the biggest changes are:
- GA4 is not as reliant on cookies. Google is not cookieless just yet, but it sets the table for it, driven by privacy issues and growing government regulations around the world. For now, it’s a mixture of first-party cookies and cookieless tracking. This different approach will create gaps in data for many marketers.
- GA4 will unify and sync your website and app data. You will be able to see how users behave at different stages on each channel, which should make it easier to plan a marketing strategy. For example, if you notice that most of your purchases include a coupon shared on social media, you can adjust accordingly.
- GA4 uses machine learning. As trends emerge in your data, you can receive automatic alerts, which should help you become a more agile marketer. This also applies to behavior among customer groups. GA4 will help you create models that calculate the potential revenue of a group of customers or the churn probability of different user segments.
You Can Launch Google Analytics 4 While Still Using the Current Version
If you haven’t already set up a GA4 property, there are plenty of reasons to get started sooner, rather than waiting for Google’s deadline of July 1, 2023. Google allows your business to use GA4 and UA at the same time, so you can begin collecting data in GA4 and become familiar with GA4’s approach without saying goodbye to UA.
One drawback of GA4 is you cannot transfer your historical data from UA. If you launch a GA4 property now, you will have eight months of “historical” data for direct comparisons. All of the data gathered in UA over the years will be available for just six months after July 1, 2023, during which time you can export that data.
Setting up GA4 is easier if you are comfortable working with Google Tag Manager (GTM). Think of Tag Manager as a tool to add tracking code and set parameters. It makes the transition to GA4 more plug and play.
Define Which Events Are Most Important to Your Business
With GA4, you have the power to create a relevant analytics experience that can drive more revenue. You can define which events are most important to your business. Google also offers the promise of predictive insights, which is extremely limited now but undoubtedly will become more robust with time and additional development.
Among the most useful features with GA4 are upgraded tools for measuring elapsed time, and access to event-based data to measure insights and data-driven attribution.
Events in GA4 can have up to 35 parameters for custom tracking, which is a bit intimidating, but the good news is that it has a robust set of six event defaults, so many users will not have to customize their reporting. The default measurements are:
- Outbound link
- On-site search
- YouTube video engagement
UA had limited automation capabilities in comparison to GA4; the machine learning capabilities of the new platform simplifies and improves insight discovery while also making it easier to automate reporting.
In some ways, GA4 makes custom tracking easier than UA. Events like external link clicks and scrolls can be easily tracked in the new property, while that same kind of tracking in UA requires setting up tags and triggers.
The Explore feature can perform ad hoc queries, apply data visualization to your reports, segment audiences, apply filters, and export the data into other tools. The Search feature also is a powerful tool that experienced GA4 users brag on.
Expect a Learning Curve for Reports — e.g., Where Is Bounce Rate?
The most obvious difference in GA4 is that the standard reports you're used to in UA are gone. Setting up custom reports is different enough that it will take people a while to become comfortable doing it. But GA4 is very customizable, which means you can choose what shows up in your main dashboard.
One significant change is the elimination of the traditional Bounce Rate reporting. Google is more interested in gathering details on engaged sessions; the legacy bounce rate does not tell you where visitors go. If Bounce Rate is a key metric for your business or your clients, you’ll need to find a new way to identify your best and worst performing pages.
The metric that will be used in place of Bounce Rate is Engaged Sessions. This metric is the number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had an engagement event, or had two or more page views. This will allow you to understand how many users are interacting with your content on your website.
Another of the most basic and important conversion actions — a successful contact submission form — is significantly more complex in GA4 and requires functional knowledge of Google Tag Manager compared to a one-minute task in UA.
Talk to Us for Help With Your Analytics and Insights
Implementing a new web analytics platform can be complicated, whether it is from Google or another free or paid service. If you need help with your GA4 implementation, we have a roadmap for getting it done. Reach out for a free consultation today and we’ll be happy to walk you through how we envision success with Google Analytics 4.