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Google Analytics 4 101 – What Is It and What Should I Do Now?

Google Analytics 4 101 – What Is It and What Should I Do Now?

Google Analytics 4 is Google’s next generation analytics tool. It was officially launched in October 2020 and has left marketers and business owners, including yours truly, wondering exactly what to do. This article will introduce you to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), help you understand why it matters to you, and provide a roadmap so you’ll know where to go from here.


Why Do We Need a New Version Google Analytics Anyway?

Google Analytics 4 will replace Universal Analytics, the version of Google Analytics that you are currently using which originally launched in 2013. In the digital world, 7 years is a long time, so it’s not surprising that a reimagining of Google Analytics was required to not only keep up with the times but to provide a foundation that was more flexible and better structured to adapt to future changes in the way people interact digitally.

Over the past few years, the way consumers interact with businesses online has become more complicated. In most cases, they visit a website many times before making a purchase, and these visits can split between their desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. While some cross platform tracking was possible before, it wasn’t perfect. Additionally, many businesses have added mobile apps to facilitate customer experience and online order taking. Universal Analytics was not engineered to track users in mobile apps. In fact, you needed an entirely different platform, Google Analytics for Firebase, to do that.

Google Analytics 4 introduces data streams, which allows you to track data from more than one source in the same Google Property. This means you can track data from your website, OS, and Android apps in one place. GA4 also introduces ways to more accurately and comprehensively track individual users. GA4 can track users by the ID of their device and their Google User ID. You can also set it up to track users based on IDs you assign to your logged in users. All of this adds up to GA4 being able do a much better job of tracking users across multiple devices or platforms.


What Else is Different About Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 uses a different paradigm to collect data. Previously, data was organized by the session, which is a visit by a user. GA4’s foundation is events, or the individual actions taken by users. While the concept of events isn’t new in GA4, you can see reporting on events like first time visitors or scrolling on web pages with no configuration, which was previously not available in UA.

The entire reporting user experience in GA4 is entirely different. First, rather than accessing detailed, longer reports from the menu, GA4 shows you shorter, easy to digest summary reports. From these summaries, you can click and drill down to get more details. GA4 also includes an array of predefined reports and a reporting generation system that lets you filter and segment your data based by metrics or audiences. GA4 also uses machine learning to provide more insight. You can enter questions like “How many visitors came to my site from Canada last month?” and GA4 will give you the answer.

In general, on the surface, GA4 reports are easier to use and machine learning makes it easy to get answers about specific questions quickly. However, once you start drilling down, it’s easy for casual user to get quickly overwhelmed by the options.


What Should I Actually Do About Google Analytics 4?

Your best move forward is to set up Google Analytics 4, while also keeping Universal Analytics installed.

That said, while it just takes a few moments to set up Google Analytics 4 and start collecting data, configuring it completely can be tricky. Most marketing agencies have limited, if any, experience setting up custom events which are required to set up goals, and most 3rd party marketing platforms are not ready to integrate with GA4. You’ll need to keep Universal Analytics installed until you and your marketing team are confident using GA4 and all platforms you use fully support it. That way, you’ll begin collecting data for the future and can begin the migration to GA4, but won’t lose the functionality or reporting you rely on today.

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