Google Analytics 4 - Greater Insights into How Customers Interact with Your Business
May 16, 2022
Originally published in
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To develop an effective digital strategy, businesses rely on Google Analytics to record and analyze website data to assist them in making informed decisions. Data is, after all, one of the most valuable assets for any business.
Globally, over 10 million websites use Google Analytics, from large commerce sites to small blogs. Imagine the impact then, when Google Analytics announced they were completely changing their critical analytics platform, replacing Universal Analytics with the new Google Analytics 4 – not to forget migrating to GA4 is mandatory for all.
Find out why Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing Universal Analytics (UA) and discover how GA4 is used to learn more about your customers to grow your business.
In 2005,Google acquired Urchin Software Corporation creators of the original log file data tool. Growing into something more, Google rebranded and released Universal Analytics (UA) in 2012. From the early days of Urchin to the new GA4, this free analytics platform, and its capabilities and adoption have grown wildly over the last two decades.
As more commerce and businesses moved online, there was a large shift in consumer behavior and the need for more sophisticated analytics and attribution capabilities to measure complicated multi-channel campaigns. Naturally, the current UA is simply not keeping pace.
GA4 launched in 2020 in response to this shift, and it is still very much a work in progress. Google continues to develop the platform through July 2023, when Universal Analytics will be retired (and these properties will no longer collect data). The good news is there’s time for you to get used to GA4, but the earlier you get it set up, the better prepared you’ll be. Below, we’re highlighting new reports and capabilities to get you excited to make the switch to Google Analytics 4.
A Quick Recap - How Universal Analytics Works
Common hit types:
Page tracking hits (pageview)
Event tracking hits (form submission)
Ecommerce tracking hits (purchases)
Social interaction hits (a Facebook like or follow)
Once a hit occurs, that data or snapshot of information is sent to GA. Data examples include:
Page information: such as url and title of page the user is viewing
HTTP request information: such as hostname, referrer, browser type (Java or Flash), screen resolution, and language
DoubleClick cookie data: such as interests, demographics, etc.
Device ID (also known as Client ID)
First-party cookie data, like user session activity and ad campaign information associated with the page request
As a result, the current Universal Analytics reports are based on hits. GA4 is moving away from hits by instead measuring conversions with “events”- (this is the most significant difference). Learn more about events below.
What is Different in GA4
Assisting businesses in measuring and improving ROI, GA4 provides greater insight into how customers interact with websites, devices, apps, and other online platforms.
Google created GA4 primarily to focus on the following new advantages:
1. Machine learning and AI: using AI-powered machine learning, GA4 provides marketers better insight in data gaps, user behaviors, trends, and anomalies.
2. Renewed focus on the customer lifecycle: implement integrated tracking, GA4 can accurately record users across multiple devices and platforms by creating three new reporting identities for Google Analytics (see below).
As a result of the three advantages above, the new Analytics includes:
A streamlined user-centric interface
New reports and visualizations
Ability to track customer activity on both web and mobile applications
Fundamental changes to the way data is recorded, attributed, and analyzed
Goodbye Goals and Hello Conversions
GA4 no longer uses goals, rather “events” that can be toggled on as a “conversion.” Checkout this guide to help you migrate your UA goals to GA4 conversions.
Referring to the snapshot below our custom event contactus_form_success logs a conversion when the page_view parameter is triggered, the referring url equals whereoware.com/contact and the end destination url starts with whereoware.com/contact-success. (In GA4 navigate to configure>conversions)
Tracking Customer Activity
Currently, in UA the “users” metric measures how many users or visitors visited your site in any given timeframe. UA generates a unique client id for each unique view, but this metric alone is not enough to paint an accurate picture.
Let’s say you visit the WOW site from your work computer. Later that night, you visit the WOW site on your phone, and the following day you visit WOW yet again on your personal laptop. UA will record each of these actions as 3 unique user views –even though you’re just one person. Counting each device individually is indeed not ideal and is addressed in the new GA4.
GA4 solves this limitation by introducing three ways to identify visitors to your website and they can be included within the same report. As long as the user has enabled “Ads Personalization,” – consenting to the data collection and usage.
1. Device ID (formerly known as Client ID) – is a unique identifier that is created for each and every device that visits a website.
2. User ID – the system generates a unique ID for each user caused from a login system.
3. Google Signals – identifies a user across devices based on whether or no they have signed into other Google products (this is where the user opting in to “Ads Personalization” matters)
With this added layer of accuracy, GA4 properties have the option to change the default reporting identity or hierarchy of the three identifiers above. We recommend first User ID, Google Signals, then Device ID. In our previous example viewing the Whereoware website from three devices, GA4 has the capability to attribute each of these visits to the same user and only record one hit versus three.
Say Goodbye to Bounce Rates
A bounce rate is when a user views one page on a site and leaves before taking another action or viewing another page. Marketers use this metric at a high level to determine webpages that may be missing the mark with their audience.
GA4 measure engagement more intelligently with what is called “Engaged Session.”
For a session to qualify as an engaged session, the following must be true:
the session ended with 10 seconds or more of engagement time
or had 1 or more conversion events
or had 2 or more page views
In UA, session duration was calculated by finding the difference between when the first hit of a session and the last hit of a session. This is not a very accurate metric, as most users often have multiple tabs, windows, or apps running, and may minimize the window that your website is on. This leads to an inflated session duration metric.
Universal Analytics was not built for a world in which one person uses multiple devices to access a website or app. And if you’re a business that engages users on both a website and mobile app, you can imagine how impactful it will be to have the ability to analyze all your user metrics in one dashboard.
GA4 is much smarter and does not count the time when the website is not running in the foreground towards the overall engagement time. This is much more sophisticated than bounce rate, and as marketers in the 21st century, we are happy to leave bounce rate behind.
Using Data to Predict Future Behaviors
With the introduction of machine learning, GA4 adds several metrics important to marketing campaigns (like current and past behaviors) to predict what the future might look like.
Take a look at Google’s prerequisites:
Purchase Probability - this metric defines the probability that a user who was active on your site in the last 28 days will log a specific conversion event within the next 7days. This is an added benefit specifically for ecommerce sites who would utilize events such as: purchase, ecommerce_purchase, and in_app_purchase.
Churn Probability – are you curious about how many website views are just window shoppers? Churn probability gives us more insight into which users are engaged and those who are not. For example an active user within the last 7 days may not be active in the next 7 days, and therefore this insight is useful when marketing budgets are lower, but still trying to retain customers or remarket to them.
Revenue Prediction –this is another conversion-based predictive metric that measures the revenue expected from ecommerce purchase conversions – specifically within the next 28days for active users. A custom audience can be created to reach these higher value customers, detect patterns, and run analyses to better understand why some customers are more likely to spend more than others, enabling you to take action to improve your results.
Compliance and Privacy Regulations
Data privacy issues are constantly emerging, and Google is trying to stay on top of the ever-evolving data privacy laws. GA4’s advanced data privacy features will make it easier for marketers to stay in data compliance.
Consent Mode. Configure your GA4 tags from the start using Consent Mode to ensure your tracking responds accurately to users’ opt-in/out decisions.
Anonymizing IP addresses of all users. This setting cannot be adjusted. This is a privacy-friendly update compared to Universal Analytics that tracked IP addresses by default, violating GDPR rules, which considered an IP address to be personally identifiable information (PII).
Cookie Banner. GA4 captures data about users as they interact with your website or app and many privacy policies(GDPR being the main one),require users to opt-in to this data collection. Your cookie banner should clearly state what tracking the user is opting in/out of and provide clear options to opt in or out to gather users’ consent.
User Data Deletion. GA4 provides a User Explorer template/ report allowing you to segment your users and delete individual user data, if needed. This is an important feature as granting users the right to request their data be deleted is a common feature of most privacy regulations being released.
Data Sharing Between Google Products. Google provides several options for you to share GA4 data with other tools in the Google ecosystem, specifically Google Signals and Ad Personalization.
Personally Indefinable Information (PII). Not new, but worth mentioning, GA4 doesn’t allow the capture of PII and will flag data for deletion if it identifies any PII in your GA4 property.
A New Interface: Reports and Visualizations
The new Analytics property simplifies reporting, with capabilities to combine metrics into a single report to better leverage data for smarter analysis.
Reports Snapshot: the new home dashboard menu and automated insights highlights popular reports in an easy-to-view UI and gives access to larger reports faster.
Real-Time Reports: to view users interacting with your site in real-time. This view is most useful when following user behavior from a media buzz or campaign launch.
Engagement Reports: is the set of data highlighting events (see above),conversions, etc. Chances are you will spend most of your time in this section to track user behavior to understand actions taken that will influence your business and marketing decisions.
Exploration Reports: For exploring data in more detail, customize findings by filters, segments, dimensions, metrics, and values to monitor data that matter the most to your business.
When should you switch to GA4 and how can you prepare?
The answer is now. It’s best to keep UA and add GA4 to your site to have both collecting data in parallel until the transition. Google is sunsetting UA in July 2023, so by setting up GA4 now, you’ll have a full year’s history for comparison purposes.
Wondering how to access historic UA data once migrating your property to GA4? Historic data is accessible for now, however there is no official date when it will be gone forever. It is highly recommended to exporting legacy data out of UA properties every few months leading up to July 2023.
Google Analytics is just one piece of the puzzle - Google Tag Manager (GTM) is Google’s technical tool to enhance data collection by establishing custom tags. Google Tag Manager allows marketers to update measurement codes through a web-based interface, making it easier for marketers to add tags and tracking in GTM without having to update website codes.
Many GA experts recommend integrating Google Analytics 4 with Google Tag Manager.
GTM is essential in collecting and tracking custom created events (as mentioned previously) and sending to custom GA4 reports. Thanks to Google, they have done much of the work for us, in that they provide free event, tag and variable templates that can be easily imported into your GTM account. View the Google Community Template Gallery here: Tag Manager Template Gallery.
Ultimately the Google Analytics migration is mandatory if you want to continue using Google’s platform. Any business that is interested in learning more about its customers and how they interact with their website to grow revenue can benefit from using Google Analytics 4.
At WOW data fuels our website and campaign strategy, Contact Us to find out how we can elevate your online strategy, help your business grow and move forward.