Big Changes Are Coming To Google Analytics
In case you haven’t heard, 2022 has been a year at Google. In March, the company made two big announcements: its current titular analytics service would be ending and it would be launching a new iteration for it. Yes, the Google Analytics we know and have relied on for years is growing into something bigger and better. Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is the new generation of analytics tools that come with a whole host of new features that are promised to bring a net positive for consumers and businesses alike.
But what exactly are these changes? What’s going to happen to the Google Analytics we are currently using? Since there are so many questions on the minds of our clients and colleagues, we have highlighted the most important things that we think you need to know.
The property of Google Analytics that we’ve been using for more than a decade is known formally as “Google Universal Analytics” or “Universal Analytics” and is commonly referred to as UA.
This analytics tool first stepped onto the scene in 2012 and has since set the standard for how user data is collected, stored, and used. Over time, as the digital landscape changed, UA evolved into a more approachable, user-friendly, and accessible data research platform. This allowed businesses and individuals the ability to compete more organically because they could see user data in real-time clearly and understandably.
The features that makeup GA4 were first introduced in 2019. Back then, it was referred to as “App + Web,” and it allowed users to easily view data collected from websites and applications in one place. Other notable features include “flexible event management,” which allowed users to fine-tune the data they wanted to collect, and an upgraded analytics module, which helped expand data analysis beyond the predefined reports.
As UA grew, so did App + Web until it took on so many changes and features that it became something entirely new. With that all in mind, here are some of the key features that help set GA4 apart from the UA of today.
HTTP cookies, or simply “cookies,” are small pieces of data that websites leave stored in your device whenever you visit.
What made UA so influential for its time was how it used that cookie data. Due to the technological shift from desktop computers to personal devices, UA updates have been integrated, but the foundation is still rooted solely in desktop browsing.
This is where GA4 shines as it has been made with these devices in mind.. It was implemented to make up for UA’s weakness, can operate across different platforms, and it doesn’t rely exclusively on cookies like UA.
Since GA4 doesn’t rely on cookies, this means that privacy is at the forefront of all analyses, protects users, and gives them more control over the data they share.
DATA COLLECTION METHOD.
GA4 focuses more on event-based data, meaning that it focuses on user activity. What are users doing? What are they looking at? What are they buying? What’s catching their interest? These questions that you have (and more) are essential to how GA4 collects data. As your users interact with your website or application, you can learn more about what pages they’re visiting, what products they’re buying, what services they’re paying attention to, and so on.
UA was session-based, so it was a bit broader in how it understood user attention. It would tell you about traffic: how many people visited your site, how long they were on your site, and what pages they floated around, but not always what they were doing. It wouldn’t give you the more crucial specifics that helped you understand the user journey.
Consider it like this:
With UA, you were an observer in a library. You would see people come in, go into certain aisles, and then leave. You can see certain people would stay for longer, and you could see what aisles had the most visitors, however, you didn’t learn specifics about their overall choices.
With GA4, you are now the librarian. You can see what books are being checked out the most, you can “hear” what the visitors are interested in based on the questions they ask, and you can better understand their tastes and preferences based on their activity throughout the library. Now, you can better understand your customers and their different points of engagement.
ENGAGEMENT MANAGEMENT & ROI IMPROVEMENT.
These two points fit under one umbrella because they overlap a great deal in GA4. Since the data collected by GA4 is more precise and more user-focused, this also helps you as a business understand how your marketing campaigns are influencing your conversions.
GA4’s machine learning finds a connection between user behaviors and active conversions. It then creates critical insights that help you improve your marketing strategies.
All of this allows you to understand where your return on investment (your ROI) is most fruitful and how you can grow with your customers.
As discussed above, GA4 is built with privacy in mind and takes these controls to a whole new level. The conversation around privacy concerns is growing daily as data leaks and unauthorized data collection become more aggressive. Thankfully, GA4 addresses this in several ways.
One of the key methods of privacy protection is that they are moving away from collecting cookies. Another is by implementing country-based privacy controls. This allows businesses to manage and minimize user-level data based on business and compliance needs without sacrificing key measurement functionality, such as tracking user traffic, ad clicks, lead generations, and so on.
These methods combined are some of the ways that GA4 allows you to connect with a diverse and growing range of consumers in a more organic and worry-free way. It’s more automated and streamlined, and the data is more unified and accessible.
While there isn’t much change here, it is worth saying that the connection between Analytics and other Google products, such as Google Ads, will still be there. The main difference is that your combined web and app data will help you make your marketing campaigns much stronger because of how easily you’re able to analyze data across multiple platforms instead of just desktops.
For those who were using 360 Universal Analytics, a service that gave enterprises valuable user insight and scalable tools, its upgraded iteration will be called Analytics 360. As with GA4, Analytics 360 will be getting a fresh coat of paint that allows enterprises to follow data compliance guidelines, which protect site users against theft, loss, and misuse of their data.
Your team will be able to access advanced tools, like Unsampled Reports, BigQuery Export, and Data-Driven Attribution, in addition to all the standard Analytics features and reports. Analytics 360 also includes a service-level agreement that covers data collection, data freshness, and reporting as well as access to dedicated support specialists.
WHEN IS IT HAPPENING?
Everything isn’t going to change overnight. GA4 was added as a standalone feature in Google Analytics some time ago, which allowed users to try it out for themselves and fully migrate over, however, everyone will be ushered into change eventually. Here are the important dates that you need to know as UA winds down:
Universal Analytics sunsets on July 1, 2023, and will stop processing new hits.
360 Universal Analytics will begin its sunset process on October 1, 2023, and will complete July 1, 2024. At this time, it will stop processing new hits.
While you will still be able to access previously processed data in the UA property for at least six months, be sure to download your reports and record all necessary information that you’ll want to have access to.
According to Google, “If you created your property after October 14, 2020, you’re likely using a Google Analytics 4 property already, and no [further] action is required.”
In the coming months, Google will provide more specifics about when existing UA data will entirely disappear and when you’ll no longer be able to access reports.
We’ll continue to provide updates as more details are released.