Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google’s website activity tracking tool Google Analytics. It’s focused on presenting a more comprehensive look into the customer journey as opposed to simply measuring discrete actions taken on a website.
GA4 paints a more complete picture of how customers actually behave online in this day and age by tracking their activity through both websites and apps. It uses machine learning to better understand user behaviour and interpret such patterns to provide new data-driven insights.
GA4 accounts for the growing awareness of the importance of online privacy, so that businesses can still make informed decisions on how their target audiences may behave while maintaining compliance with data protection regulations.
First introduced in October 2020, Google Analytics 4 will replace Google Analytics 3 (aka Universal Analytics) on 1 July 2023. On that date, data will only be collected through GA4.
So what’s changed?
The biggest fundamental change from Universal Analytics to GA4 is that data is collected across platforms, factoring in how customers use both websites and apps instead of just looking at data segmented by device. Before GA4, you had to track user activity on desktop, mobile, and apps through different versions of Google Analytics. Integrating all this different data was often a hassle. GA4 lets you collect all this data and have it presented in one reporting interface.
Now, a user who logs in to your mobile app has their unique user ID logged along with all their activity, such as browsing history. That same user who then visits your website on their desktop computer will have all their activity on that specific platform tied to their unique user ID, such as finalising their purchase of one of your products.
GA4 is therefore bridging the gap between platforms, allowing you to more fully understand how your customers interact with your online brand.
This core change is expressed through multiple shifts in how GA4 works compared to its predecessors. Let’s take a look at these.
Events Above All
User interactions differ between platforms. The typical metrics such as page views and bounce rate don’t apply to actions taken on an app. To accommodate all kinds of user interactions that take place across all platforms, GA4 simplifies the whole thing by tracking all interactions as ‘events’.
You can describe each event in more detail whenever they are captured through ‘event parameters’. This requires more work to prepare how you collect data, but doing so gives you the flexibility to fully customise the type of data you track and make more detailed analyses.
Events-based tracking also future-proofs the entire system, as you can apply this to platforms and devices that you may eventually want to track.
Engagement as Key Metrics
In accounting for the different online platforms where users interact, GA4 introduces three new engagement metrics to more accurately track such behaviour.
Engaged session — Sessions lasting longer than 10 seconds, have a conversion event, or have at least two page or screen views.
Engagement time — How much time users are actively engaging with your website or app and have it as the primary focus on their device.
Engagement rate — Calculated by engaged sessions divided by sessions.
Bounce rate has traditionally been a standard metric for showing how well a webpage performs. The problem with bounce rate is that it doesn’t apply to mobile apps or single-page sites, where users may only visit a platform, stay engaged with the content, then take no other action before leaving. It’s considered a bounce and would reflect negatively on that platform’s performance, even if users were actively engaged.
These new engagement metrics actually show how effective platforms are in driving user interactions.
GA4’s New Dashboard
You can immediately see the change in what Google prioritises with its data collection on the new dashboard. Gone are some of the old standard reports, while engagement is at the forefront instead of sessions. Forecasts based on what Google thinks about how your target audience will behave are now part of the Insights section.
An important distinction between the dashboards of GA4 and Universal Analytics is that the former has a more streamlined UI and by default shows fewer reports. It empowers users to create their own customised reports showing the data that really matters to them.
Previously, Google Analytics only showed reports for Acquisition. In line with GA4’s goal of showing the entire customer journey, there is a whole new section in the Reports dashboard called Life Cycle that has reports for:
The new Explorations page also provides users with more in-depth data analysis formats and techniques that were only previously available to paying users of Google Analytics 360.
Paired with Looker Studio, Google’s online tool for converting data into customisable reports, you can come up with detailed yet easy-to-read visualisations of relevant data.
Machine learning is now a pillar of Google Analytics. With Google’s AI technologies, it reads all the data GA4 has collected to predict how certain parts of your target audience will behave through three predictive metrics:
Purchase probability — The chance a recently active user will make a conversion in the next 7 days
Churn probability — The chance a recently active user will not be active in the next 7 days
Predicted revenue — The forecasted revenue from all purchases in the next 28 days from a user who was active in the last 28 days
You can then use any combination of these metrics to create campaigns for new potential audiences, or to start a retargeting campaign to users that are primed to come back to your site and make a purchase.
GA4’s machine learning capabilities also work to fill the gaps that may come from users who opt out of having their data tracked. You can still have a solid idea of your customers’ behaviour even if some of them choose to keep their online activity private without having to worry about breaking any data privacy regulations.
How to get started with Google Analytics 4
If you’re already using Google Analytics, you will be prompted to migrate your data from Universal Analytics to GA4 with the help of the GA4 Setup Assistant. It will walk you through the process so you can start collecting data for GA4 along with Universal Analytics.
If GA4 is unable to collect data, that means that the Google tag ‘gtag.js’ needs to be installed. Google can provide installation instructions for supported platforms such as WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace or you can also install the tag manually.
Although GA4 won’t completely replace Universal Analytics until July 2023, we highly suggest you take the plunge sooner, rather than later, as migration isn’t necessarily straightforward and when Universal Analytics is sunsetted, you won’t be able to track any website data without GA4.
With GA4 set up, there are three things you will want to know how to do with this new tool.
Events are the primary way of tracking user behaviour on your site. You can set up specific conditions that match actions taken on your site to start tracking, such as new users visiting your website from your social media accounts.
You can find this functionality in the Admin page.
Creating Custom Reports
Customised reports leverage the power of GA4 to collect data across all platforms and present them as highly detailed yet instantly legible visualisations. You can choose from a number of preset visual configurations that track everything from user demographics to platform channels from where users first visited your website.
You can create new reports in the Library section under Reports.
Finding New Audiences
GA4 can suggest audiences that fit your business based on the data it has collected. This feature is great for expanding your customer base or penetrating a new target market. There are preconfigured audiences that you can choose from that are relevant to your industry. If you have enough data for predictive metrics, GA4 can also suggest predictive audiences that may be worth targeting.
You can see these suggested audiences by going to the Admin page, clicking the Audiences option in the second column, then clicking on the ‘New audience’ button.
Knowing how to make use of these three core features is a great starting point for understanding what GA4 is truly capable of.
Working with Superb Digital and GA4
GA4 migration can be fairly straightforward but it can also be quite tricky, especially if you are tracking various goal conversions or have a large or complex website. If your website is an important, or pivotal, asset to your business (and let’s be honest, how many businesses are there now where this isn’t the case) then it’s important to get it right so you can hit the ground running.
As an established SEO agency with many years of experience using previous versions of Analytics, our SEO team is fully trained and up to speed on GA4. We are currently migrating all our clients over to it and we’re even offering them training on how to use and interrogate the new interface, once it’s up and running.
Why not book a strategy call today to find out how we could be running an effective and lucrative SEO campaign for your business, starting with powerful new insights from Google Analytics 4.