Google Analytics is constantly evolving to keep up with the changing landscape of the internet and web-based businesses. The latest update, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), is a complete overhaul of the service that includes many new features and changes. There’s a learning curve with any transition: here’s what you need to know about GA4, how it differs from the previous version, and what it means for your business.

A Brief History of Google Analytics

Google Analytics isn’t new – it’s been over 15 years since its introduction as Urchin on Demand. Since its launch, Google Analytics has become the go-to platform for website owners who want to track their traffic and understand their audience. This latest update – Google Analytics 4 – was first announced in October of 2020 and is currently in beta. Users will be required to transition to Google Analytics 4 by July of 2023. 

In regards to the change, Google announced:

To help you get better ROI from your marketing for the long term, we’re creating a new, more intelligent Google Analytics that builds on the foundation of the App + Web property we introduced in beta last year. It has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms. It’s privacy-centric by design, so you can rely on Analytics even as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data.

Google Marketing Platform

At-a-Glance: What’s New With GA4?

  • Built-in machine learning, modeling, alerts, and insights
  • Cross-device measurement of the customer journey
  • Customer-lifecycle framed reporting
  • Built-in automated event tracking
  • Streamlined configuration and better integration with Google tools
  • Improved measurements of time-based action
  • Predictive audience modeling

Key Features of GA4 Explained 

Cross-Platform and Cross-Device Analysis

One of the most significant changes with GA4 is seeing how users interact with your website across devices, creating a single user journey for all data linked to the same identity. This was not possible with previous versions of UA, which only tracked data from desktop computers. With GA4, businesses will see how users move from one device to another and track conversions across devices. This feature will provide insights into how different channels work together to create conversions, resulting in a better understanding of your customers’ progression from acquisition to conversion and retention.

For example: A customer may search for your product on their desktop computer, add it to their cart, and purchase it on their mobile phone. With GA4, you would be able to see the customer’s journey from start to finish and understand how each channel contributed to the conversion.

More Innovative Insights with Machine Learning Models

With the new advanced machine learning models, GA4 will be able to provide insights that were not possible with UA and alert you to significant trends in your data. These models will also allow you to predict future customer behavior, so you can proactively take action to improve your results. For instance, you might receive an alert that a particular customer segment is at risk of churning and take steps to prevent it.

For example: If you operate a website that sells products, GA will be able to predict when a customer is likely to purchase a product and send you an alert. With this insight, you can take action to encourage the customer to buy the product, such as sending them a coupon or providing free shipping.

Privacy-Focused Design

GA4 is designed with privacy in mind, focusing on protecting user data. This includes using pseudonymous identifiers to track users without cookies or other tracking technologies. GA4 also offers features that allow businesses to control how their data is used and shared, giving them more control over their customer’s privacy.

For example: You can choose to anonymize IP addresses in GA4, which will prevent your customer’s data from being linked to their real-world identity. You can also choose to share data with Google only for analysis and never for advertising.

Advanced Integration Across Platforms

GA integrates with various other Google products, making it easy to use GA data to improve your results on different platforms and helping you understand the aggregate impact of all your marketing efforts.

For example: The new Analytics can measure app and web interactions together. That means it can include conversions from YouTube engaged views that occur in-app and on the web in reports. Collecting this data in one place gives you a better understanding of how your marketing efforts work together to create conversions. 

Built for Tomorrow

Because the technology terrain continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. Instead, GA4 uses signals like user activity and device attributes to build models that help you better understand your customers. Furthermore, you can now choose when to use your data to personalize your ads and when to limit how much data is used.

The switch to smarter analytics is big, but the benefits are definitely worth it. With GA, businesses will have a better understanding of their customers, be able to take action to improve results, and have more control over customer privacy.

Prepare for the Transition

Universal Analytics, or UA, is the current version of Google Analytics. With UA being such an integral part of website analysis and optimization, many businesses have years’ worth of UA data that they rely on to make informed decisions about their web presence. So, what will happen to all that data when companies make the switch in July 2023?

Google previously “sunset” UA in October 2021, which means that Google will no longer support or update UA. This doesn’t mean that your data will disappear entirely, but data in GA4 is not retroactive. So, any historical data in UA will not be carried over into GA4.

Businesses should export their UA data and save it somewhere safe to prepare for the switch. Once you’ve done that, you can import your historical data into GA to continue to use it for analysis and decision-making.

Test it Out: Add a Google Analytics 4 Property to Your UA Site

If you want to try out GA4 before making the full switch, you can add a GA property to your existing UA account as a trial run. This will allow you to collect data in both systems simultaneously. It’s important to note that you won’t be able to go back once you make the switch, so it’s essential to take the time to test out GA4 in a no-stakes setting. 

To add a GA4 property to your UA account:

  1. Sign in to your Google Analytics account.
  2. Click Admin.
  3. In the Account column, select the account you want to add the property to.
  4. In the Property column, select the Universal Analytics property that currently collects data for your website.
  5. In the Property column, click GA4 Setup Assistant, then click Get started under I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.
  6. The Setup Wizard will guide you through the steps to create your new GA property.

Once you’ve created your new GA property, you can start collecting data in both systems. Remember that it may take some time for data to appear in both properties. Once you fully transition to GA4 in July of 2023, you will already have a decent amount of data collected in the property. 

What’s Next?

Now that you know what GA4 is and how it works, you can start using it to make better decisions about your website. If you’re not sure where to start, our team of experts at DKODE Technology can help. We can provide you with a comprehensive analysis of your website and recommendations on how to improve your web presence. Contact us today to get started.

Schedule a free consultation with our certified digital marketer if you have questions about analytics or any of your digital marketing needs.