Since we first published this article, Google has announced that Universal Analytics will no longer operate from the July 1st 2023. If you require help making the switch to Google Analytics 4, please get in touch.
Google Analytics provides marketers with a powerful tool to understand the performance of their various acquisition channels and the way users interact with their website or app. In fact, you should not make any major changes to your marketing strategy, website experience, or product offering without first consulting the data found in Google Analytics.
You may have recently heard about significant changes to the platform, whether that be through your favourite marketing blog or prompts from Google themselves. These changes relate to the launch of Google Analytics 4, a new and improved iteration that rethinks the approach taken throughout the past 15 years.
If you are wondering which features are packed into the update and whether you should be upgrading, you are in the right spot! In this article, I will be answering these burning questions:
What Came Before Google Analytics 4?
Let us start by looking back at the history and evolution of Google Analytics. To begin we must go back 15 years, a time when almost 100 million American’s did not own a mobile phone and ecommerce accounted for only 3% of the UK’s retail spending. It goes without saying, a lot has changed since and marketers now have far more data to juggle!
In November 2005, Google announced that it had acquired Urchin. At the time, Urchin was seen as an incredibly powerful website analytics platform. That said, Urchin simply analysed a website’s log files to report traffic and track page-based conversions on a single platform. Despite being the most powerful option available to marketers, Urchin offered limited insights and an undesirable interface at a time when marketers were beginning to grasp the value of data.
Shortly after the acquisition of Urchin, Google began to offer a self-branded version of the software that proved wildly popular. As well as a more pleasant interface, Google made several changes to the platform so that marketers could track shorter interactions as well as entire conversions without significantly impacting a website’s performance. This was partly achieved through the development of their own tracking code, which is now implemented on millions of websites.
In March 2016, Google introduced a flurry of new features and capabilities with the roll out of Universal Analytics. This latest iteration allowed for cross-platform tracking, increased data collation, and further customisation. Universal Analytics was built in response to the boom in online commerce as well as the increased tendency for visitors to interact across multiple platforms, both of which were increasing the amount of data marketers needed to make their judgements.
What’s New in Google Analytics 4?
Announced on the 14th October, Google Analytics 4 is designed to overcome the challenges brought by increased privacy regulations, more complex user behaviour, and help marketers pull insights from their data. With its launch, Google also announced that you would no longer be able to create new Universal Analytics properties and that most of their resources would go into developing the new tool.
Built for Cross-platform Tracking
Unlike previous versions of Google Analytics, the latest iteration makes use of User IDs and Google Signals to better track interactions across devices and platforms. The technology that makes this possible was already utilised in their advertising platforms but had not been integrated with Google Analytics. With its integration, marketers will benefit from a less fragmented view of user behaviour from their first visit to ultimate conversion.
Machine Learning at Its Heart
Discovering insights and identifying opportunities from Google Analytics can be challenging. Thankfully, Google Analytics 4 uses machine learning to surface insights from the mass of data it collects. This technology also allows Google Analytics to predict certain metrics, such as the future revenue from a segment of users. These can then be used to tweak your marketing strategy, create audiences to retarget, and much more.
Ready for a Cookie-less Future
As stricter privacy laws are introduced around the world, marketers must prepare for a future without cookies and other tracking technologies. This new iteration helps with this by using advanced modelling to fill any gaps in the data caused by users who choose to block certain tracking methods. This modelling will feed historical data into an algorithm that links users, interactions, and conversions without traditional and intrusive technologies such as cookies.
Baked in Engagement Metrics
You would have previously relied on the combination of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager to track many on-site or in-app interactions such as page scrolls or video plays. Thankfully, Google Analytics 4 allows many of these interactions to be tracked without any additional code being implemented. This means that many events will be automatically tracked, although you are still able to track bespoke events related to eCommerce, gaming and more.
Designed to Be Future Proof
Google Analytics 4 is now the default option when setting up new properties, whether that be for a website or app. Google will also be investing the bulk of its resources into developing and refining its capabilities and experience. This means that your existing Universal Analytics will eventually become dated and redundant, therefore seeing your data become more fractured and putting you at a competitive disadvantage in the future.
Should You Upgrade to Google Analytics 4?
As this article demonstrates, the newest iteration of Google Analytics is both feature rich and future proof. As well as providing added insight into your acquisition channels and user behaviour, it prepares you for a future without cookies and other tracking technologies. Therefore, you will likely need and want to make the jump at some point soon.
However, you should not simply ditch your existing Universal Analytics and adopt a new Google Analytics 4 property overnight. This is as some of the tracking found in your existing property may not be available and you could see changes in your data due to the way it is processed in the new property.
Instead Google recommends that you create a new Google Analytics 4 property and run it alongside your existing Universal Analytics. Running the two parallel with each other will not cause any data duplication whilst still allowing the new property to begin gathering data in readiness for a full transition.
Once you’ve set-up your Google Analytics 4 property, you can begin familiarising yourself with its features and navigation. You can also explore which of your existing events are automatically tracked and which you will need to recreate yourself. Therefore, ensuring there are no holes in your data before you bid farewell to your Universal Analytics property.
- Google Analytics 4 is simply the latest iteration of Google’s website analytics tool. It allows you to identify where your users came from as well as how they behave once on your website or app. It is entirely free, whether you’re creating a new account or are upgrading an existing property.
- You will discover various improvements when comparing Google Analytics 4 to Universal Analytics. These include better cross-platform tracking, integrated machine learning, readiness for new privacy regulations, and more engagement metrics.
- Your brand will need and want to upgrade soon, but you shouldn’t simply replace your existing property as you may experience gaps in your data. Instead you should create a new Google Analytics 4 property and run this parallel with your existing Universal Analytics.
- Once you’re familiar with the new Google Analytics interface and have ensured all your existing events are being tracked, you can stop using your existing Universal Analytics. But don’t delete this property, as you may want to reference its set-up or data in the future.
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