What Is GA4?
GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics (GA). It launched in October 2021 in anticipation of the previous version, Universal Analytics (UA) being discontinued in July 2023. All historic data will be deleted from July, so if you haven’t already transitioned your analytics to GA4, it’s imperative you do so as quickly as possible.
GA4 collects all your data from websites and apps in one place (previously separated) making it a powerful tool for business owners and marketers. With all information at your fingertips, better decisions can be made to make businesses more successful. Not only does GA4 show traffic and engagement data but it also provides a greater understanding of your customer journey. This further enhances business decision-making.
Whether you’re savvy with GA, or you’ve delegated to someone else, it’s important to understand how GA4 will affect your website reporting. In this article, we look at what has changed with GA4 compared to UA and how this will affect decision making for business owners and marketeers.
Table of Contents:
What is Changing?
1. Wave Goodbye to old Data
From July 2023, UA will stop collecting data on your website and you will only have access to your historical data for 6 months afterwards. To combat this, agencies have been recommending to their clients that they start tracking GA4 data at least 12 months beforehand so any campaigns which need to be compared year on year can still be done.
2. App and Website Rolled Into One
If you have an app and a website, UA previously tracked them separately. In GA4 these will be tracked together. This is revolutionary as the entire customer journey is tracked within one analytics profile.
With security and personal privacy a big concern for individuals and businesses , GA4 makes it easier to stay compliant with GDPR. GA4 ensures IP addresses remain anonymous (called IP masking). This was previously an opt-in feature with UA.
4. Differences in Traffic Data
In GA4, session numbers will be lower than UA but engagement rates will be much higher. UA counts two sessions if you arrive on the website by clicking a social post, then go to another website to check an email, but then come back to your website by typing in the web address in the URL. GA4 would count these two website visits as one session with separate events. This presents a challenge when comparing data between the two. This is why it is recommended to get ahead of the game and start tracking GA4 a year before UA is retired. This way, you can have side-by-side reports which allow everybody to learn how to interpret the data for an entire year before solely relying on GA4.
But What Does This Mean for Your Business?
1. Enhanced Decision Making Based on Automated Events.
You can now track more events automatically. Previously, GA tracked a few basic events automatically but everything else has to be set up manually in GA and Google Tag Manager. It left a lot of marketers and business owners scratching their heads, especially if they weren’t very technical.
In GA4, you still need to create custom events to get the maximum value from it, but it does have more available measurements out of the box such as:
- outbound link clicks
- site search tracking
- document link clicks
- video engagements
- file downloads
Also, some form submissions and e-commerce goals may not automatically be tracked, but the setup for these is now much easier to implement.
Business Benefit: This gives the marketeer or the business owner much more control over vital data which can influence important decision making that could make or break a business.
2. You Can Now Track Across Both Your Web and Your App in one Place.
Previously, you used GA for your website and a separate analytics software for your app. Now all the data is rolled into one platform.
Business Benefit: If your business has both, you can manage it more efficiently. Everything is under one roof so you can make a collective decision on performance.
3. More Clarity on the Customer Journey
The new GA4 interface allows you to better visualise the customer journey and understand the direction users take on your website.
It is easier to determine how they chose your product or service and gives you suggestions on how to optimise each touchpoint in their journey. Mapping the customer journey from start to finish helps you get to know your users, be a part of their conversations and create the right content for all stages of the buyer journey.
Business Benefit: This helps improve conversion rates and ultimately ROI by creating more satisfied customers. For example, for new customers, you can improve their onboarding and exposure to different features when they first land on your website, which will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
4. More Focus on Engagement Metrics
GA4 has scrapped the trusty Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour and Conversion menus which were previously in UA. They have been replaced with a Lifestyle section containing Acquisition, Engagement, Monetisation and Retention. Within here, the bounce rate metric has been removed and replaced with more powerful, and useful engagement metrics namely…
- engaged sessions
- engagement rate
- average engagement time
- engagement time per page/user.
This should give businesses a good idea if your content is engaging for users.
Business Benefit: With a better understanding of performance of content throughout the website, marketers and/or business owners will be able to make better decisions on which areas to invest more or less in.
5. Enhanced Visualisations and Reporting
With the more accessible, more accurate data we get from GA4, it is beneficial to take advantage of this by using the new visualisations and reporting functions GA4 has to offer.
The new Explore section features a template gallery with a larger range of reporting charts such as:
- Funnel exploration
- Path exploration
- Segment overlap
- User explorer
- Cohort exploration
- User lifetime.
These reports go beyond the standard reports to help you uncover deeper insights about your customer behaviour.
Business Benefit: With more accurate data, marketers and business owners can make better decisions. Marketers can tweak their strategies to improve performance whilst business owners can adjust budgets accordingly to spend more efficiently in other areas.
6. Ramped up Security
With IP masking being mandatory in GA4 compared to UA, It automatically makes it GDPR compliant.
Business Benefit: It is important for all businesses to stay compliant with GDPR to avoid any penalties or charges. The fact that IP Masking is mandatory with GA4 gives business owners peace of mind.
With the official launch of GA4 and the sunsetting of UA just around the corner, we highly recommend you start getting familiar with the new platform now. It might look scary but GA4 is essentially a redesign of the platform we know and love. The features and benefits for marketers and business owners are there for all to see. If you are still not confident, remember that it’s still in its infancy and is continuously being developed to keep an eye out for regular updates from Google.