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Google Analytics 4: The new kid on the block

Suddenly he was there in your Google Analytics management menu. The tempting ‘Upgrade to GA4’ button. Even when creating a new property, Google Analytics 4 was suddenly the default choice. The possibility to use an old trusted Universal Analytics property has Google hidden well in the advanced options. So Google Analytics 4, the completely renewed Google Analytics property that Universal Analytics should replace. What is it? What can you do with it? Do you already need to upgrade? Just a few questions that we will discuss in this blog! 

What is Google Analytics 4?

To understand what Google Analytics 4 is, we have to go back to last year. Since 2019, Google has been experimenting with App + Web properties in Google Analytics. The purpose of these properties is cross-channel tracking. As a marketer, you can follow your users’ behavior on a website, an app, and another piece of software. This emphasizes the user’s journey across all your platforms. App + Web properties are now Google Analytics 4 properties.

That’s all well and good, but what exactly is GA4, except for a new property? To put it in the words of Google itself: the new Google Analytics is a next-generation approach for privacy-first tracking, cross-channel measurability and AI-based predictive data. And all of that at the same time. That’s a lot of hip marketing terms. Let’s elaborate on that a bit further.

Privacy first

First of all, privacy. Google Analytics 4 should provide a solution to the growing privacy concerns. The first step for this is taken right immediately by anonymizing all IP addresses. You had to include this yourself in the script or set it in Google Tag Manager in the past. This is now the default. In addition, it is now a lot easier to remove user data from Google Analytics. For this purpose, a tool is made available in GA4 in the management menu. The completely new data model also lays the foundation for a cookie-free world.

Cross-channel tracking

A bit ago, we already talked about cross-channel tracking. But how does this work in Google Analytics 4? There are a few ways to do this:

• Device ID

• User ID

• Google Signals

The Device ID is the basic form of user tracking. Each individual device is seen as one user. Does a visitor first come to your site via his laptop and then via his mobile? Then Google Analytics counts two users.

The User ID essentially solves this problem but often only works for sites where users can log in. A web developer must then ensure that every logged-in user is given a unique ID. If a user is then logged into your site on his laptop and mobile, he will be seen as one user.

Google Signals goes one step further. It also allows users to be cross-channel and cross-device identified without being logged in to your site. A precondition is that they are logged in on different devices with a Google account. This is probably more common than you think: everyone with an Android, for example, cannot avoid logging in with a Google account on their smartphone.

AI-based predictive data

AI-powered predictive data’: a lot of difficult words, but it is also difficult material. In short, Google Analytics 4 uses advanced calculation models and machine learning to predict user behaviour and patterns. For example, there are reports in Google Analytics 4 that show per channel the chance that a visitor will convert or drop out. A peak in demand for a particular product can also be predicted.

New functionalities in Google Analytics 4

Now that you know what Google Analytics 4 is, you also want to know what you can do with it! Let’s start with the differences in data collection between GA4 and Universal because this has changed a lot.

Data collection in GA4

In Universal Analytics, page views, sessions, and events (events) are different things. GA4 ends this by calling everything an event. A page view and a session are now also an event, just like a click on an outgoing link and a user’s first visit to your website. This also changes the definition of an event. Where in Universal Analytics, an event consisted of an event category, event action and possibly an event label and event value, this is no longer the case. In GA4, an event has a name and parameters. Those parameters can be anything you want to provide as information. For example, you can set up a conversion event with parameters transaction price. The transaction offers ID and product name. You decide which information you add to an event. This information must be provided from your site so that technical implementation is required.

Enhanced measurements in Google Analytics 4

New cool functionalities are improved measurements or enhanced measurements. These are a number of measurements that you can turn on at the touch of a button without implementation via Google Tag Manager, which was still necessary with Universal Analytics.

Enhanced measurements cover the following measures:

• Pageviews based on browsing history events;

• Scrolls

• Outgoing clicks

• Search the site Video

• engagement

• File downloads

A few of these deserve a little more explanation. The page views based on browsing history events are of interest to sites running on a Javascript framework. Sites running on such a framework will no longer load a new page in your browser. As a result, no new pageviews are measured when someone clicks through to your website.

In Universal Analytics, you had to solve this yourself by getting started with virtual page views in Google Tag Manager. GA4 solves this for you with page views based on browsing history events.

The scroll functionality that GA4 offers as standard is limited. An event is only measured when someone has scrolled to at least 90% of the page. For example, do you want more information if a visitor only scrolls up to 30 or 50%? Then you still have to work with Tag Manager.

Improved Google Ads audience options

With the arrival of Google Analytics 4, the possibilities for building target groups are also improving. You can create and manage target groups in GA4 based on both website and app use. Audience lists are automatically updated in both Google Ads and GA4, so they are always up to date. In addition, there are also more advanced options for target groups. For example, you can create a target group for people who are likely to return to your site within 14 days. So here, machine learning is helping.

New statistics and reports

The bounce rate has always been an eyesore for us. Because how do you explain to your customers that a high bounce rate doesn’t have to be a bad thing? Imagine: you are looking for specific information, and you find it through the first search result. Then you leave the website again because you have the information you wanted. Say for yourself, are you a dissatisfied visitor? If you don’t ask us. So we’re really happy that Google Analytics 4 ditched this metric for something better: engagement rate. 

The number of sessions with engagement is divided by the total number of sessions. A session is considered a session with engagement when:

• A conversion has been performed. You define a conversion yourself, and it can be any event. You can compare this with goals from Universal Analytics;

• There have been two or more page views or screen views;

The website or App has been open in the foreground for at least 10 seconds (not minimized in the background).

There are also new reports. The main difference is that the reports in GA4 really focus more on the customer journey than before. It is not without reason that the category with reports at the top is the life cycle category. The real-time report has also been given a major make-over and now shows more interesting information than before. For example, all information is now bundled in one report, and you can follow the visit of an individual user live.

Is it time to switch to GA4?

Although we are quite enthusiastic about Google Analytics 4, we do not actually recommend that you switch completely at this point. It seems like Google wanted to release GA4 as soon as possible. As a result, it does not feel really finished and complete. Just a few reasons not to switch yet:

• An e-commerce implementation still requires a lot of technical know-how. On how to migrate your current enhanced e-commerce setup to GA4.

• There are still a lot of features missing that Universal Analytics does have. There are almost weekly new functionalities in GA4, but the beta feeling is not completely gone as far as we are concerned.

• A huge amount of documentation is already available for all your Universal Analytics issues. For GA4, you are often on your own if you run into something.

What now?

There will come a time when Google Analytics 4 can do everything that Universal Analytics can do, and much more! But it is not that far for now. Our advice? Create and implement a GA4 property in advance. You can do this via GTM or by putting the global site tag hard in your code. If you can handle GTM, we advise you to choose that route because it is so flexible.

Use the coming months to collect data on your new property. Try solving your Analytics issues in GA4 and see if you can get the same information from GA4 as from UA. This way, you learn the most about the new Google Analytics.

Outsource Google Analytics 4

Don’t feel like figuring it all out yourself? Or do you want to spar about GA4 or another Analytics issue? At Outreach Warriors, we would like to help you with your issue. So do not hesitate to contact us.

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