Not long after we told you about Google App + Web last year, Google launched the latest version of their web analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
We’ve spent some time working with it and want to share our insights.
WHAT IS GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4?
GA4 is Google’s replacement for Universal Analytics (UA), which was the standard version of GA up until now.
The focus of GA4 is improved cross-channel tracking, along with some behind-the-scenes improvements that mean it’s prepared for when tracking cookies have been phased out – due to happen soon.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Whether you have a website, a website and an app, or are purely app-focused, this update is certainly worth implementing.
The new platform brings an entirely new way of looking at your data, dispensing with ‘sessions’, focusing rather on users and events. Potentially more importantly, GA4 eliminates the reliance on third-party cookies, meaning your analytics will continue to work as more and more browsers restrict their efficacy.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
A unified, single-customer view
Businesses are starting to understand that customers don’t visit your site and buy a product in a straight line on one device. For example, they may do research on their phone, purchase your product on their computer, then download and use your app.
Many current analytics platforms still mistakenly present each device app and browser as unique visitors. With GA4, analysts can harness the power of Google Signals along with custom User IDs to understand how each customer interacts across all digital touchpoints, so you can start to really understand the full customer lifecycle.
Some of our clients have already begun making use of this in their tracking and reporting. We are monitoring how users make bookings on one device and manage their bookings on the app. With this visibility, we can understand the differences in how each is used, and fully optimise the customer experience.
Preparing for a cookie-less future
Right from the horse’s mouth, Google Analytics 4 is “designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers”. As people become ever more protective of their digital privacy, Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) getting stricter with each update, and new laws coming into place such as GDPR and CCPA, current cookie-based methods are becoming more and more ineffective.
GA4 is finding novel ways to navigate around the issue. Their machine learning and modelling capabilities are becoming ever more able to fill in the gaps in the data.
"As digital analysts, we’re always looking for ways to ensure that we can understand how customers are using our clients’ websites in an accurate way that still respects the user’s privacy. As we never know when a tech giant will change the standards (e.g. with Apple ITP), we welcome Google’s solution and are excited to see how it improves our analysis capabilities."
All about events
With GA4’s abilities now including app analytics, it shares a lot with Firebase – particularly how it tracks interactions. No longer do you have to rely on the strict Event Category, Action, and Label hierarchy of the old platform – events are now uniquely named, and you get 500 per Property, along with 25 parameters per event – providing a level of granularity you may not have known you needed!
There is also the option to use event editing, allowing you to modify events that have already been sent and processed by GA4 – either to make new events specifically for Conversions (formerly known as Goals), or even to correct implementation errors.
With GA4, the promise of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) take a step closer to being a useful reality. The new version applies advanced ML models to the collected data facilitating a new and improved insights system to help detect anomalies and raise other alerts. This also enables new predictive metrics, such as predicted revenue and churn probability to help you identify and analyse audiences of particular interest.
There are a few other areas where Google have made improvements.
Features that were previously Analytics 360 (the paid-for enterprise tier of UA) are now available for free in GA4, such as the Analysis Hub to give you customisable reports, like Pathing, Funnel, and Segment Overlap right from the user interface, and BigQuery export to let you integrate your unsampled data with other systems.
Another bonus is the new debug mode for both Web and App via Google Tag Manager (GTM); now allowing you to see interactions in real time as you test them in a clear timeline.
New features are coming to the platform thick and fast, month by month.
Fremavens are working with our Google Analytics clients to implement GA4 as soon as possible. This is in order to help them get their heads around some of the more profound changes in the data model, particularly clients who have interconnecting Websites and Apps, or those currently relying heavily on session-based metrics to understand their users in UA. We are keeping UA running however, until some of the nice-to-have bells and whistles are released onto a product which still feels a little sparse on some key features.
For clients who already use GTM, the new setup can be done with a reasonable effort and minimum fuss.
We’re in no doubt that GA4 is here to stay, the only questions now are when will UA become obsolete, and will you be ready?
If you would like to have a conversation about migrating to GA4 and how Freemavens can help deliver on your goals for digital transformation, Contact us.