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Our First Experiences With Google Analytics 4


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Google Analytics 4 is coming. Whether you’re prepared or not, GA4 is an increasingly close reality. At Rock Content, we’ve been playing around with the tool and adapting our processes to ensure we’re ready for when GA4 hits the market. In this article, I’ll share our experience with GA4 — from how we’re adjusting to new features and changes to things we liked and missed about GA4 compared to UA (Universal Analytics).

If you’re a marketer, this is definitely something you’ll want to read about. So, without further ado, let’s take a first look at Google Analytics 4!

The history of a name: GA4

Google Analytics 4 is the fourth version of the most popular web analytics service offered on the internet. According to W3Techs, Google Analytics is used by 56.6% of all websites, which is a traffic analysis tool market share of 86.1%.

Since Urchin’s acquisition in 2005, Google has been releasing improvements and updates regularly. In 2007, they released Google Analytics Classic (2nd version), and in 2009, an asynchronous version that allowed web pages to be loaded faster and improved data collection accuracy.

Universal Analytics (3rd version of Google Analytics) was born more than 10 years ago, in 2012, and is still the most used version today. It provided more detailed information about user behavior and various back-end improvements.

While Google has been continuously improving Universal Analytics, its most significant change has been the launch of the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) in 2017 to allow users to manage various Google products using the same tag. Other than that, we’ve been using the same analytics version for 10 years.

And that’s about to change. Google announced that on July 1, 2023, the standard Universal Analytics properties would no longer process data. You’ll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023. However, new data will only flow into Google Analytics 4 properties.

So if you’re still using the Google Universal version, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

Why is Google Analytics launching a new version?

The digital world has changed a lot in the last decade. Today, businesses must tackle the intricate task of charting their customers’ multi-platform experiences while maintaining user privacy.

GA4 was born with privacy at its core, no longer storing IP addresses or relying exclusively on cookies. It also uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurements.

Although Universal Analytics offers a variety of privacy controls, Google Analytics 4 has more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and use. These solutions and controls are especially necessary for the current international privacy data landscape, where users increasingly expect greater privacy protection and control over their data.

GA4 provides a more reliable tracking system with improved data accuracy. This means that GA4 can track users across their devices, such as desktops, mobiles, and tablets. Plus, it has been designed to work with or without cookies.

Tracking users who have disabled or blocked cookies was impossible with Universal Analytics as the world transitioned away from relying on cookies. Machine learning and statistical modeling offer a promising solution through GA4. This allows businesses to fill in data gaps and gain valuable customer insights that were not previously available.

A privacy-centric design allows GA4 to maintain key insights despite cookie blockers and privacy regulations.

GA4 has a lot of similarities with Universal Analytics but presents some significant changes to be aware of. Let’s dive into our experience with the tool.

What we liked about GA4

There are many differences between GA4 and Universal GA, and we liked most of them. In the end, GA4 provides businesses with greater clarity on user behavior and more in-depth insights than ever before.

Google Analytics has experienced its most significant overhaul since it was originally launched. This isn’t just a simple facelift. It’s an entirely new product!

Here, I’d like to summarize the major changes we observed and provide you with an overview and links for more detailed information, should you choose to explore it further.

Out-of-the-box event tracking

The first thing that stands out when working with GA4 is the ease of setup and how quickly you can start collecting event data.

Creating custom events for everything except page views was necessary for Google Universal Analytics. In GA4, everything is based on events and you can enable some to be captured automatically with the new enhanced event measurement. In addition to mandatory page viewing, you can enable capture of page scrolling (90% depth only), outbound clicks, site search, form interactions, video engagement, and file downloads.

It was a good opportunity to review our existing events tracking strategy and see what we needed to custom implement or not in our new GA4 property.

Google Analytics 4 adoption also allows us to confirm which KPIs were important to our stakeholders. After analyzing the data, we concluded that some of our prior conversions were no longer meaningful and identified fresh tactics to measure success.

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Creating conversions events

Goals in Universal Analytics have traditionally been rather restricting and rigid. Conversions are much easier to set up in GA4. Just flag any of your existing events as a conversion and there you have it: A new conversion event is defined.

It’s recommended that you limit the individuals who have this access to prevent any inadvertent misconfigurations, considering how simple it is to set up. You must have the editor (or higher) role to manage conversions. Remember: Only actions that are related to a business goal should be marked as conversions.

You can now archive goals to free up space and GA4 has also increased the goal limit from 20 to 30.

Conversion events are really useful and essential, allowing us to see the actions that matter the most using various reports, optimize our Google Ads campaigns bidding and create audiences that didn’t convert for remarketing campaigns.

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Another interesting new feature in GA4 is the ability to modify existing events and create new events from existing events within Google Analytics itself instead of relying on Google Tag Manager. We used this to create events from other events and combine conditions and attributes, resulting in far more unique events than previously possible. Now it’s easier to set up and maintain events and quickly adjust them whenever needed.

It’s all about engagement

The bounce rate no longer exists in GA4 as it did in Universal. And believe it or not, that’s a good thing! Bounce rate by default was not a good metric and required some extra setup of “interaction events” on Universal Analytics to make it more precise to measure content engagement.

What replaces it now is what we call an “engaged session,” and by default, that is a much more precise way to measure how users interact with your website or app. A session is considered engaged when any of the following actions are taken by the user:

  • Keeping your website or app open in the foreground for 10 seconds.
  • Completing an event marked as a conversion on your website/app.
  • Viewing two or more pages or screens.

Engagement rate is a new metric that shows the percentage of sessions that were engaged sessions. GA4’s bounce rate is just the inverse of the Engagement rate.

In addition, new metrics have emerged to help understand your audience engagement better.

  • Engaged Sessions Per User: This is the average number of sessions each user engages in.
  • Average Engagement Time: This measures how long an app or website stays in the foreground of the user’s browser or mobile phone.

These metrics make it much easier for us to understand our website performance and ensure we’re targeting and engaging successfully with our audience.

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What we didn’t like: views are gone

The one thing that disappointed us and really confused us was that GA4 removed views. There are no views anymore, and we don’t have any straightforward alternative to precisely what the Universal Analytics views feature does in GA4.

There are only two data filter options at the Property level and these only cover internal traffic and developer traffic.

We used to rely a lot on views on Universal Analytics, having different views for different regions, business separations, domains, or segments of our website, and the blog had its view, too.

GA4 removed views without any actual replacement. Views do not exist today in GA4 and it is unclear if they will ever exist exactly as we know them in Universal. The good news is that with GA4’s comprehensive suite of features, most, if not all, conceivable use cases for Universal Analytics views are addressed in some capacity.

Below are some of the alternatives we considered. Ultimately, it’s all up to you how much time, money and effort you want to put into making views out of your GA4 property.

Google Analytics 360

Subproperties are the closest feature that resembles views within UA properties, but it’s not a direct, 1-to-1 replacement. It will allow you to create a subset of the data replacing the need for views. Still, this new kind of Google Analytics 4 property is available only to Google Analytics 360 accounts. If you don’t have a Google Analytics 360 (paid account), I recommend you experiment with some of the below workarounds to find the best alternative for your needs.

Multiple properties

Create another Google Analytics (GA) property to work as a view to narrow down the data you need. To do this successfully, control what data is being collected using GA tags or Google Tag Manager.

Analysis Hub

With Dimensions and Metrics, you can create a filter for your analysis within the Analysis interface. This view is yours to customize and use as you please — but keep in mind that when sharing with others, they might be unable to make any changes or modifications.

BigQuery

With the Google Analytics 4 integration with BigQuery, you can quickly send your data to be stored and then generate valuable insights in Google Data Studio or Tableau. Even though it takes a bit of effort, this is definitely doable.

Final Thoughts

Google Analytics 4 is a great tool for businesses that need to be more privacy-centric and want to take advantage of its new features. However, it is important to note that GA4 has some limitations and may not offer the same capabilities as Universal Analytics.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that GA4 is a new product, and with any new technology, there are always some growing pains. Although it may take some effort to transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, its powerful features make it worthwhile in the long run.

For us at Rock Content, it was a positive experience and gave us a better understanding of our customers. It allowed us to analyze engagement and measure new events and conversion rates to provide valuable insights into user behavior to help improve website performance. It’s definitely worth exploring if you want to gain better customer insights and take your analytics to the next level.

We hope this overview has been helpful and that you now have a better understanding of how to handle the transition from Universal Analytics views to Google Analytics 4. With the right approach and understanding, you can make the most of your Google Analytics 4 property and benefit from its rich features.

Good luck, and happy analyzing!

Do you want to continue to be updated with Marketing best practices? I strongly suggest that you subscribe to The Beat, Rock Content’s interactive newsletter. There, you’ll find all the trends that matter in the Digital Marketing landscape. See you there!

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