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Understanding Google Analytics 4 – Part One

As we’re sure many are aware, Google Analytics will be sunsetting its existing version, Google Analytics 3 (otherwise known as Universal Analytics) as of July 2023. Google Analytics 4, often referred to as GA4, will be the only version of Google Analytics available from this point on. 

While Google Analytics has already begun defaulting to GA4 for any new property that is created, they won’t force anyone to transfer until July 2023. In the meantime, we’ve been busy working to ensure that all of our existing clients are set up for success. Throughout this process, we’ve discovered some tips, tricks, and best practices to help you navigate your way through the transformation.

Let’s kick-off with the basic need-to-knows.

Will all of my historic data still be available in GA4?

The existing Universal Google Analytics (GA3)’s data WILL NOT be available in GA4; you will have to start setting up new tags in order to gather data for future analysis. That’s why it’s better to act sooner than later if one wishes to have as much data as possible in their GA4 account. The metrics are, for the most part, similar between GA3 and GA4, though some metrics are no longer available: bounce rates will be replaced by engaged sessions, and average session duration will now be referred to as average engagement time per session. This is supposed to be an upgrade from bounce rate since the definition of an engagement in GA4 is now “The number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had 2 or more screen or page views”. The goal is to give a more holistic view of engagement rather than people simply bouncing out of the page.

It no longer makes sense to track a metric describing inactivity on the website. To sum it up in one sentence: early adoption of GA4 is key if you want to have as much historical data to analyze as possible.

What features or metrics will be removed from GA4?

While the main metric that is going away is bounce rate (to be replaced with the new engagement metrics, as stated above), there are actually a lot of new features introduced in GA4. For example:

  • Insights provided by AI: GA4 is able to highlight abnormalities or interesting stats, for example: 
    • Which source/medium drove the most conversions?
    • Which source/medium and percentage appeared as the first touchpoint of your total conversion?
    • A sudden increase in traffic from a certain country, source/medium
  • Greater audience integration with Google Ads: you are now able to slice and dice the audience in GA4 and these new audience segments will be able to be utilized in Google Ads if the accounts are linked. 
  • Custom reports: You are now able to use the different Exploire report types in GA4 to customize your data presentation, there are: 
    • Free form
    • Funnel exploration
    • Path exploration
    • Segment overlap
    • User explorer
    • Cohort exploration
    • User lifetime
  • Debug view: In GA4, you will be to see a sequence of events and what data is collected (and when) to determine if everything is working as intended
  • User data controls: You can change the retention period for data you send that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers. This will help you to comply with GDPR if one of your branches is established in the EU. It’s important to note the data retention is limited to 14 months.

Should I create a GA4 property now?

Yes, you should totally create a GA4 property right now – or, as soon as possible! This will ensure that you have at least a year’s worth of data to compare to come July 2023. Setting up GA4 now will also allow you to compare metrics between GA3 and GA4 to see how the change in measurement impacts your analytics overall.

If you’re looking for assistance (and you’re not already a digital marketing client), feel free to reach out to your Project Manager or our Director of Sales, Linda, to discover how we can best help you prepare for this major shift in data tracking.

Why is Google making this change?

The world of analytics is changing, and the data that we used to be able to collect can no longer be taken for granted. People are more concerned about their data privacy than ever before, and we have the responsibility to respect that and the laws that govern it. As GA4 gives you more granular control over the user data privy settings, you are able to execute data collection and usage based on your legal team’s recommendations. 

Another reason why Google is pushing for GA4 is that GA4 has the capability to track users across platforms, giving analytic professionals a more user-centric measurement. In other words,  measurement is not solely anchored in the desktop web or independent sessions.

And that’s our high-level overview of the basics of Google Analytics 4. Be sure to check in for our next installments, where we’ll help you turn some of these big ideas into an easy-to-follow practice.