If you do business online then you’ll likely already understand why Google Analytics is so crucial. One of the keys to building efficiency and improving productivity is to track every aspect of your output and this Analytics is a key ally for helping you keeping a handle on key data.
In a few short steps, anybody can gain a detailed insight into the performance of their web platform, including metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, bounce rate, referral origins and more.
And the recent introduction of the fourth version of Analytics promises to deliver greater levels of insight than ever before.
What is Google Analytics?
Businesses large and small utilise Analytics to measure the success of a particular campaign or just get a handle on ongoing traffic and user habits.
It is often utilised by agencies working in collaboration with businesses to measure the success of their own activity, and the data can quite easily be distilled down and translated to create data that is easy to understand and demonstrates the tangible impact of particular activity.
On a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis, you can easily compare and monitor performance across a range of metrics to help you quickly identify what’s working and what isn’t working.
You will also learn more about your users, including where they are, what platforms they use and which pages they visit.
For ecommerce platforms, Analytics can track shopping conversions and help you follow a typical customer journey, from landing on your page, to adding an item to a basket and then checking out and completing a purchase.
These are often recorded as Goal Completions, where the stated goal would typically be selling a product.
The data can help you identify weaknesses in the user experience, such as a particular point in the customer journey where a user is leaving the website before completing their purchase.
Google Analytics can provide a detailed insight into where your visitors are coming from, which will help you quickly understand which of your digital marketing streams are proving the most effective, whether that’s social media output, Google Ads or digital PR coverage.
What’s new in Version 4?
Welcomed as the biggest change to hit the platform since its launch, Google Analytics 4 will deliver a noticeable overhaul, both in terms of functionality and interface.
In announcing the fourth edition of Analytics, Google says their new “more intelligent” platform will help users get a better ROI by building on the foundations of last year’s App + Web Property, which were introduced in Beta.
The press announcement added: “It has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms.”
The new platform will deliver expanded predictive insights, which have evolved to become an indispensable tool for many users, while a more seamless integration with Google Ads, alongside cross-device capabilities and more refined data controls should also enhance functionality.
From a user experience perspective, much has changed and differences between v4 and previous versions will be apparent.
The entire interface has been refreshed, with headings for Behaviour, Conversion, Acquisition and Audience replaced by Life Cycle, User, Events, Explore and Configure.
Another key evolution that users will discover in GA4 is the emphasis on event-driven analytics models, building on the functionality showcase by Firebase, which this latest version is built on.
The aim here is to streamline the Page Views metric by replacing it with a more flexible system of events, including automatically collected events, enhanced measurement, recommended events and custom events, which Google hopes will make it easier to see how Page Views and Events correlate with one another.
It will likely also mean an end to manually configured events, making processes more efficient and adding some much-needed intuitiveness to the user experience.
What else do I need to know?
GA4 has been developed to adapt to a future without third-party cookies, and where data sparsity will emerge as one of the industry’s biggest challenges.
Google is aiming to fill this gap using data modelling in instances where data sets are incomplete, with Machine Learning being utilised to deliver a greater understanding of offline and multi-device conversions.
The departure from a single experience to one that is much more user defined is welcome as it will allow users to develop rules and parameters that serve up relevant data in a more illuminating and informative way.
GA4’s Analysis Hub will provide access to individual user data, permit the creation of custom conversion funnels, and allow users to produce reports containing only the data they need to see.
The integration of BigQuery as an in-built tool is also a welcome new development.
How do I make the switch?
You will likely be greeted by an ‘Upgrade’ notification in the coming weeks but, rather than press ahead, we’d recommend creating a new property for GA4, which you can then merge with your Universal property to guard against any interruptions in data.
It will also provide a little breathing space to familiarise yourself with the new features before making the switch.
Rest assured that Universal Analytics will continue to be available, although note that 4 will become the default option for any new properties you create.
Universal Analytics will continue to be supported while Google presses on with development of GA4, so there is no deadline for making the move.
Your existing set-up will not suddenly stop working either, so set your own milestones and don’t try to run before you can walk. Though the new platform delivers improvement, there’s little to be gained and more to be lost from racing to be an early adopter.
As with any update, the changes may appear difficult to digest at first, and it may take some time to be able to properly utilise the new processes and realise their benefits.
Our advice is make the transition gradually and to set your own deadlines for upgrading.
With a little persistence, millions of users will gain a closer and more relevant insight through GA4.