Plus, Why You Need to Turn On New GA4 AI Data Insights Now
As a business owner, manager, or marketing director, if you’ve been paying attention to any professional news media for the past 10 months, you know that a big change is on the horizon for your Google marketing platform. For many years, millions of businesses, marketers, and website owners have used Google Analytics as the standard tool to track user data and customer interactions across their domains and mobile apps. Google Analytics can help business owners track numerous Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including website traffic, traffic sources, actions and paths taken within your website, time spent on your site, button clicks, and much more online data.
In October 2021, Google announced the most significant change to professional website analytics tracking and reports with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4). As of now, GA4 has already been released and is available for all website tracking data. This article is meant to be a quick guide to help you prepare for the data changeover and build GA4 into your marketing strategy for 2023 and beyond. More detailed guides, such as this one from Search Engine Journal (SEJ) tutorial can be found online. So, what does Google Analytics 4 mean for you and your client marketing? Let’s take a look…
What Is Google Analytics 4?
First, let’s review a little history. The first version of Google Analytics (GA1), also known as Classic Google Analytics, was introduced way back in 2006. The second (introduced in 2012) and third versions, Google Analytics 2 and Google Analytics 3, were both Universal Analytics property versions.
Previously, if you wanted to track your website and mobile app users and usage data through reports, you’d have to use separate Google Analytics properties. With the new Google Analytics 4, marketers can combine tracking efforts together. But even if you don’t have a mobile app, it’s still essential to make the switch to GA4, as Google will discontinue support of the current Google Analytics 3 as well as older Google Analytics versions as of July 1, 2023.
Google is calling Google Analytics 4 the next-generation approach to advanced machine learning models, “privacy-first” tracking, AI-based predictive data, and x-channel measurement altogether. In essence, GA4 is a complete reconfiguration of how your website user data is tracked. Until now, Universal Google Analytics tracked your data on a session-based model. With Google Analytics 4, the switch is to an event-based model, which means you’ll be able to track the user path through your website with much higher clarity. In a nutshell, the main goal of GA4 is to focus more finely on the user journey—from their first visit to your website to the final sales conversion.
Benefits of GA4
Google Analytics 4’s primary benefit has grown from new federal privacy and protection laws, which have diminished the ability to rely on traditional data analytics. In addition, when users opt out of cookies and data collection that means your universal analytics tracking data doesn’t tell 100% of the story. Google Analytics 4 will allow businesses to optimize the use of AI and fill in that gap of inaccurate or missing information — both now and into the future — due to required cookie consent options and privacy mandates. Plus, you’ll still enjoy all of the analytics integrations with other SEO and marketing tools and reports that you’re accustomed to.
Through GA4 data insights and reports, businesses and marketers can find new ways to connect with users, audiences, and your marketing segment. Plus, you will be able to make better decisions regarding the following types of marketing content:
- Website content
- Blog content
- Social media content
- Social media advertising
- General content marketing
- Marketing strategy
- Google ads
- Offline ads
- Search engine marketing
- Client acquisition
- Offline advertisement
- Paid advertising
- Emails and e-newsletters
- Customer data
- And more!
New GA4 Highlights
- GA4 assigns machine learning as the main type of event and data measurement.
- GA4 can create assumptions about site traffic and user behavior data.
- Professional marketers and business owners can gain a “more complete understanding of the user journey across devices.”
- GA4 is more focused on measuring the end-to-end shopper journey, not just individual metrics across devices, pages, and segments.
- GA4 is also designed to be “future proof” in order to function in a world without cookies or identifying data.
- GA4 features “data streams” instead of the current views and segments used by the Universal Analytics.
- GA4 enables editing, tracking and fine-tuning of events, including user interactions such as clicks, page scroll, and more user data.
- GA4 provides enhanced e-commerce reports and attribution modelling.
- GA4 continues the same app integrations you’re already using.
GA4 New Capabilities
- GA4’s data import will include a wide range of user data from non-website sources (e.g., apps) within one property.
- GA4 allows cross-domain tracking without code adjustments.
- GA4 offers a “Life Cycle Report” and “templated reports for ecommerce funnels” in order to display and visualize user data.
Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics
Google Analytics 4’s most notable change is that it will no longer collect or store user IP addresses. Professional admins can delete data at the request of any user. And admins can also choose how long they’d like to store user-specific data. (The default time is two months but can be extended to 14 months.) Plus, Google Analytics 4 provides options to turn off location-specific data and ad personalization by country.
You’ll also notice dashboard and reports changes between Google Analytics 4 user insights and Universal Analytics properties, especially within reports. The user data remains essentially the same, although it is organized differently. (See the new Audience tab for user data and information.) Engagement has replaced Behavior and more conversions reports are available under the new Monetization tab, which now takes all streams of revenue into account.
So, Should You Upgrade to Google Analytics 4? And When?
The short answer is YES. Starting July 1, 2023, Google Analytics as you know it will stop processing new user hits to your website—and your GA3 historical user data will only be available for a few months after that. While Google Analytics 4 is just getting underway, it’s not yet a 100% replacement for GA3 and is currently only capturing a small portion of user data across a website and/or app. E-commerce reporting and attribution modelling features are currently lacking with Google Analytics 4. However, this user data collection will grow over time. And when Google makes the final switch to Google Analytics 4 in July 2023, you’ll want to be ready with this new strategy. And you’ll want to have the most accurate and complete user data on hand for optimal marketing decisions post July 2023.
To ensure the most seamless transition—and have a year of historical user data behind you once GA3 loses Google support—you’ll want to make the switch to GA4 now. And yes, we mean Now.
How to Make the Switch to GA4
We recommend setting up your Google Analytics 4 property to run parallel with your existing Google Universal Analytics user data and insights. And it’s fairly simple to configure your GA4 property. We’ve devised an easy checklist here, but if you’re not comfortable doing this, you can ask your web developer to handle it for you.
7 Easy Steps to Configure GA4
- Login to your Google Analytics Account.
- Click Admin/Gear icon at the bottom left navigation.
- Confirm your desired account is selected (Account column).
- Confirm your desired property is selected (Property column).
- Click GA4 Setup Assistant (first option in the Property column).
- Once in the Setup Wizard, click the large blue button: Get Started.
- Then click the blue button: Create Property.
That’s it! After creating your property, the setup assistant will automatically activate enhanced measurement in your GA4 property. However, you’ll still need a custom code to track third-party user data elements and form submissions.
NOTE: The Google Analytics 4 setup assistant works automatically with gtag.js. So, if you use a website builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc. then you will need to add the analytics tag yourself.
What to Do If You Haven’t Set Up Google Analytics Yet
If you haven’t set up Google Analytics dashboard for your website yet, now is the time to add GA to your user data management and customer insights. So, don’t worry… you can still set up Universal Analytics then connect GA4. The two can run in conjunction until July 2023, when support will discontinue for the current GA3. Here’s a quick Google Analytics tutorial and guide to help you get started.
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