Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google’s web analytics platform. The newest version is not just an update – it’s a major change to the way the platform gathers, stores and filters data. In this article, we highlight the main changes to the platform and why website owners need to start the shift towards GA4 now.
What is different about Google Analytics 4?
One of the most likely reasons for the update is the need to address the phasing out of third-party cookies – and a potential ‘cookieless’ future.
Social media platforms, browsers and regulators are now paying more attention to consumer privacy when online. This shift towards ‘privacy first’ has resulted in the introduction of specific regulations, such as GDPR. Now – websites need to ask if a user wants to opt-in or opt-out from cookies that track how they use a site. If a user opts out – analytics platforms such as Google Analytics can no longer provide this data to website owners.
GA4 can’t get around these regulations, but it does provide a solution. Instead of relying on actual data (from cookies) – GA4 ‘fills in the blanks’. It uses machine learning to ‘estimate’ how many users are ‘missing’ to fill in what is missing from those who choose to ‘opt out’.
For data-driven marketers like TDMP this is not the ideal situation, and we are currently investigating alternative ‘cookieless’ analytics platforms, such as Plausible.io, for clients in response to the solutions put forward by Google. Although alternatives tend to be much more basic than Google Analytics, they provide a truer picture of traffic.
One of the other most noticeable changes is the switch from sessions to events.
In the previous version of Google Analytics, known as Universal Analytics (UA), activity is tracked over a given time frame – or session. In GA4, all interactions – or events – will be linked to a user, rather than a session.
This change to tracking shifts the focus away from a specific time period (session) to a user, and the actions they take.
One of the biggest challenges in digital marketing is tracking users across multiple devices. GA4 has features that are designed to provide a fuller picture of a customer’s lifecycle. Unlike the previous version of analytics, GA4 aims to give a view of how a user engages with businesses across different channels and devices. Users can now be allocated with an ID – which makes it easier for them to be tracked, whether that be on a different channel (such as YouTube) or across devices.
Predicting audience behaviours
GA4 uses machine learning to identify trends that can be used to predict user behaviour. GA4 uses AI and machine learning to predict the outcomes of groups of users based on their actions. These insights can be useful in planning remarketing strategies and optimising websites as per those yet to convert.
What do website owners need to do?
There are no immediate changes to the previous version of Google Analytics (UA) – but website owners need to start planning for the future, and the eventual switch to GA4.
Google recommends that website owners set up a new analytics property in GA4 using ‘dual tagging’. This allows both GA4 and UA to run in parallel. By doing this, the new property (GA4) can collect historical data before GA4 becomes the only option.
TDMP will start implementing this action among clients in Q1 and Q2 of 2021. If you are interested in learning more – or setting up GA4 tracking, contact us.