In October of 2020, Google released its fourth version of its Google Analytics platform. Affectionately titled “GA4,” the newly named platform has replaced the namesake “Universal Analytics” (UA), which has been around since 2012. With GA4, marketers and analysts will benefit from several updates – from smarter insights to improve your marketing decisions, to a more complete understanding of how customers interact with your business. For those curious about some of the most impactful updates to the platform, there are five key reasons that leveraging GA4 will benefit your business in the long run.
1. More Robust Google Ads Segmentation
Using UA, marketers could create simple audiences to be imported into Google Ads for usage in media segmentation and personalization. While this is valuable, the logic that can be used for this segmentation is simplistic—limiting the ability to more uniquely segment and personalize ads.
GA4 provides the ability to segment and drill down much deeper into where customers are at in their buying journey. GA4 also allows for teams to create event- based audiences – a feature not available in the old UA version. This change means marketers can go beyond the pages users are viewing and can effectively segment audiences based on what specific elements of the pages they have interacted with.
Additionally, marketers can now include “time” as an element of segmentation. This provides the ability to target different users who spend different amounts of time between engagements on a website. For instance, if you find a group of users who spend more time browsing products compared to their fast-decision-making counterparts, you can better tailor messaging for that group to help them make their decision.
2. New Data Model
When it comes to how data is being collected, a drastic shift has been made with the introduction of GA4. Now, all data that comes into GA is labeled as an event. To provide an idea of how the previous version operated, brands could view the data in categories such as pageviews, events, eCommerce, and screen views (for mobile applications). But now, within GA4, all data sets are grouped under the term “events” and accompanied by different and customizable parameters.
This may not seem like an intuitive approach, but the change simplifies the learning curve for a new user of the platform, while also creating a better environment for website and mobile application data to live in the same ecosystem, side-by-side. The updates give businesses a much more complete, holistic view of how their digital properties are performing. This allows for faster answers to questions and a more robust tracking model, especially if your mobile application has elements from the website embedded into it.
3. Advanced Analytics and Predictive Metrics
While a deep understanding of your data and a solid taxonomy are important, there are additional analysis tools within GA4 that allow things like custom funnel creation and pathing analysis to be done. These are things that would have previously taken custom tracking and data modeling to complete and had to be completed outside of the platform. There are also more advanced metrics that have been added to GA4 that model out a user’s likelihood to convert or their likelihood to convert again.
Marketers now have these more powerful metrics and funnels at their fingertips. This allows questions that once took hours to answer to now be resolved in minutes once these are properly configured. Quickly understanding where users are dropping out of the purchase or conversion funnel can inform optimizations and improve performance.
4. BigQuery Availability
BigQuery is a tool that allows for very granular hit-by-hit analysis of Google Analytics data. It is a processing engine that leverages Google’s network of servers to query against raw GA data very quickly. Previously, this tool was only available in the paid version of Google Analytics and required additional effort to perform attribution modeling, pathing analysis, and detailed reporting. GA4 now allows data analysts to query their GA data without needing to export the granular data out of the Google ecosystem. While there is a limit to the amount of processing that can be done without a fee, a certain amount of the data can be manipulated within the Google Cloud Platform for free.
The integration of this tool allows for more rapid and efficient analysis of more granular data. This will provide analysts the ability to provide insights into Google Analytics data much quicker, shortening the time between question, answer, decision, and action.
5. Enhanced Tagging and No Sampling
Enhanced tagging and the removal of “sampling” may be the nerdiest (but most exciting) updates to GA4 yet. Now, metrics such as scroll depth, link clicks, and video activity are trackable ‘out-of-the-box.’ In the previous version of GA, this had to be tracked leveraging custom tags which would take hours to add. Now, that time can be better spent determining how to act on the data, rather than collecting it.
Also, NO MORE SAMPLING! In the previous version of Google Analytics if the data and segments pulled hit a certain threshold, GA would take a slice of that data and extrapolate that out and estimate the totals. For most use cases this is not a big deal, but when you want to see how many people landed on your homepage, clicked a specific CTA, and then purchased a specific product, the numbers can sometimes get very small. When looking at small numbers, sampling becomes a prohibitive obstacle to getting an answer to a question in quick fashion. With sampling a thing of the past, analysts have one less obstacle in the way in their search for answers.
Begin planning for an upgrade to GA4. As Google continues to move away from Universal Analytics, marketers should become well versed with GA4 and begin planning for a seamless transition. A few considerations to keep in mind as you do:
Be sure to collect enough historical data before leveraging GA4. Especially for businesses and industries that are impacted by seasonality – having enough day-to- day data will help with future QoQ or YoY analysis and reporting.
Prioritize what you want to know. Having a new, holistic data model in place to measure both web and mobile application data will provide analysts a much greater ability to see how those two channels interact with each other, as well as give marketers an ability to self-serve for quicker answers to questions. For example, a marketer could much more easily answer questions surrounding funnel drop off. An analyst could simply pull data surrounding engagement rates and how they compare on the web experience versus the mobile application, and both sets of data will share the same taxonomy.
Leverage server-side tagging while implementing GA4. This will allow for the Google Analytics cookie to be a first-party cookie rather than the third-party cookie it is currently. This gives us more quality data as browsers move away from allowing third-party cookies to track users across multiple sessions. By having a first-party cookie in place it will make personalization more effective, it will create better A/B testing capabilities, and enable a better understanding of how users interact with your digital properties over time.
Invest short-term for better benefit long-term. Implementing GA4 is slightly more effort than the existing UA implementation, but the differences are small. To get started, swapping out a few lines of code on the website and configuring a Google Cloud server is all that’s needed from a technical standpoint. Then leverage the new GA4 tags within the Google Tag Manager container that is existing on the website. From there you should be able to start realizing the benefits. At Bold Orange we know relevancy is the only currency that matters and GA4 will help drive that relevancy. Here’s to progress!