Google Analytics gives information about a user’s online experience.
When people hear Google Analytics, they may think of Universal Analytics (UA). You may not know that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is set to replace UA by July 2023. Universal Analytics was launched in 2005; it gives previously unavailable deep customer data and has altered how businesses assess and track success.
Anyone with a Google account can use it to understand better their customers, their journey, and how they interact with online content. With more information available, it is simple to develop data-driven marketing and content strategies for long-term success.
Marketers needed new cross-platform analytic solutions to better customer experience and marketing outcomes as customer behavior changed, and even a good phone made it easier to access information anywhere.
Google Analytics 4 was published in October 2020, offering a new data measurement paradigm, cross-platform compatibility, events-based modeling, and other features. Google is still working on the final version of GA4, but the date when it will completely replace UA is approaching.
Google Analytics: a Quick Explainer
Google Analytics is a statistical analytics tool for tracking and reporting website traffic. It reveals the page of your website a person begins on and how they arrived there. Google Analytics can track session length, the number of pages a user visits during a session, and other website activity. It can also monitor and report e-commerce sales activity and performance, such as sales, revenue, conversion rates, and other sales metrics.
Google Analytics data is commonly used for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing strategies. It can also be used to determine which types of content are performing well and to shape the overall content creation strategy. The service is a component of the Google Marketing Platform and is available to anyone with a Google account.
How Google Analytics is evolving with GA 4
Google has announced that Universal Analytics will be phased down on July 1, 2023. You can still see your past data for the next six months, but UA will no longer process new hits. We encourage you to set up and begin studying Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible. However, it is not suggested that you fully transition to GA4 at this time.
Since its release, Google Analytics 4 has garnered scathing criticism. All of GA4’s features have yet to be rolled out, and it lacks some of UA’s capabilities, but it isn’t the main reason people are upset with the changes.
The most common criticisms are that GA4 overcomplicates simple tasks, that the user interface is confusing, and that everything is difficult to use without training. Realtime Content Insights are an attempt by Google to make Google Analytics more accessible to the average user, but for the time being, it’s best to use UA and GA4 side by side.
Looking at some key differences can help you get started and take advantage of this opportunity to adjust to GA4.
Reporting views user interface in Google UA vs. GA4
The Google Analytics user interface begins with a reporting snapshot that collects some of your critical data in one location. GA4 looks very different from Universal Analytics, and the differences can be intimidating at first. You’ll note right away that the reporting interfaces are substantially different. You can have up to 25 custom reporting views in UA to organize your data. GA4 eliminates this, and there is only one view available.
You structure your data using data streams and audiences rather than many filtered views. Unlike with UA, there is only one reporting view, and you can apply data filters to it rather than constructing a custom view. Essentially, you are instructing GA4 to remove specific data from your data stream, such as internal traffic and developer traffic. Each GA4 property can have up to ten data filters.
Google Analytics 4’s updated measurement model
Google Analytics is all about tracking and measuring user interactions with your online site to gain insights into the user experience. Universal Analytics employs a measurement approach based on page visits and sessions, whereas Google Analytics 4 has been modified to enable an event-driven model that prioritizes mobile data. Every action taken by a user counts as an event. Although this may appear strange coming from UA, it should mean additional information on how viewers interact with your property.
Google Analytics 4 modifies the way sessions are tracked
Google uses sessions to determine how long data is collected for a specific interaction with your property. A session in Universal Analytics is defined as the timeframe in which one user interacts with your site. Consider a session a container for all user actions, such as page views, events, transactions, and other activities. GA4 eliminates the time limit and no longer measures average pages per session. This means that your session count and average session time will differ from those reported by UA.
Bounce rate gets replaced with with engagement rate in GA4
Anyone who has used Google Analytics has noticed the bounce rate. The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a website who leave after seeing only one page. What changes did Google make to the bounce rate in GA4? You guessed it: they got rid of it completely.
GA4 does not track bounce rate at all. In its place, you’ll see engagement rate, a new metric that tracks time spent on the landing page. Aside from engagement rate, GA4 has a few other engagement metrics, such as engagement sessions and engagement sessions per user.
Anonymized IP addresses in GA4 makes GDPR compliance easy
Universal Analytics was developed before implementing the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in 2018. Because IP addresses are now considered personal data, they must be anonymized to comply with GDPR legislation. Google Analytics 4 now anonymizes all IP addresses automatically. This may not appear to be a big deal at first, but you had to configure this manually in UA; now, the IP settings for all of your properties are GDPR compliant by default.
Landing page reports are not available in Google Analytics 4
Landing page statistics display indicators such as views and clicks to help you analyze the performance of individual pages and monitor conversion rates. Another hand removed from Google Analytics 4 is landing page reports. In this scenario, though, you can design your own by using GA4’s session start event to count the number of times a new session was launched on a specific page.
The session start event is a fantastic example of how GA4 uses events to replace many of the things you were used to seeing in Universal Analytics. If you wish to continue getting landing page reports, you must return to UA.
Cross-platform tracking makes its way to GA4
Cross-platform tracking is now available in Google Analytics. Google Analytics 4 is not just mobile-friendly, but you can also track and measure data between websites and mobile apps. This is extremely useful if your mobile app is simply another way for people to interact with your website.
Significant changes in data retention and BigQuery
Comparing current data with historical data is a critical component of any analytics. Google Analytics 4’s data retention options have undergone a significant adjustment. Universal Analytics lets you choose between 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, and 50 months, and it never expires. GA4, on the other hand, has only two options: two months and fourteen months.
Many analytics users look back at historical data. While year-to-year comparisons appear to be possible, you won’t be able to access any of your historical information beyond 14 months directly. GA4 does, however, connect to BigQuery directly. If you migrate your data from GA4, you’ll be able to keep it for longer, and SQL queries will be much easier.
What next for Google Analytics?
Google Analytics isn’t the only analytics platform available. If GA4 is too annoying or does not provide the necessary information, it may be worthwhile investigating some competition. While there are many possibilities, some platforms are provided by well-known companies. Parse.ly is a component of WordPress VIP, while Adobe has its analytics tool, dubbed Adobe Analytics. Other leading alternatives, such as Amplitude and Chartbeat, even provide features that Google Analytics does not.
If you are unsure whether your analytics property is affected, you can confirm the type of property you use. If you built your site after October 2020, you’re probably already using Google Analytics 4, but if you’re still using Universal Analytics, now is the time to start switching. If you still require some of UA’s functionality that GA4 does not support, keep it active until July 1st, 2023, and use this time to familiarize yourself with GA4 before the big switch.