Since 2005, Google Analytics has been the big cheese for tracking website and marketing performance. If you work in SEO or are otherwise involved in analysing how your websites or ads are performing, chances are Google Analytics has been your go-to web analytics tool.
Naturally, the Google techs have tinkered away over the years, making tweaks and improvements, till 2020 when talks turned to Google Analytics 4 (or GA4) – its upgraded version of the platform.
Set to replace Google Universal Analytics (GA3) on 1 July 2023, let’s take a look at what GA4 is and the key advantages the switch to it brings.
So, what exactly is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 is the latest analytics platform released by – you guessed it – Google. Announced and released pretty quickly at the tail end of 2020, GA4 gives users enhanced predictive insights into website traffic and app usage.
In short, Google Analytics 4 is a free tracking tool that shows you, in detail, how visitors use your website. It is therefore absolutely vital for any business tracking its website’s SEO and ad performance. For example, if you are interested in tracking how many people visit your site or want to identify patterns and trends for how users engage with its various pages, then GA4 is the tool that’ll give you the answers.
Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4: What’s changed?
In short, A LOT has changed with the upgrade to Google Analytics 4.
Previously, Universal Analytics has been great for websites, but it fell short when tracking users across both mobile apps and websites. Fundamentally, Universal Analytics was built around ‘sessions’, and the concept of sessions isn’t applicable for measuring mobile app data.
Designed to be more streamlined, GA4 creates a single user journey from all the data associated with a unique user ID. This allows for better ease of use, integrating advanced metrics for wider tracking and analysis capabilities across multiple platforms.
Unlike Universal Analytics, a Google Analytics 4 property – meaning website, app or device data – incorporates user ID natively across all reporting, analysis and insights and does not require a separate user ID reporting view.
Another big change worth mentioning is the move away from the cookie-based approach employed by UA, which tracked user activity based on their browser cookies. GA4 has replaced this riskier cookie-based tracking method with an Event-based model.
The key benefits of Google Analytics 4
- Google Analytics 4 is free – Just like Universal Analytics (GA3), GA4 remains 100% free to use.
- Full customer journey tracking – GA4 is able to stitch together the full user journey across platforms. This means that if a user visits your website on their desktop initially and then switches to their mobile device to browse or purchase your products, GA4 is able to track these visits to give you a thorough view of how the customers engaged with your site regardless of the access point.
- Combined Web and App Reporting – Now stored under a single interface, GA4 has brought together both Web and App reporting. This means you can now track the complete user journey as the user moves from one platform to another.
- Conversion Events – In the GA4 interface, you can access the Events Report and now use any event as a conversion. It is simple to do with no additional setup needed. In Universal Analytics, doing this was far more long-winded and required you to configure goals in the admin interface.
- 35 Event parameters – In Universal Analytics, you could only have 3 Event parameters: Category, Action, and Label. Now in GA4, your custom parameters have vastly grown to up to 35 options, which means you can carry out a more detailed analysis of your user engagement and events.
- Better real-time reporting – GA4’s real-time report has been completely refurbished. More streamlined than ever, instead of having to click different links to see Location, Events, etc., you can now get all of the real-time data you need in just one report.
- Enhanced integration with other Google products – GA4 also allows for better integration with other Google applications – in particular, Google Ads. This opens up the possibility of a deeper level of insight into your business’s marketing campaigns.
- Advanced analysis capabilities – Within the GA4 Interface, the Exploration feature (previously called Analysis Hub) can be accessed, allowing you to conduct deeper analysis. You can start the analysis in free-form and use one of the templates GA4 provides for faster analysis.
- Cross-domain tracking and built-in BigQuery – Cross-domain tracking in GA4 does not require you to add an extra Google tag. You can easily configure cross-domain tracking with just a few clicks on the admin interface. What’s more, GA4 has built-in integration with BigQuery and, in just a few clicks, you can easily set it up.
When do I need to make the switch to GA4?
Now, though there is still a while yet before we wave goodbye to UA, as of October 2020, new properties have been defaulting to GA4. Going forward, any new accounts, too, will be automatically set up under GA4.
The official announcement from Google states:
‘On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will no longer process data. You’ll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023. However, new data will only flow into your GA4 properties.’
With Google Analytics 4 now superseding UA as the default, preparing your business for the transition should be a priority. Embryo’s Head of Organic Strategy Sam Thomas talks of the importance of getting ahead:
‘At Embryo, we’re stressing to all our clients that they must migrate their data from UA to GA4 by Friday 1st July 2022. If they do not, they and you will lose the ability to compare year-on-year data within a single Analytics Property. By acting now and migrating to GA4 a full year in advance, you’re getting ahead of the curve and ensuring you can still benefit from year-on-year reporting.’
Learn more about the Google Analytics 4 benefits with Embryo
Looking to find out more about how the switch to Google Analytics 4 will impact your marketing metrics? Check out some of our latest blogs here or get in touch with the team where our SEO experts will be happy to discuss all things digital marketing.