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Google Analytics Four – What You Need to Know Now

Theo Bennett - October 16, 2020

Google just announced Google Analytics (GA) 4. Unlike incremental or lateral changes such as the GTAG collection API; this change is significant, and you need to pay attention and understand what this means to you and your business. In this post, we will walk through what GA-4 is and what you need to do now.

What is GA-4?

GA-4 is the latest version of Google Analytics and the first major change since the advent of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics or UA) several years ago. It addresses a fundamental challenge for analytics deployment: Should analytics be engineered for mobile apps and devices or for websites? Allow me to explain.

Since the advent of smart mobile devices, GA was available as a mobile SDK to measure app interaction on mobile devices; however, it mostly used a web based architecture and reporting that, apart from calling “pages” “screens”, didn’t really address the unique user interaction of these devices.

To address this shortcoming, several years ago Google introduced Firebase which was analytics for mobile apps that consistently evolved to feature an event-based environment that more easily measured true user engagement.

Ultimately, this morphed into a beta to consistently measure Apps and Web visits of users with a holistic and consistent approach; it was called App + Web properties and it leveraged the Firebase event-based approach. GA-4 represents both a renaming of this strategy and its release from beta for the free version of GA (GA 360 is still in beta).

What’s Different?

The differences are striking and numerous so let us cover some of the major changes quickly and simply:

  • The data model is completely different. We no longer have Users >> Sessions >> hits (pageviews, events, transactions, etc.). Now we have Users >> User Property>>Events >> Parameters
  • The user interface, because of the striking change of the data model, is familiar but very different. It incorporates a strikingly different path to get needed data and at the same type better integrates features like Real Time and Analysis. Google also is better surfacing some of the AI functionality that had been rolled into Universal Analytics views over the last couple of years.
  • There are new metrics like engagement rate and old ones that are being diminished like bounce rate.
  • Major features like the measurement protocol and data import are not yet available.
  • Lastly, the beloved UA property identified, a holdover from when Google acquired Urchin Analytics (UA) is being deprecated in favor of new g code data streams.

Should I recode My Site and get rid of GTAG or Google Tag Manager (GTM)?

Absolutely not, we still believe that regardless of the data collection script or API, the best way to deploy your GA and other measurement tags is via Google Tag Manager. If your site is newer, and you are using GTAG (Google’s Global Site Tag) then you should consider the relatively easy move to a fully featured GTM instance.

If I do nothing now, will I lose my data, or will my data still be processed?

For new properties, GA-4 will be the default version of code provided and all new AI resources and development resources are shifting from Universal Analytics to GA-4. What that means is that while your data will continue to be processed and available in your Universal properties, it will not get processed and ported to the new data model and in most cases new features will only arrive in GA-4. So, while old data profiles will continue to process data and work, do not expect many improvements or upgrades to features, performance or the UI for Universal and older properties and collection methods.

Can I run Universal Analytics and GA-4?

Absolutely! In fact, that is the recommended way to deploy GA-4. Universal Analytics should continue to be your source of truth and you should deploy GA-4 now so that as the feature set improves; you’ll have historical data available in the GA-4 property so that you can easily do year over year comparisons to the new metrics sets.

Summary

GA-4 is very different and an inevitable change that reflects current trends and user behavior and will allow for a more cohesive data set that leverages the best of Google AI. This AI centric approach will help surface anomalies, opportunities, and help you target your prospective customers in a much more efficient manner; while allowing more granular control of privacy options and accounting for the increasingly harsh treatment of tracking cookies to help your company come out on top.

Our recommendation is to add GA-4 to your site as soon as possible while still working within a correctly deployed Universal Analytics instance as your source of truth.

How can I get help?

MoreVisibility is a Google certified partner for GA, GTM, Google Optimize and Google Data Studio. If you need help deploying this or any other solutions related to these tools, or would like to learn about custom training on GA-4, call us now at 800-787-0497 or fill out a contact form today.

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