analytics

Google Analytics 4 – A Continuing Story

Like it or not, the switchover to Google Analytics 4 is coming (at some point – Google is keeping the official date a mystery to themselves as well as the rest of us mere mortals). As we’ve previously recommended, the time to prepare for the switchover is right now. Google won’t be porting any data from the legacy platform to GA4 so, if you wait until the last minute, you won’t have an easy way to compare historical data to the new GA4 data. 

Heeding our own advice, we have been helping a number of clients to get up and running with new GA4 properties, the tags they’ll need to deploy the GA4 code through Google Tag Manager or walking them through the steps of adding the GA4 directly to their website’s pages (not a method we would typically recommend, but that’s a whole other blog post!). In our work helping clients we have come across some things we really like and some things we’re keeping clients aware of

Some of the things we do like:

Very easy setup process

Getting setup with a GA4 property that pulls in data has been a smooth process for us and remains as simple as it was with Universal Analytics. So far, we have been able to get GA4 properties up and running and pulling on data in a small handful of hours including some occasional regex use and a round or two of robust testing.

Out of the box standard event tracking

Once your GA4 property is active, you’ll immediately be tracking a number of events as standard. Where Universal Analytics only provided metrics such as time on site, bounce rate and pages per visit as standard engagement metrics, GA4 takes a more intelligent approach. The out of the box events tracked include:

  • Scroll rate
  • Site search
  • Video engagement
  • File downloads

Where this used to require a significant level of custom coding, you can now dedicate that time to actually understanding your site visitors better.

Unsampled data

One of Google Analytics/ Universal Analytics inconvenient quirks is how reporting can often be based on sampled data, particularly when dealing with large data sets and applying advanced segments. This often results in data being directionally accurate, but unreliable when looking for hard and fast numbers – crucial for example when looking at revenue and transaction-related data. In GA4’s standard reports, sampling has been eliminated and the data being collected is now unlimited.

Some things to be aware of:

New measurement conventions

If you’ve become well accustomed to the metrics and naming conventions traditionally used by Universal Analytics, you’ll want to take some time to familiarize yourself with how GA4 is looking at data in a slightly different way. The biggest difference is how data is being measured. Universal Analytics places more emphasis on sessions and pageviews whereas GA4 places the focusses events and actual engagements, which feels like a more intelligent way to look at user behavior. It will be a learning curve for all seasoned Google Analytics users, but a worthwhile one in the long run.

A new interface

With the new measurement, methodology comes a change in the immediately available data/ report interface. A lot of the metrics and reports that we’d become used to have gone or have been replaced. Although it may seem like there are far fewer reports available in GA4, it’s important to remember that with the priority being given to user engagements and actions, as you go through the manual process of event tracking setup, more reports will become available.

Doesn’t integrate with other Google products…yet

This is most likely a teething issue that Google is working furiously to remedy, but in our attempts to replicate reports in Google Data Studio or connect with Google Sheets, the capability doesn’t exist. The current lack of integration limits what you can easily do with the data being collected with external tools so prepared build in some extra time to export data to build new reports.

All in all, with some additional enhancements from Google, GA4 looks like it’s going to be a great tool and a great step up from where Universal Analytics has left off. We’re excited to see what insights it’s going to help us unlock for our clients. Though it may seem like a daunting update to get used to, we recommend taking the necessary steps to at least begin collecting data. As data won’t be carried over from legacy Google/ Universal Analytics properties to GA4 the time to take action is now, so that there will be at least some historical data to work with when Google does flip the permanent switch.