Google Analytics is one of the most important – and powerful – tools in the arsenal of online businesses. In the digital realm data is king: knowing who is viewing what, how often, when and to what ends matters. Information gives you options: improve what is working, ditch what isn’t; aim more at the audiences that are engaging with you, expand into new sectors. You can do all of this best when armed with knowledge.
Google Analytics provides that intelligence. Once its code is installed on a website, it can track a huge range of metrics. Google Analytics gives real-time access to everything you might want to know about its performance. This includes page views, bounce rates, unique visits, conversions. Businesses rely on Google Analytics; it’s their anchor in the often fast-moving digital world.
Google Analytics is also itself changing, and soon. You need to keep track of how.
Google Analytics 4, the search giant’s latest iteration of its hugely popular site-tracking service, is different in several key respects. Underneath the hood, the service’s infrastructure has completely altered – Google is storing and processing data in a different way to the manner employed by the prior version, Universal Analytics. The effect of this – and for businesses that’s what matters – is that reports are being displayed differently … but also able to deliver new and different data.
For example, “bounce rates” are now “engaged sessions”: Analytics will no longer tell you who leaves your website after a short period, but who stays and why. When you think about it, this is more useful: bounce rates could only every tell you that a site wasn’t sufficiently engaging N% of your visitors; “engaged sessions” tells you what about a site is engaging the rest. This is consistent with GA4’s “event-based” approach: rather than set goals to measure users against, GA4 offers a set of events (outbound clicks, scrolls, video engagements) that you can choose to monitor.
Likewise, GA4 will not store users’ IP addresses – and while this may seem like a loss of data, in fact it will help businesses comply with privacy laws. Indeed, GA4 in general is big on user privacy – and is retooling Analytics for an era of mobile viewing, widespread app use, and a focus on data security. With all the changes to how cookies are handled and what information various platforms such as Apple’s OS and iOS report back to Google by default, Analytics needed to change – and GA4 is their answer.
That means there is no choice: businesses will have to switch over, though the previous version of Analytics will keep logging data until July 1st, 2023. You’ll not want to wait until then, however: GA4 will not include your historical data, so you’ll need to set-up and run GA4 now if by 2023 you want to compare and contrast 2022 data within the GA4 dashboard. Your old data will remain accessible in your Universal Analytics dashboard for at least six months, but you’ll want to avoid as much switching between platforms as possible.
You’ll also need to get used to GA4 ahead of it becoming the only “live” version of Analytics: because of the various ways it now processes data, its reports do look rather different to Universal Analytics’ read-outs. They’re not immediately user-friendly – they take some learning. Use the run-up Google is giving us all: get logged in now so you’re future-proofed, and be a GA4 whizz by the time UA is no more.
Analytics is relied on by many businesses, since it provides information – a centre of gravity – in an always-changing digital landscape. Now Analytics itself is changing, and quite significantly, businesses should get ahead of the curve – be aware of the above, and get using GA4. The best way to keep your data clear is to understand how to interact with GA4 now – and what is happening to Google Analytics.
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