The Google Overlords have brought big changes to the next iteration of Analytics—a tool that has become essential in the daily life of digital marketers and business owners the world over. And within a year’s time, we’re all going to have to adapt to a totally retooled version of what we’re used to.
So, naturally, everyone’s freaking out a little bit.
Okay, not everyone. But it’s true that the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) interface looks pretty different from the Universal GA we’ve become familiar with over the last decade. And what’s more, Google hasn’t exactly been on their horse about getting tutorial support out—so far. More official information continues to trickle in, though, and third-party support is already out there (although a lot of it may be hard to understand unless you use Analytics on a regular basis).
Here’s some good news: All the familiar features you’ll probably be looking for are still in there. You just have to know where to look.
So, we at Stealth Creative figured we should lend a helping hand and share what we know (so far), and what we’re doing to help our clients prepare for the inevitable changeover. But first:
Why, Google, Must You Force GA4 Upon Us?
“Great. Now I have to get used to an almost entirely new interface, just to continue tracking my website’s performance! There better be some damned good reasons for this…”
Trust us, there are. As Google puts it: “Google Analytics 4 has the flexibility to measure many different kinds of data, delivering a strong Analytics experience that’s designed for the future.”
What that’s basically telling us is event-based data is now where it’s at.
Google has fundamentally changed its measurement model for GA4, with actionable items (called “events”) taking priority over page views and other session-based metrics.
Page views can give you a general idea of where customers are spending the most time on your site, but event-based analytics better track the behavior of site users (their active engagement with your website’s buttons, form-fills or other features).
Dovetailing with Google’s efforts to prioritize first-party data with the (now delayed) elimination of the third-party cookie, event-based tracking is all about personalizing and refining the user experience for the customer—and giving the marketer more valuable data to work with.
If we can successfully swing with these inevitable-but-not-quite-here-yet changes, we’ll have a better understanding of our customers’ wants and needs. Therefore, everybody wins.
Paraphrased from Google, the main benefits of Google Analytics 4 are that it:
- Collects web and app data to give a fuller picture of customer journey
- Introduces better privacy controls such as cookie-less measurement
- Includes behavioral and conversion modeling
- Predicts customer behavior and offers suggestions to refine your campaigns—without the need for you to develop specific, complex models
- Can be directly integrated with media platforms/third-party elements to drive more action on your app/website.
The Top 5 GA4 Tips We’ve Picked Up So Far...
“I get it—this is all about making the digital journey smoother for my customers, everything changes with time, yadda yadda… but how about a little help here?”
Start Running Google Analytics 4 Alongside Universal Analytics NOW.
First and foremost, we’ve got a year to get used to the new digs. The biggest piece of advice we can offer, which may seem obvious, is to start diving into GA4 ASAP.
The good news is you can run GA4 and UA at the same time, so you can familiarize yourself with the new property and set up a campaign or two while continuing to collect that juicy familiarity data in UA. At Stealth Creative, this has allowed us to start digging in and learning the new ins and outs early—to the benefit of our clients.
Watch out for GA4’s quirky default settings.*
Here’s one example: While migrating some campaigns over from UA, we discovered that GA4 defaults to showing only the most recent two months’ worth of data when we’d create a custom report. Therefore, it appeared we were missing a ton of historical information at first—until we went in and adjusted.
Check out the video below to view our simple fix for this issue!
*We will update this post as we find further “quirks” to watch out for.
To create your own report, don’t look under “Reports.”
You have to look under that new “Explore” tab, instead. Truly a prime example of the seeming lack of intuitiveness that folks are reacting to with GA4 (Why wouldn’t it be under “Reports?”), the “Explore” tab takes the place of the old “Analysis Hub.”
Presumably, Google put the custom reporting functionality here instead due to the number of new dimensions you can track, such as “Variables” and “Segments.” It’s all designed to help measure what’s most meaningful to you and achieve better results.
Here, too, we will update this post as we uncover more organization oddities.
Beware of these potential issues/obstacles during the transition period:
- GA4 is different enough from than Universal that it will require new learning (meaning more courses and new certifications to earn).
- Many users and clients will have to adjust to the event-based model and learn to shift away from prioritizing pageviews and “hits” as a measure of success.
- Because of the differences in how activity is measured between UA and GA4, familiar metrics such as session counts may appear higher or lower than what you are used to at first.
- With more flexible GA4 data, naming parameters become more meaningful data overall—but it also might mean more front-end work to describe each interaction you want to measure.
- Keep in mind that GA4 is still constantly changing, so be prepared for continued appearance differences and new features as they continue to develop the platform.
Have an open mind and don’t be discouraged!
When Google changes the rules, it’s more learning for us. More work. More delays. More things to remember. More aggravation.
But it also means progress. As we discussed earlier, the changes Google Analytics 4 brings (along with other sweeping changes related to improving the protection of consumer privacy) are all about refining the experience.
Sure, it will take some time to learn the new interfaces and use the new tools. Sure, Google owes us some further guidance on how to use them. But in any case, we must remain open to change and remember these tools are there to help refine the way we think about the customer journey, become more relevant to our audiences and (let’s be real here) become more successful and profitable.
Otherwise, we’ll just be swimmin’ against the tide.
What has your Google Analytics 4 experience been like so far?
The digital strategy and content creators at Stealth Creative would love to hear your thoughts and questions. Drop us a line today at firstname.lastname@example.org!