Google Analytics 4: What Is GA4 And Why Do We Need To Prepare Now? (Technical Expert's Perspective)

Introduction to GA4 :

GA4 is the fourth major release of Google Analytics and is the newest iteration of the website tracking software that allows you to track any traffic and engagement that happens across your website and apps.

GA4 is becoming the default version of Google Analytics and will be the sole option for customer tracking come July 1st, 2023.

GA4 has been brought in to combat the limitations of destination-based tracking systems. These systems used to work in the past, but the recent implementation of privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and updates like iOS 14.1, have limited the system’s effectiveness.

With advancements in UI/UX moving towards Iframes and other actions that get triggered without relying on changes in URLs to track customer journeys, it is becoming necessary for businesses to move to a form of customer tracking that relies on events and not URLs

Google Analytics 4 Vs Universal Analytics :

Universal Analytics (UA) was the third major release of Google Analytics and has been the default workspace version for the better part of a decade since its implementation in 2012. With the introduction of mobile apps, machine learning, and new legislation such as GDPR, the UA version was not designed for today’s tracking needs and expectations. The GA4 has been designed keeping the above issues in mind and more.

From a more technical perspective, GA4 relies upon event-based tracking while UA relies upon session-based tracking. (We will discuss some of the important impacts of this shift in the sections below)

Some of the Key Features of GA4 :

  • GA4 is built for the cookie-less future :

    As users become more conscious of protecting their personal information and with the introduction of GDPR laws in Europe, we cannot be as reliant on cookies to track users.

    The new data model has been designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies. By leveraging machine learning and statistical modeling, GA4 can fill data gaps through what they term ‘blended learning’. With this approach, Google prioritizes user-based data over protecting a user’s privacy while still making interest-based ad selection possible, allowing businesses to build a picture of similar types of users in their vertical.
  • Focus on the User Journey - Cross-device and Cross-platform Tracking :

    Google Analytics 4 focuses more on a user’s journey and the events that are triggered throughout it. The new data-driven model means that you can use a single set of metrics and dimensions to look at both web and app data. Having the ability to track a user that visits on their mobile, comes back on their desktop and then downloads, purchases, or registers through your app is a new feature ushered in by GA4.
  • Focus on User Engagement - Updated Reports :

    One of the greatest features of the new Google Analytics GA4 is its powerful new user metrics and dimensions that use AI to predict customer actions. GA4 provides us with new user buckets like ‘Acquisition’, ‘Engagement’, ‘Monetisation’, and ‘Retention’. GA4 also provides you with a separate ‘Audiences’ report where you can define user definitions, further tailoring the platform to your business needs
  • Simplified Goals and Events - Integrated Event Tracking :

    With Google Analytics GA4 you are furnished with a suite of pre-made actions and events which previously required manual setup on UA. These pre-made actions and events include clicks, scroll behavior, transactions, file downloads, and user-first visits. Custom events can be set up to track more specific user behavior activities. Form submissions and e-commerce goals may not automatically be set up; however, the process has been simplified, now requiring much less time to implement than previous iterations of Google Analytics.
  • AI Insights for Predictive Metrics - Data-driven Attribution Model (Markoff Model) :

    Google Analytics GA4 has new predictive metrics that allow you to make data-driven decisions on a larger scale, helping you to better understand your audience. With these new metrics, you can create audiences based on predictive behaviors, allowing you to then target them in a Google Ads campaign or on social media. These new metrics allow you to both improve retargeting campaigns and improve website performance by creating custom funnels for different audiences based on behaviors and needs.

Universal Analytics (UA) is Going Away :

As of July 1st, 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) will be replaced by GA4 as Google Analytics’ new next-generation measurement solution. This means that UA will no longer receive and store any data from your website, making it a priority for your business to transition to the new GA4 sooner rather than later to ensure continuity in reporting and managing customer data. We recommend that you complete this conversion now, as this approach will allow you to have historical data already loaded onto GA4 property, and this will allow it to start making probabilistic calculations of the customer journey.

  • Google is sunsetting its UA product so you may start seeing underperformance by the product so you may not be able to see the most reliable insights on UA
  • To get a Data-Driven attribution model, there is a minimum sample size of data that is required. So shifting to GA4 sooner can help optimize your model

Key Timeline Milestones - What is happening and when is it happening?

  • Until July 1st, 2023, you are still able to use and collect new traffic data in your existing Universal Analytics UA property
  • After July 1st, 2023, for six months you can access historical data in your Universal Analytics UA property. It is recommended that you export your historical reports during this period as you may not be able to access them after the six-month grace period.
  • Until October 1st, 2023, you will still be able to use and collect new traffic data in your existing Universal Analytics 360 property
  • By January 2024, existing Universal Analytics UA properties will no longer be available, and will be withdrawn. After this date, the property will no longer be accessible, meaning you will not be able to view any reports in the analytics interface

Our Recommendation :

We strongly recommend that you implement a change to GA4 as soon as possible. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the dashboard and all the options available for tracking data. Also, the sooner you switch, the more data you will have stored in your new GA4 property. This switch will let your GA4 property gather as much historical data and usage in the new experience as possible, preparing you for when Universal Analytics is no longer available. It shall provide sufficient time and data to be populated in your GA4 platform to run Data-Driven attribution over various events ensuring consistency in your results and tracking.

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