Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is set to be one of the greatest marketing tracking innovations among organizations to date. Changing the nature of how the user experience is monitored, GA4 brings immense opportunities for organizations to better understand their audiences.
However, with support ending for Universal Analytics, Google’s current version of analytics, ending on June 30th, 2022, the need to switch to GA4 has become more pressing than ever before. If your organization is struggling to understand what GA4 is, how it works and how to effectively implement it, you’re not alone.
Luckily, we’ve curated the ultimate guide to GA4 for you. From the difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics to setting up advanced features and privacy concerns, you'll walk away with a better understanding of GA4 and its benefits, helping you make an informed decision on exactly how these changes will affect your organization.
What is GA4?
Google Analytics 4, also known as GA4, is the latest version of Google's web analytics platform. GA4 by design was created with the intention to help organizations gain a deeper understanding of user behavior and engagement on their website or app. With GA4, businesses can track specific actions and behaviors, such as clicks, page views and form submissions, to analyze user behavior in more detail.
GA4 uses an event-driven model, which means that all user interactions are recorded as events. This allows businesses to track specific actions and behaviors, as well as create custom dimensions and metrics to analyze user behavior in more detail.
GA4's machine learning capabilities can help businesses uncover insights and patterns in their data that may have been difficult to identify otherwise. Overall, GA4 is designed to help businesses gain valuable insights into user behavior and engagement, and make data-driven decisions to improve their website or app.
Learn more: 8 Cutting-Edge Analytics Tools All Marketers Need to Be Using
Differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics
For those who have been familiar with Universal Analytics over the past decade, GA4 brings significant change into the landscape. While this change may be familiar to those that aggregate data from other paid tracking platforms, those relying heavily on Universal will need to adjust.
What’s most important to understand is the current version of Universal Analytics is session based. This means that every time a user interacts with a given brand, such as clicking a landing page or viewing a page, it’s recorded as a single session. This type of data is valuable for determining the precise number of conversions or clicks, but doesn’t tell the story of whether one person is clicking multiple ads, moving from page to page, etc. It’s a helpful to snapshot specific phases of the marketing funnel, but doesn’t provide as robust of a picture of what’s happening across the user experience as a whole.
In contrast, GA4 initiates a more user-centric approach to data collection. With GA4, data is organized around individual users themselves, rather than sessions - as great marketing orients as well. This provides a way for organizations to track user behavior and engagement over time, rather than a single session. Instead of just seeing clicks to one page in a silo, an organization can see the entire trail from beginning to end. Additionally, GA4's machine learning capabilities can help businesses uncover insights and patterns in their data that may have been difficult to identify otherwise.
Learn more: Where Does Analytics Fit Into a Marketing Strategy?
To better understand the distinguishing factors between GA4 and previous versions of Google Analytics, consider the difference between taking a snapshot and watching a movie. While previous versions of Google Analytics were like snapshots, capturing a specific moment in time and giving businesses a general overview of a website or app activity, GA4 is more like watching a movie. With the ability to record each individual frame to provide a more detailed and nuanced view of user behavior and engagement, this allows for a clearer story to be told.
In addition to the features we’ve outlined above, GA4 presents a multitude of features to take advantage of. GA4 allows users to pull reports that provide more detailed insights into user behavior and engagement, mitigating the need to rely on as many other reporting platforms. For instance, its User Explorer report allows organizations to see the entire journey throughout a website, including specific pages or actions taken. Normally, most marketers have relied on external tracking to provide this data, but viewing it in one place will allow for less silos in analyzing data.
The Funnel Analysis report is another feature that allows marketers to track the steps taken toward a specific goal. For instance, if a user fills out a given form, marketers can analyze the exact steps taken to determine where a user fell off. Instead of tracking this in a spreadsheet, this eliminates the back and forth to determine the user drop off point. Similarly, the Path Analysis report allows marketers to visualize the most common paths users take throughout their website or app, identifying the features that are the most popular - and ones that need improvement.
As with any tracking and behavior analysis, consumer privacy must be prioritized throughout the process. Google has implemented several privacy controls and features in GA4 to address these concerns.
Businesses can configure GA4 to anonymize IP addresses and respect users' "Do Not Track" settings in their browser. This way, marketers can be compliant without having to take additional precautions to filter this data.
Additionally, GA4 integrates with Google's consent management platform, allowing businesses to obtain user consent for data collection and use. By utilizing these features, businesses can ensure compliance with data privacy regulations and protect user privacy while still gaining valuable insights into user behavior and engagement.
While there are a variety of ways marketers can utilize GA4, there are several best practices to take advantage of before getting started to make the most of this robust tool.
- Set up data stream: It's important to set up data streams (the flow of data to a customer touchpoint to analytics) in GA4 to ensure that user data is accurately and consistently collected. This provides a reliable foundation for analysis, and also allows you to more readily access the robust tracking available.
- Create custom dimensions and metrics: Creating custom dimensions and metrics allows businesses to track specific user behaviors and engagement metrics that may not be available in GA4's default reporting. This can provide valuable insights into user behavior and engagement and help businesses make data-driven decisions to improve their website or app.
- Use event parameters: Event parameters allow businesses to add additional context to user interactions, such as the category of an event or the value associated with an event. This can provide more detailed insights into user behavior and engagement.
- Monitor data quality: It's important to regularly monitor data quality in GA4 to ensure that the data being collected is accurate and reliable. Businesses should also regularly review their GA4 implementation to ensure that it's properly configured to collect the data they need.
Overall, GA4 represents a much larger shift continuing to evolve in the marketing landscape: the need to orient around the needs of the user. The tool offers robust ways to truly cater to a user-oriented experience when used correctly. As more and more consumers continue to be bombarded with marketing campaigns, leveraging the data and insights readily available can transform an organization’s marketing efforts when used to the degree they can be.
For more insights from Ashley, listen to her latest appearance on The Strategic Marketing Show below or visit https://www.onyamark.com/
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