If you use Google Analytics to track activity on your website, then you may have noticed messages within the application prompting you to “upgrade” to Google Analytics 4. But should you? How is it different from Google Universal Analytics, the version most people are currently using? And is it worth the hassle for your team to make the change?
Here’s a run-down on the new Google Analytics 4 and how it differs from its predecessor, Google Universal Analytics.
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Why Did Google Update Google Analytics?
Google Universal Analytics was released in March 2013. This was the third version of a Google Analytics tool to be released, and it was a big step forward in web analytics. It offered cross-platform tracking, a tracking code that could collect data from any device, and new custom dimensions and metrics.
But the internet has changed a lot since then, especially when it comes to mobile internet usage. For example, a recent study from the World Advertising Research Center (WARC) shows that around 2 billion people currently only access the internet through their smartphone. The organization estimates that by 2025, that number will grow to 72.6%. Responding to this change, many businesses are releasing mobile apps to make accessing their services easier. Even small businesses are in on the mobile game, with 42% currently using a mobile app and around 30% planning to build one.
Many of the changes in Google Analytics 4 are engineered for the way we use the internet differently now. New methods of tracking and collecting data on site traffic are designed to be more accurate, and new tools for analyzing data will help marketers make more informed decisions based on this data.
Here are a few of the ways that Google Analytics 4 tracks and collects data differently:
Data Is Tracked Across Devices
One big change from Universal Analytics is that Google Analytics 4 is able to track web traffic across devices. That means if someone visits your website from both their phone and their laptop, your data will tell you that the same visitor visited twice using different devices. In Universal Analytics, this data would have been collected as two visits from two different users on two different devices.
You can quickly see the problem in how Universal Analytics reports those visits. For one thing, your total number of visitors is too high. For another, you’re missing part of the user journey. But cross-device tracking in Google Analytics 4 corrects these issues by reporting more precise data.
Website And Mobile App Data Is In One Place
One limitation of Universal Analytics was that it was unable to measure mobile app traffic. Instead, users were referred to Google Analytics for Mobile Apps, an entirely separate tool. That meant to view mobile and website data together, users would have to export the data to a third tool.
But Google Analytics 4 allows users to monitor traffic on their websites and mobile apps in the same place. This only makes sense because mobile use, including through apps, is becoming an increasingly important part of the user journey. In fact, Brian Solis of Forbes has gone so far as claiming that ”The Mobile Customer Journey Is The New Customer Journey” and “Mobile Is Eating The Customer Journey.”
And he’s not alone. A quick internet search for “2021 marketing predictions” will show that mobile internet search in general and mobile app use specifically are expected to continue increasing rapidly.
Data Is Tracked By Events, Not Sessions
In Universal Analytics, data is tracked by sessions. A session starts when a user lands on a website and ends 30 minutes after the user becomes inactive. All of the metrics recorded during that session are linked to that one user’s actions during that time frame.
But in Google Analytics 4, data is recorded by events. This way, each user interaction on a site is recorded separately. Universal Analytics could track events as well, but that required adding custom code to a site. Further, event tracking was limited whereas Google Analytics 4 tracks events automatically.
The benefit of event tracking is that it provides far more detail about how users interact with your website. “By implementing event-based analytics, Google Analytics 4 enables you to better track a user’s path from first touch to conversion and reorder,” writes Maryna Sharapa on the site Towards Data Science. “Moreover, if a user completes the same event more than once using different devices, the data for this event will be merged into a single touchpoint. For example, if a customer puts an item in the shopping cart on a smartphone and then on a laptop, the ‘Add to shopping cart’ event will only be counted once.” The result is a much clearer picture of not just what pages but what elements on your site are working on which platforms.
New AI-powered Insights And Predictive Metrics
Google Analytics 4 introduces machine learning to help steer users to significant trends on their sites. Universal Analytics did something similar—you may be familiar with the “insights” that occasionally pop up in the top right corner to alert you changes on your site such as an increase in traffic from a certain source. But the insights in Google Analytics 4 are more powerful, pulling data from multiple dimensions to highlight more detailed changes.
A related feature is the new predictive metrics. This is a feature still under development and the software needs to operate for a while before it will have enough data to work. But with enough data, it can make educated guesses about users’ behavior, alerting you to groups of users (known as “audiences”) that are likely to convert or churn. With this information, you can take action to nudge them to conversion or lure them back in.
Do I Have To Upgrade To Google Analytics 4?
If you’re not delighted by the idea of having to learn a new analytics tool, then don’t panic. Universal Analytics is going to be around for a bit longer.
For one thing, Google is still making money from Universal Analytics. Julian Juenemann of Measure School explains that there is currently no premium version of Google Analytics 4. This means that users who pay for the premium version of Universal Analytics, known as Google Analytics 360, don’t have an upgraded paid version to move to. Until that is released, Google will be forced to continue providing support for Universal Analytics.
For another thing, Google knows there’s a learning curve with Google Analytics 4. The company has released a brief training course for Google Analytics 4, but it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as the free, two-part course offered for Universal Analytics. So for now, many users are opting to run both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 simultaneously until they adjust to the new version.
Should I Update To Google Analytics 4?
Now that Google Analytics 4 has been released, users can no longer create new properties in Universal Analytics. So if you’re creating a new property, you’ll be forced to choose the upgrade.
Current properties can continue using Universal Analytics for now, and many experts expect it’ll be available for another year or two before Google discontinues support for the software. However, that day of forced upgrade will come eventually. That’s why many analytics gurus are encouraging users to upgrade sooner rather than later.
As I mentioned, many users are opting to tag for both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 so they can use both programs simultaneously. Simultaneous tagging has a number of benefits, allowing users to:
- Get comfortable with Google Analytics 4 before they become dependent on it;
- Continue with existing reports while developing new report formats;
- Find equivalents for old metrics that have been replaced (for instance, the “bounce rate” from Universal Analytics has been replaced by an “engagement rate” in Google Analytics 4);
- Understand the new AI-powered analysis tools; and
- If necessary, to install new tags with Tag Manager to track data that Google Analytics 4 does not automatically collect.
Need Help With Google Analytics?
Web analytics can make a substantial difference in site traffic, lead generation, brand recognition, and SERPs ranking. The data you’ll gather from analytics tools will help you make your website more responsive to your customers.
However, setting up these tools takes time and know-how. That’s why TracSoft helps so many of our clients by setting up these tools for them. Our web design and digital marketing team will install any necessary tags, create custom reports, and have those reports sent to you automatically on a schedule that suits your needs.
Contact TracSoft today and learn how we can make your analytics game better than ever.