We know you’ve heard the buzz. ‘The Future of Analytics’, as Google describes it, is scheduled for a full rollout on July 1st 2023, with early GA4 features already made available to business owners and digital marketers alongside the current Universal Analytics interface. Current Google Analytics 3 (GA3) and Universal Analytics (UA) users now have just under a year to get fully acquainted with Google’s latest Analytics property, before it’s made the industry standard.
Now, while the summer of next year might seem relatively far away, it’s recommended that you take the steps to migrate your current UA/GA3 accounts over to GA4 as soon as you can. This will give you ample time to familiarise yourself with the platform, making the transition from Google Analytics 3 to GA4 much less abrupt and will mitigate any potential data loss. UA users used to tracking year-on-year (YoY) metrics, in particular, will want to expedite their own migration plans, so as not to skew any reported data, for 2022/2023 site performance comparisons.
We’re aware that there is still a shroud of mystery concerning what the inevitable update might mean for the future of data reporting and analysis, however, we’re here to dispel the rumours and break down everything you need to know about the impact GA4 might have on your business accounts.
What is Google Analytics?
All Google Analytics properties allow business owners to track user data processed by Google and measure the traffic and engagement to a website or mobile application they own.
The targeted metrics mean that incoming traffic can be segmented by source, landing page destination and even audience demographics. This provides a great foundation for both analysis and content optimisation.
When used to its fullest extent, data reported in your Analytics account can be vital in improving the performance of your website or app. It allows you to accurately audit specific landing pages and acquisition channels, optimising your search engine marketing (SEM) and organic content strategies, accordingly.
Why You Should Be Excited About GA4
The new Google Analytics 4 rollout will give business owners and marketers full access to the first-party data they rightfully own. Everything from mailing lists to digital loyalty cards will become extremely valuable assets in the not-too-distant future as the race to capture primary user data gets underway. With website and app users now voluntarily taking actions on your platform, it can be assumed that a higher volume of Engaged Sessions will likely lead to more Conversions and Goal Completions for your business.
In short, the data you have collected in this way is yours to keep, giving you much greater control over the analysis, segmentation and reporting of your audience and acquisition data, helping you to better understand your customers. You can use these more heavily drilled-down insights to optimise your site content and hopefully drive more sales in the process. If Google’s Analytics 4 lives up to its current hype, it could be the catalyst for a potentially game-changing pivot in digital marketing data reporting.
GA4 – The Dimensions & Metrics You Should Know About
If you haven’t already heard the news, some of the dimensions & metrics you’re used to may now be under a different name, combined with other metrics or removed entirely from GA4’s interface. We’ll explain the most important changes you should be aware of below.
Between the scheduled phasing out of cookies (now slated to begin in the second half of 2024) and the emphasis on first-party data, users familiar with UA will soon have to learn to adapt to GA4’s “Event-Driven” model. Event-based tracking is Google’s latest Analytics dimension used to measure user interactions on a website or app. In this new dimension, the following metrics will now be populated automatically according to GA4 Events:
- User Timings
- App//Screen Views
Unlike the UA Events metric you’re probably used to, these GA4 Events do not have any associated categories, actions or labels. Rather, each specific interaction a user has on a website is now classified as an Event, which may/may not contain its own individual Event Parameters.
Event Parameters are a new way of contextualising user interactions in Google Analytics 4.
They provide Analytics users with more in-depth information on typical user behaviours on a website or app. With these new Event Parameters, you can further break down the content viewed on your landing pages, according to your own predefined parameters.
For example, when someone views an item on your website, you’re now able to add parameters to define the item by its name, associated category and price, allowing for greater analysis of on-site interactions.
Once you’ve gained an understanding of the new Events and Parameters, it’s worth taking the time to learn about Audience Triggers, and how they rely on automatically triggered events to predict user interest. With this new feature, users will be matched to your audience description whenever they take the appropriate action, simultaneously triggering your defined events and becoming audience members in the process.
You can set events to trigger automatically once users have completed your outlined actions, which can be anything from reaching a designated number of sessions, watching an embedded video or reading an outlined number of blog articles on site.
Important Session Metrics
You’ll also want to familiarise yourself with the following three Sessions metrics as you begin your migration to GA4:
Sessions are the recorded number of sessions that have begun on your site or app (event triggered: session_start).
- The automatic session_start Event Name, is now the primary measurement for session metrics.
- Something to remember about the new sessions measurement is that, unlike GA3, sessions will no longer break when the traffic source or campaign information changes for example, or when users continue to use a site past midnight.
- This will likely result in a lower overall volume of sessions recorded, so don’t be alarmed if you see fewer sessions after your migration!
Engaged Sessions record the number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had 2 or more screen views.
- The new Active Users metric describes any user that is identified as having completed an Engaged Session interaction.
Engaged Sessions Per User
The average number of Engaged Sessions per user.
What Does This Mean For Bounce Rate?
In Universal Analytics, a Bounced Session refers to a user visit with only a single pageview and no recorded on-page interactions, before exiting the session. Bounce Rate, as it is currently calculated in GA3/UA, is still a somewhat useful measure on-site engagement. However, as the consumption of content has changed in recent years, its actual effectiveness as a reporting metric has raised some cause for concern.
Users are becoming increasingly more likely to “skim-read” content for relevant information these days, exiting their session on a blog or news article site once their query has been answered. While an interaction such as this would result in a higher Bounce Rate in UA, it isn’t necessarily an indication of a need for page optimisation, bringing into question its relevance.
In Google Analytics 4, a comparable metric to Bounce Rate, can be achieved through a simple calculation between the number of engaged_sessions, divided by the total session_starts.
This change will allow for much more accurate data reporting, as a user reading a news article or watching a video will now be considered an Active User in an Engaged Session, so long as they consume content for longer than 10 seconds in a single session.
Other Key Features You Should Know About
- Better insights and data predictions powered by AI technology
- Deeper audience integration with Google Ads (Cross-Network channel grouping)
- AI integrations can predict typical user behaviours on websites and mobile apps
- Customer lifecycle-framed reporting
- More in-depth analysis tools available
Google Analytics 4 Channel Groupings For Google Ads
Here’s a complete list of all default channel groupings for Google Ads traffic and what they mean:
- Paid Search: “Google Search” or “Google Partners” ad network type
- Paid Video:“YouTube Search” or “YouTube Videos” ad network type
- Display: “Google Display Network” ad network type
- Cross-network: Includes Performance Max and Smart Shopping
- Paid Social: “Social” ad network type
The majority of these have been directly ported over from Universal Analytics, however, there’s a new channel grouping that PPC campaign managers should pay particular attention to.
GA4 Cross-Network Channel Grouping
If you’re currently using GA3/UA to monitor your landing page paid traffic attribution, you’ll be pleased to hear that with the new Cross-Network channel group, you’ll now be able individually track the performance of your Performance Max and Smart Shopping campaigns within GA4 itself, without the need for additional integrations.
GA4 reports will now show data segments for Smart Shopping and Performance Max campaigns, allowing you to isolate them from other reported Google Ads data and monitor the performance of these campaigns, measured against your goals.
Cross-Domain Tracking (Mobile & Website)
With the addition of Cross-Domain tracking in GA4, collected user data across both mobile apps and websites can now be analysed within a single Analytics property. In previous instalments, users wanting to view mobile app traffic would have to make use of third-party integrations, such as Firebase to access data.
However, with Google Analytics 4, the engagement data across all of your properties can now be tracked and viewed in a single interface, a welcome improvement to overall user experience for many Analytics experts.
Potential Issues Surrounding GA4
Will Google Analytics 4 be GDPR Compliant?
Currently, no. As of August ‘22, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has not been made fully GDPR compliant as standard. By default, the data protection measures put in place for GA4 will not adhere to GDPR standards, even with its additional privacy-focused features.
That said, it’s worth remembering that as with any Google Analytics property, Google only acts as a data processor, collecting, reporting and processing data on your behalf. Therefore, the majority of the onus falls on the shoulders of the data controllers (business owners, marketers or agencies), to ensure that their GA4 accounts are set up in accordance with GDPR standards.
This can be done fairly simply, in some of the following ways:
- Obtaining end-users consent to the collection of personal data
- Removing/masking Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as IP addresses, Email addresses and Phone numbers before sending them to data to Analytics
- Making use of internal Analytics data settings like Data Retention or Data Deletion to help visitors to exercise their GDPR rights.
So, What’s The Next Step You Should Take?
We’re aware that all of this information can be a lot to take in at first glance, so we’d encourage you to reference our guide frequently as we’ll be updating it with all of the latest developments.
For those business owners without the time or capacity to complete a successful migration, you’ll be pleased to know that our expert team at Ricemedia can help make the entire process as seamless as possible for you.
We’ll help manage the process from start to finish, making sure you’re tracking the data you need to focus on growth.