Google Analytics 4 – What You Need to Know

Nov 10, 2020

A lot has changed over the years with Google Analytics. The way that this technological giant is growing supersedes any other data analytics platform on the planet. Since the day it came into being, Google has been increasing exponentially, and it doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon. As with most other experiences in life, with growth comes change and a little bit of pain. Literally millions of data analysts, web developers, app designers, and other businesses rely on the data that they glean from Google Analytics. Because the whole structure of the tool has changed, the way that it works will change as well. Mobile devices and apps have changed the way that data enters the analytics platform, with this change, Google has had to evolve at the same pace as technology. It may take a little time for users to get used to the changes and adapt accordingly, but it will all be worth it.

Upgrade to Google Analytics 4 Now or Later?

If your current website uses Google Analytics you’ll eventually need to upgrade to the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4). However, there are caveats you should know about. GA4 uses events for all measurements which is a totally different paradigm comparing to the current GA measurements using sessions. This means that your historical data will NOT roll over to your new GA4. Another thing to keep in mind is that GA4 isn’t a complete product yet and major platform such as Shopify doesn’t have E-commerce integration our of the box yet as it does now for the existing GA. With this in mind the best approach at the moment is to run both GA and GA4 concurrently until GA4 is fully supported. This approach would also help you gather historical data for future uses in GA4.

Looking At the Data Through a Different Lens

In the past, Google Analytics delivered data based on page views and sessions. The way that this worked was when a visitor visited a page it was considered a “session.” Every page visit was counted as a session, and the time that the person spent on that page was taken into consideration when calculating the bounce rate and other factors for that page. When mobile devices came along, and mobile apps started to get popular it was easy to see that page views for phones and apps were different than page views for websites. Apps and web pages work differently, so the data has to be measured in a way that accurately presents itself from both sources. Instead of page views and sessions, the data is measured by events. Session-driven data and event-driven data are both data, but event-driven data paints a clearer picture of how each user behaves on a website or an app. Instead of calculating a piece of data from a string of sessions, the data is calculated based on events that happen when a user visits the site.

Google and Firebase

Firebase is a platform that allows a user to build apps and collect data. Firebase analytics was an analytic solution that collected and analyzed data from the Firebase platform. Firebase allows business owners to create powerful and robust mobile apps that are unique to their businesses. Firebase analytics were superior to Google analytics in the way that they collected data through events and not sessions. Google has now acquired Firebase and incorporated it into their own analytics. The new version of Google Analytics, GA4, was created in order to incorporate the Firebase analytics into a whole new way of web-based analytics that works on all platforms, mobile, and desktop. The Google Analytics that we all knew and depended on is now re-built and brand new with a lot of differences. The way that data will be collected and analyzed from here on out, will be a better and more accurate depiction of how users behave.

Big Differences

Many of the differences between the now legacy Universal Analytics and the new GA4 will be challenging for users to get used to. Some of the functions in the old analytics will no longer be available in the new one. Having a general understanding of the Analytics platform will be a big help in the transition, but eventually, everybody will settle in. A lot of the old reports will no longer be available, many of the dimensions will be gone as well, and as for adding tags, things have changed too.

Privacy Issues

The issue of privacy comes up a lot lately. Analytics uses data from users that visit websites to try and predict where users will go, and what they will buy according to the behavior that they exhibit on various websites. If you think about it, there are somewhere around a billion people that have G mail accounts that stay logged in while they surf the web. This gives Google an edge on who visits what sites, when they do it and where they are located. It also provides valuable insight into the people who actually buy things on the web. A large amount of the population is concerned about these privacy issues and the potential that Google and analyzers of Google data have to use data for immoral reasons.

Google Signals

The solution that Google has come up with in order to address the privacy issues is Google Signals. Google Signals is a way to identify users according to the machine that they use as opposed to the Google account that they have. When people enable ad personalization in Google they allow companies to display ads based on the things that they are interested in and their location. With this enabled, GA4 users are able to see how their visitors act on a whole new level.

Manual Changes

As it stands in the present day, Google Analytics 4 is still an option. Google will not automatically upgrade your current accounts and leave you with a bunch of frustration to muddle through until you figure it out on your own. There are many detailed instructions on how to log into your admin and add a new GA4 property to an existing account. This whole conversion will be a moderately slow process so you can take a little time to do your research and be able to properly upgrade your platform. 

Change is Inevitable

Although for the moment you do not have to upgrade your analytics and can continue to use the platform that you already have, in time the analytics that you are currently using will be obsolete. Because of the new ways that data will be collected and deciphered, there will be new ways to view it as well. Pageview and bounce rate will be seen in a different light because sessions will no longer exist. Regardless of how painful, or painless, your conversion will be, Google still remains the number one source for search engine queries and data analytics. When Google changes, everything around it does as well.

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