Google Analytics 4 is here. Should you care?

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

In short, no, not yet, but our advice is you should start tracking in parallel. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is effectively a whole new analytics tool.


It has an entirely different data model - tech-speak for how it captures events on your website and stores them and, therefore, how you can analyse them. The user interface is entirely different. If you struggled to find things in Universal Analytics, the current version of Google Analytics, then this version will leave you stumped.


GA4 puts a lot more onus on you to tell it what to track than the previous version, and some concepts like bounce rate don't exist replaced instead by a much better measure of engagement rate, which may take some education.


Reporting is also very customisable; however, you have to recreate a lot of the useful 'out the box' reports in Universal Analytics. In short, it's a steep learning curve. We will be building industry-specific courses and guides around all this in the Digital Academy.


Google Analytics 4 + Media And Events


Google is doing this for a reason, and it will be a much better analytics product - most commentators predict the end of 2022 as the maturity point.


It solves lots of problems in the current universal analytics. We have pulled out three of the most exciting ones for this sector and one of concern.


1) Unique User & Cross-Platform Tracking


As we use more products and microservices to deliver our digital experiences (online events, webinars, apps, personalisation etc.), cross-platform tracking becomes vital; you can do it with Universal Analytics, but it's not great.


Accurate Unique User reporting has been impossible in any google analytics version until now. GA4 solves this. No more guessing what the unique user overlap may be across your platforms. Or, for that matter, strange inconsistencies in what GA tells you and your DataStudio reports.


2) Advanced Analysis


You get access to advanced analytics, which was previously only available to Google Analytics 360 (the paid-for version) users. It is very powerful but, again, a steep learning curve. Look out for overviews in the Digital Academy.


3) Free connection to BigQuery and no data limit


This is a big one. We have been developing live performance reports for our customer's clients in DataStudio needing 3rd party services to get data in one place. All of which felt like a hack. There is also no data limit on what you can send to GA4 - this is very useful to track engagement on digital events.


Out of the box, this solves the data capture problem to concentrate on manifesting the correct reports.


The other problem this solves is manifesting event date-related booking patterns for events, e.g. six weeks out, five weeks out, and comparing to previous events.


We are prototyping some cool reports for the always-on digital event use case aligned to the CVI + CVO Framework™.


4) Concern - Data Retention is only 14 Months.


Unlike the current version of Google Analytics, this version has a data retention limit of 14 months. Hence the connector to BigQuery.


We flag this as for annual events; it may be challenging to compare historical booking patterns & engagement if you are used to doing this. We feel the need to do so will become increasingly important as we explore the hybrid event use case.


Google Analytics 4 - Key points


The most important fact is that this 'new' version of analytics is much closer to the paid-for version. It is not automatically applied to your current 'property' and is a fundamentally different product. A new property is needed to access GA4 features and future upgrades.


The user interface is VERY different and will require your team to 'learn' it. There is also a significant shift around the terminology and vocabulary of what's logged and recorded. For the better in the long term.


The way you run reports and get insight is also different, albeit better, but your team will have to 'unlearn' some of the old ways.


Recommended Action


As GA4 needs a new property, you will not see your historical data in this property when you create it. Our advice is to implement it 'out of the box' as soon as possible, so you immediately start logging user data in this property and familiarise yourself with it.


We have tested running both the new GA4 property and current Universal Analytics tag simultaneously on one site, and there is no conflict.


Your team can and should continue to use your current and familiar Google Analytics property for daily reporting and operations while knowing that the new GA4 property is logging data.


While Google has publically stated that all future development will only be on this version, it is still a 'beta' product, and we feel the end of 2022 will be the time to engage unless you want to do some advanced unified data work. Watch out for our how-to and overviews in the Digital Academy specifically designed for media and events.

 

Resources and further reading:


General how to set up new GA4 property:

https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9744165?hl=en


How to set up tagging on your site with Google Tag Manager

https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9310895#tagmanager


For anyone who wants to geek out, this is a great article:

https://www.optimizesmart.com/introduction-to-google-analytics-apps-and-web-property/


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