The year 2020 has brought many changes and surprises, and a recent one in the SEO world was the rollout of Google Analytics 4 (commonly referred to as GA4), a huge update to the platform that will affect the way users track their websites and apps for years to come.
If you actively, or even periodically check your website’s data in Google Analytics, it’s important to understand the changes with GA4 so that you can continue interpreting your data and changing your website for the better. Over the past month or so, Webspec’s digital marketing team has been digging into how GA4 is different from the Analytics version we’re accustomed to and making a plan to make sure our clients are informed and equipped with the tools they need to track user data.
What’s different about GA4?
There are several reasons that Google made this product update when they did—let’s look into some of the new features that make GA4 more suitable for current-day data tracking.
Focus on machine learning and data predictions
GA4 relies on Google’s advanced AI to help you anticipate the actions or behaviors your current audience may take in the future. This will allow you to prepare for lulls or spikes in leads from your website and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
User privacy was also an important consideration in Google’s incorporation of AI into the Analytics platform. User privacy has been a major topic of discussion internationally in recent years, and states in the U.S. like California and Nevada have passed legislation providing more protections to user data. Since more browsers are opting users out of personal data collection by default, Google Analytics is now using AI to help build an accurate picture of your users and predict their behaviors without relying on the collection of personal data. GA4 offers users control over how much information about themselves they choose to share for data collection while still providing Analytics users with accurate data.
Holistic data streams to show how your users interact with you
GA4 has introduced the option to incorporate a data stream for your website and any mobile apps (if you have them) in one property. Data streams have replaced the need for “views,” so those are no longer available in Google Analytics 4. This will give you a more holistic view of how users interact with you online across your website and apps, allowing you to cross-reference traffic and get a better idea of your users’ journeys with you on and off your website. This feature was also designed with future tracking considerations in mind, as more and more businesses have both a website and mobile or web applications.
Is my Analytics account already upgraded to GA4?
GA4 is the default property type for any new properties added since the rollout, but existing accounts and properties are not tracking in GA4 unless you’ve set up tracking manually.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t collecting Analytics data anymore—if you were previously tracking data using a Universal Analytics code (Google Analytics 3), that data is still tracking, and Google has not announced an official date that they will cease tracking for Universal Analytics properties.
Why should I start using GA4 if I can still track using Universal Analytics?
While you will be able to continue using Universal Analytics properties indefinitely, it’s a good idea to set up a new GA4 sooner rather than later, because the data from your Universal Analytics properties will not transfer over into GA4 properties.
To make the transition into Analytics 4 smoother, Google has made it easy to continue tracking your existing properties with UA codes like you already have been while also tracking data in a new GA4 property. This won’t skew your Analytics data, and it will give you an opportunity to start building up GA4 data so you’re prepared whenever Universal Analytics is discontinued. We and several of our clients are currently tracking our data using Universal Analytics and GA4 side-by-side.
How do I get started with Google Analytics 4?
The tracking codes used for Google Analytics 4 are a little different than the tracking codes used in Universal Analytics. The data will track using a similar installation method, but instead of the UA codes that are used in your existing properties, GA4 uses what they refer to as “Measurement IDs,” which use the gtag.js framework to track. This creates more consistency with Google’s other products, as Google Ads and Tag Manager already use gtag.js. If you have an existing Tag Manager account that is integrated with your website, you can easily add the Measurement ID for your new GA4 properties that way without the help of a developer.
This will allow you to keep your ad tracking, Analytics tracking, social pixels, and any other tools in one simple code snippet added to your site. If you aren’t currently using Google Tag Manager, we highly recommend setting it up to make tracking your Analytics and other data tools easier in the future. As you can see in the screenshot below, you can easily track both your Universal Analytics properties and GA4 properties in Tag Manager:
As Analytics users adapt to GA4 and start tracking new data, there will likely be many new tracking strategies SEO professionals use to make the most of the new platform. We’re excited to help our clients dip their toes into Google Analytics 4 and collaborate with them on strategies to predict and track leads in better ways than before. If you have additional questions or concerns about Google Analytics 4, please get in touch with us! We’re happy to talk through your needs and set up Google Analytics 4 properties for you so that your organization is equipped to accurately track user data for years to come.