What’s the Deal with Google Analytics 4?

On October 14, 2020, Google announced a major shift in the way it serves analytics data. Dubbed Google Analytics 4 (GA4), Google’s new analytics interface is designed to provide more actionable insights while also remaining privacy-centric by design. This new version of Google Analytics represents a major sea change in analysis for Web properties that may eventually ripple outwards to impact how other proprietary analytics platforms parse data.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google describes the new Google Analytics interface (formerly known as “App + Web”) as a next generation approach to data measurement. Currently in alpha release, the new data model is backed by machine learning. According to Google, it is designed to “automatically surface helpful insights” and “gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms.”

The main difference between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 is how you receive insights from the data set. UA works as a catchall utility. It collects, stores, and reports the data – all inside the UA interface. Conversely, GA4 is designed to function as one component of the larger Google measurement suite, alongside Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Data Studio. GTM collects the data, GA4 stores the data, and Google Data Studio serves up the reports you build out based on the data. GA4 is, however, capable in its own right of serving up some serious insights via the Analysis Hub.

In essence, GA4 represents a completely new methodology for data tracking and analysis.

New Reporting Organization

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 is the complete overhaul to how reports are organized. Whereas much of the time spent on analysis within UA focused on Sessions and Conversions, GA4 presents data in a more audience-centric manner, placing emphasis on Events.

The interface also combines mobile app and Web data into a single view, for stronger insights into the full user journey. This is much more representative of true audience behavior, as their journey may occur across several devices.  Additionally, the introduction of Data Streams allows you to pass data from multiple sites and apps to a single GA4 property while using a consistent tracking configuration.

In simplest terms, the new reports focus on user engagement across channels and devices to give you a stronger understanding of who your customers are and what motivates them to take action. If you’re unsure of where to start, GA4 even provides a helpful Analysis Hub with a full gallery of assorted reporting templates.

Insights Powered by Artificial Intelligence

In true Skynet style, the new GA4 platform uses Google’s advanced machine learning models to alert you to significant trends in your performance data. The interface is capable of serving up helpful observations on specific user interactions, such as rising or falling demand for individual products. It does so by expanding Google Analytics’ existing Event functionality and supplies a wide array of events for common site types. It also includes the ability to create custom events to generate even more valuable insights.

From our experience, GA4 makes better use of the Event functionality and makes a stronger case for differentiating performance by Event and Conversion actions. And the AI-powered insights help to anticipate an audience’s future actions so marketing plans can be adjusted accordingly.

Emphasis on Privacy Controls

As part of its overall efforts to comply with privacy legislation such as CCPA and GDPR, Google’s new Analytics platform provides several options to help advertisers remain compliant with data regulations. GA4’s IP anonymization feature is at the core of its privacy controls.

As part of data collection, Google Analytics tracks and stores the IP addresses of users in order to provide geolocation data. Though it does not report on IP addresses directly, the collection itself may run afoul of certain privacy regulations or policies that impact your website. This is where IP anonymizations steps in to help.

You can use the IP anonymization feature to mask your audience’s IP addresses, which results in the deletion of the last three digits of the visitor’s IP address. The feature is enabled by default, so your website will be compliant with existing privacy regulations right out of the box.

How to Prepare for Google Analytics 4

Although Google Analytics 4 is still in alpha, it will eventually become Google’s primary analytics platform, completely replacing Universal Analytics.  In fact, if you attempt to create a new Property in Google Analytics right, it will automatically default to GA4.

Arc Intermedia recommends that you prepare for the inevitable platform transition by creating a GA4 property in your Analytics account today. For the time being, your website should be configured for dual-tracking, deploying both UA and GA4 properties through Google Tag Manager.

If you’re already one of our clients, relax. Arc Intermedia has been rolling out dual-tracking configurations for all our digital marketing clients since the Q4 2020 announcement was made. once Google rolls out its Data API for GA4, expect the new Analytics platform to go mainstream. And Arc Intermedia will be ready to handle your site’s transition seamlessly.

If transitioning to GA4 seems a bit intimidating, and you don’t have an agency to assist you, consider scheduling a consultation with Arc Intermedia about our analytics support services. As a trusted agency partner, we’re here to help you navigate the changing digital landscape.