Earlier this year, Google announced Universal Analytics properties will stop recording website analytics on July 1, 2023. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will then be the only platform offered by Google. Let’s walk through a few important points of this update including: why now, why in the first place, how this may impact the platform you lean on for narratives regarding your websites and the opportunity this unlocks across our industry.
Timing is everything, and Google needed to change the conversation in the court of public opinion due to several legal interactions and the launch of many clever marketing campaigns from their competition (see Apple’s billboard below).
Apple leveraging (quite brilliantly) the brand strategy known as Laddering, at Google’s expense.
Why? (building a platform for the now, ready for the future)
One of my heroes in the field of digital analytics (Measure School) published a fantastic video walking through his thoughts on the four fundamental changes this move will have across the industry.
Here are the highlights with my paraphrasing:
Mobile devices always tricky.. especially mobile apps
Google had separate analytics brands for each use case (website, apps, etc). This made integrating the different data streams into one dashboard view quite a chore.
Now can send multiple streams of data (like our ACE campaign reporting platform)
Cross-device tracking across devices (google signals, user-id)
to unify all sources, a completely new concept was needed
Interactions w/ an app doesn’t translate to desktop interactions
Now all engagements are “events” (key value pairs)
Future proofs the platform
We need to put more thought into configuration
Less of a reporting interface, now a DIY tool
Export raw data to BigQuery for storage
Data Studio is Google’s preferred interface for sharing visualizations (our active clients can attest to our love of data studio)
Unlike previous iterations, built for new digital world
Simplified data model allows more flexibility
Allows Google to plug into machine learning (predictive insights)
Opens new world of customization
Field Guide (the new language of GA4)
True, most of the vernacular outlined below is present in Universal Analytics, however, these represent a vastly simplified concept I personally welcome in the new platform. The important thing to note here is the default metrics across several of the reports have shifted, so rarely will a UA to GA4 comparison align perfectly. When reviewing user reports, active users will now be the default metric. Engaged Sessions elevates reporting conversations to include a focus on quality traffic engaging with your website. Also absent is the (super complex) concept of scopes for pageviews now that every engagement is now tracked as an Event.
Active Users: Number of users with engaged session or first_visit event in a 28-day time period
Engaged Sessions: The number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had 2 or more screen or page views
Source / Medium, The Most Popular Report in Google Analytics
One update I’m very excited to share is the upgraded tracking of users as it relates to everyone’s go to report: Source / Medium. This infographic is pulled directly from Google’s support documentation (link here), with a few design enhancements for clarity.
While source/medium reported how sessions arriving to your website, this was often supplemented with the assisted conversions report to help reveal the entire story. Now this has been built in to the platform and you will see user source/medium and session source/medium by default.
Navigating the New Dashboard
The image below may help you find the reports you know and love.
Events & Conversions (What interactions do we really need to track?)
The final idea I wanted to share is the configuration and setup of your events and conversions (previously know as goals). While there is an import feature to help the transition, there may be value in utilizing the change as an opportunity to reimagine and confirm the most important interactions we need to measure across our digital experiences. The blank slate could help unlock a more meaningful (and in the spirit GA4, simplified) approach to understanding our audience.
The following events are now automatically tracked with the Enhanced Measurement configuration activated:
With the concept of Engaged Sessions baked into the core reporting language, the need for less reliable metrics like Time on Site (replaced w/ Average Engagement Time) and Bounce Rate and not as relevant moving forward. While some brands have complex setups that make the blank slate approach impossible, I believe there is value in rediscovering and sparking a conversation around which touchpoints are most important.
The timing for any radical transformation of reporting or adoption of new technology is rarely ideal. To quote Paul Rudd in one of his earlier movies, “Whether you are ready, or not, that baby is comin”. The event horizon for GA4 already happened (July 1st), and if we don’t have GA4 installed on your website, we have already missed the all important year-over-year view when the looming shut down of Universal Analytics arrives. We have invested time and resources into learning the new analytics engine so you can focus on your brand and customers, and are happy to partner with you on navigating this new era of storytelling and understanding how people are engaging with your online experiences. I hope this piece helps provide some value and we look forward to navigating this new era together.
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