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Google Analytics 4 Answered

What you need to know about Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Jacob Brain


Regulatory changes like GDPR and CCPA are likely to come in the next few years.

People are demanding more control and transparency over their data.

Browsers like Firefox are starting to block many traditional analytics methods.

The amount of data generated from the increasing number of sources (phone, desktop, tablet, etc.) is rising, and tracking across devices has become increasingly difficult.

It feels like the end of modern data-based marketing.

Introducing Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

As you may have heard, Google launched GA4 last October and it has been making a splash as marketers scramble to learn about the new platform and decide how to respond.

If you haven’t seen it yet, this wasn’t just a small update.

Google Analytics 4 GA4

To wrap our heads around what this means for our businesses, let’s take a look at what’s changed and how you can respond moving forward.

What Changed in GA4

GA4 is built differently. It is privacy-centric by its design and is built with machine learning at its core which requires a change in how the tool functions. Let’s take look at a few of the biggest changes between GA4 and Universal Analytics (UA) from both a technical and pragmatic standpoint.

Technical Considerations

Enhanced data tracking

Using AI and data modeling, GA4 fills in the gaps where traditional analytics are often blocked by cookie-consent rules, JavaScript, and more. In other words, it’s future-proof and ready for impending industry changes. It also gives us better cross-device tracking meaning we can see a more holistic view of users. If you are interested in getting into the weeds about the changes in tracking, check out Google’s comparison to UA.

Increased focus on lifecycle reporting

One of the first things you will notice about GA4 is the difference in the side navigation and the lack of classic reports we have all become accustomed to. This is because the platform is shifting to focus more on the user journey standpoint – from the first visit to final conversion. The navigation and reporting reflect this change with a whole new set up reports.

Everything is an event

In Universal Analytics, events were primarily used in supplementing page views with things like button clicks. In GA4, everything is an event. This is designed to meet custom tracking needs across websites and mobile apps and to more easily cross-reference data and analyze it from a user funnel standpoint. This has led to a change in the way tagging works – more on that later.

Pragmatic Considerations

Visualization needs to happen in Google Data Studio

Universal Analytics was built to collect and store data for building reports all within the platform. It was a somewhat self-contained application. Google Analytics 4 is different – it is built to store data (specifically events as previously mentioned), ingest that data for analysis. There is still some visualization aspect to it, but it wasn’t built as a visualization tool.

Google Analytics isn’t a visualization tool anymore, it is an analysis engine.

If you haven’t used Google Data Studio before, it is a data visualization tool that can connect to many different data sources and visualize that data in an easily digestible form. The details around this powerful platform are out of the scope of this article, but you can learn more about it through Google’s Data Studio Course.

You need a tag management tool

In Universal Analytics, you could pretty much just throw the UA tag on your website and be off to the races, only to do any further code manipulation to track specific events like video views, page scrolls, etc.

As previously discussed, with GA4 everything is an event – a page view, a purchase, a click, etc. This is a great change because the data is then easier to analyze and cross-reference, but it makes tag management a bit more complicated without a tool like Google Tag Manager.

Again, lucky for you, Google has a great course around Google Tag Manager Fundamentals.

It’s time to go back to school

Admittedly, GA4 isn’t that intuitive and the way it works did get more complicated. Additionally, GA4 won’t be adopted across the board for a while now.

That doesn’t, however, mean you can just ignore it.

The world of digital marketing is evolving at a faster pace than ever, and GA4 is a big step in the right direction giving you more accurate data to guide your future marketing decisions. Without it, your data will become less accurate and you will miss out on insights only available through GA4.

So, what are you going to do about it?

We as marketers need to constantly be adapting to the changing technology and consumer preferences. This is just a microcosm of that. We have been changing rapidly for years now, and that won’t stop anytime soon.

With that in mind, here are a few good steps to get started.

  1. Watch Google’s “Getting Started with the Google Analytics 4 Property” videos to get familiar with the new platform and develop an idea of what the transition looks like.
  2. Set up a new and separate GA4 property in your account to start playing around with the platform without affecting your live data.
  3. Get familiar with Google Tag Manager and Google Data Studio.
  4. Relax…

That last step is important. Don’t freak out because there is a new analytics platform available and rush into it haphazardly. Your current analytics suite works just as well as it did 4 months ago.

Spend the time learning the platform, wrapping your head around its core technical aspects, and testing it in your environment. Then, when the time is right, make the full transition.

And, as always, we are here to help. Since our inception, New North has been analytics-first, using data to guide our decision-making. If you want some insight into your marketing and how you can generate more sales, schedule a marketing consult.

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