GA4 and why you need to give a damn about it
The new era of Google Analytics is on the horizon. Known as GA4, it isn’t just an upgrade but a fundamental shift in how GA records data and a change for marketers relying on marketing metrics, including how to approach reporting.
With imminent changes to third-party cookies, Hallam explores how marketers can get data-ready / Christina Branco via Unsplash
What can be done about it? It’s vital to understand the changes that GA4 will bring and adopt them early. Marketers need to act now to avoid losing the opportunity to collect data. The release of Universal Analytics (Google Analytics’ successor) next year is a good thing, trust me.
Universal Analytics (UA) is the name for the current version of Google Analytics, and is the predecessor to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Earlier this year, Google announced that UA will sunset in July 2023. At this point, existing UA tracking will stop processing new hits, meaning that you will no longer be able to track data on your customers through the old system.
You will be able to access existing data in your UA for around six months and Google recommends exporting the data for future reference.
The less peaceful part is that there is no way to import UA data into GA4. And this is why it’s important to act now.
The cookieless future
We are fast heading toward a cookieless future, when all major browsers will automatically block third-party cookies. Historically, these have measured how users navigate between sites – acting as a way to understand the attribution of effectiveness within the marketing funnel.
Marketers have fed off this data crack for years; now we’re being forced to wean ourselves off highly-detailed data, which many users find creepy.
Some browsers, such as Safari, are taking a harder line on third-party cookies. Others – including Google’s Chrome browser – are yet to block them. But, rest assured, it will happen... so the sooner we prepare the better.
This is a landmark in marketing history, where we move from the Age of Precision to the Age of Projection.
Why should I give a damn?
If you don’t give a damn then you won’t be able to measure how users interact with your site. Thankfully, GA4 provides a suite of new tools to play with.
Google has built its design around privacy-first, prioritizing the privacy of its users and their data over marketing activity. GDPR and user privacy is being taken more seriously in Europe.
You don’t have to hard switch from UA to GA4: you can – and should – run both in parallel. Get GA4 set up to measure hits as soon as you can.
By tracking early, you’ll have more data available for analytics in GA4 when UA is turned off and, given you can’t import UA data into GA4, this will become even more important.
GA4 also has some machine learning (ML) features that help predict gaps in traffic when users don’t give consent, which will be crucial as we move to the Age of Projection.
It’s important to protect your data now; not doing so could impact a number of key functions such as planning, bidding, selecting and targeting audiences, attribution and ROI once these changes are enforced.
The front end of GA4 is technically still in beta mode and relatively limited, but it has a number of cool features, including:
Enhanced measurement and analysis on scrolls; site search; outbound clicks; engagement with content; and file downloads
Brand new properties for visualization including funnel visualization; pivot tables and scatter plots
Easier and superior audience creation and segmentation
More flexibility on Default Reporting Identity, incorporating user IDs and client IDs for a connective view of the users
Ability to carry out temporary audience memberships
Advanced visibility of session duration and page dwelling
Further visibility of user activity and engagement on site
Better data management
Ability to link GA4 to BigQuery at no additional cost from Google, allowing more advanced implementation and therefore ability to complete more advanced work
Google has also released a few other features and products to enable these changes. Consent Mode is one such tool, providing users with consent while remaining GDPR-compliant. It also uses Google’s own consented data to build a better customer profile. This is a true privacy-first offering that gives analytical professionals and advertising teams the flexibility to work within the consent granted by the customer across the stack of Google tools (Google Analytics, Google Ads).
It allows tracking of more advanced user behaviors such as impression-based conversions, where the user saw an ad, didn’t click on it then but did click on it later.
Enhanced Conversions is a feature that improves the accuracy of conversion measurement and unlocks powerful bidding with Google Ads.
Put simply, it links data provided by customers via form fills at the point of conversion (such as your contact form) back to the steps the user took that led to that conversion, helping understand the journey and when marketing efforts are delivering the best ROI. And what TLA do marketers use the most? It’s probably ROI.
Enough of the privacy flag waving and technical talk. Here’s what you need to do right now:
Get GA4 running ASAP and run it in parallel with UA. Be that annoying client and ask your agencies to do it immediately
Implement Consent Mode – it’s tricky, but worth the investment
Implement Enhanced Conversions if you use Google Ads – it’s easy, and the value is huge
Prepare yourself for the cookieless future by researching and investing in a first-party data strategy. It won’t be long before you can’t rely on third-party data, so don’t get caught short
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