The added value of Google Analytics 4

May 28, 2021 | Tom De Mulder

Blog

While millions of businesses rely on Google Analytics to understand customer preferences and optimize conversions, only a small fraction of them have taken the initiative to transition to Google’s newest tracking technology. Google has released Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a revolutionary solution that is engineered for a new generation of data analysis.

 

Today, people send data via numerous devices, such as smartwatches, game consoles, thermostats, and even their fridges. The way we interact with websites has also changed. The journey of a user does no longer consist of mere pageviews, but has evolved into a series of interactions across different devices and platforms. In a world that has greatly expanded and transformed the way it communicates, GA4 provides an innovative way of collecting that eclectic information.

What we like about Google Analytics 4

The event-driven data model

Let’s take a moment to talk about GA4’s new data model. While the new interface might look identical to the older version, the underlying data structure has completely changed. Under the hood, GA4 is a completely different technology that processes your website data in an entirely different manner. This new “motor” makes GA4 faster and more accurate than its predecessor.

GA4 adopted the “event-driven” data model. Every single interaction is now an event. Every time a user interacts with a website or app, it can be measured concurrently or independently from a webpage/screen load. A page view, button click, and scroll are all examples of events in GA4.

Events are complemented with a list of parameters that replace the old category, action, and label. Up to 25 custom parameters can be sent with each event, giving you a lot more flexibility when tracking user behavior.

The event setup consisted of a combination of automatically tracked events and custom events according to your specific needs. Once the events are properly set up, you will be able to use them as your personal LEGO blocks when building custom reports.

Combine web and app data

GA4’s event-based model enables you to combine mobile and web data. If you manage both a website and a mobile application, GA4 will give you the ability to roll up your data into one single property.  Your users will no longer be fragmented in different platforms and devices, but will be combined into one dataset, giving you a better view of the bigger picture.

Sampled data

The new technology behind GA4 provides standard reports that are always unsampled. For many setups, this is probably one of the main drivers for GA4.
In Universal Analytics (UA), you are often confronted with reports that contain sampled data and it is crucial to have access to accurate data to make the right decisions. By switching to GA4, you will be able to view reports without any data being left out.

Privacy centric

GA4 has been engineered to comply with future regulations about data privacy. In recent years, the internet has begun taking steps toward a cookie-less world. As the collection and sharing of data becomes more regulated, GA4 offers a way to fill in the information gap by using machine learning. Here's a direct quote from the Google website:

“Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. It uses a flexible approach to measurement, and in the future, will include modeling to fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete. This means that you can rely on Google Analytics to help you measure your marketing results and meet customer needs now as you navigate the recovery and as you face uncertainty in the future.”

Google claims that their new analytics platform is “privacy centric” and will be able to adapt to future cookie regulations. We are curious to see when GA4 will roll out this cookieless option and how it will integrate with the rest of GA4.

Lastly, GA4 gives you the option to delete specific users from your database. This accommodates “The Right to be Forgotten”, an official European GDPR regulation. This is a huge step forward, since you are forced to delete entire time-intervals in UA when personal information is detected.

 

 

The analysis hub

The Analysis hub is probably the most useful new feature in GA4. It enables you to create your own custom reports and visualizations. The analysis hub was first introduced as an exclusive feature in Google 360, but has been made available for all users in GA4.

When you take a look at the template gallery of the analysis hub, you might recognize some familiar techniques that are available in the standard reports in UA. You now have access to all those techniques in the analysis hub and they can be used to recreate all of the reports that were once available in UA. This is very useful since many of the standard reports have gone missing. More importantly, you can use the analysis hub to create custom reports that answer questions that are unique to our business.

For one of our clients, we used the analysis hub to create a funnel that investigates the checkout process. Because their checkout process happens on a single page, they were unable to create a proper funnel in UA. In the analysis hub in GA4, we were able to create a checkout funnel in a matter of minutes. Since we were no longer limited to pageviews when building our funnel, we were able to use any interaction to define our funnel steps. Furthermore, there is way more flexibility, options and functionality.

One new feature is the “elapsed time” option. In GA4 you are able to measure how long it takes between any user interaction. Before, you could only track how long it took for your users to get from one page to another. This new feature allowed us to track how long users took on average to complete certain checkout steps and break this down per device type.

One of the coolest new funnel features in GA4 is definitely the “trended funnel” option. Before, it was impossible to see how your funnel evolves over time. In GA4, you have the ability to view your funnel over a certain period of time and see how the relationship between steps evolves. An interesting feature with plenty of use cases.

Funnels are one of the many techniques that Google has made available inside the analysis hub. Together with your event data, you are able to create your own custom reports and share them with your colleagues. You can save, share and download all the reports that you create in GA4.

One more important detail: you can create every report ad hoc! You don’t need any prior setup when creating your funnels or path analyses. As long as your event structure is properly configured, you can explore your data in the most efficient and flexible way possible.

While the analysis hub is probably our favorite tool in GA4, there are some things it struggles with. Just like UA, it is hard to delete, change or omit data once it has been stored in GA4. There are ways to identify incorrect data, but it is not that easy to get rid of it.

Lastly, because you can combine a multitude of dimensions and metrics, the reports that you create in the analysis hub are prone to sampled data. It is unavoidable that you’ll need extra computing power when working with big data sets. This is where BigQuery comes into play.

Machine learning

Machine learning is the application of artificial intelligence that enables programs to automatically learn and improve themselves based on past experience (data) without being explicitly programmed.

GA4 has integrated machine learning into its new system in various ways. Consequently, GA4 offers insights that are more customer-centric and are not fragmented by device or platform. It also provides automatically generated insights based on what GA4 believes is most valuable for the end user. Further, you can experiment and play with the “analytics intelligence” in the search bar that is present in GA4. Here you can literally type out your business question and Google will give you a (pretty) accurate answer.

Bigquery

BigQuery is a serverless data warehouse inside Google Cloud Platform. Simply put, it is a database that can handle a vast amount of data and which infrastructure is managed by Google, so you don’t need to worry about any of the underlying hardware or software. From our point of view, BigQuery gives us total freedom to manipulate data in a super fast way to apply logic to huge data sets.

GA4 provides a free BigQuery connector and gives you access to all of your raw data. While BigQuery can be quite technical and complex, it can also be used to gain simple insights of smaller data sets.

With some basic SQL knowledge, you can explore your data on the most granular level. Further, you are able to delete, transform and manipulate your data in almost any way imaginable.

We recommend linking your GA4 data to BigQuery as soon as possible. While you might not aspire to create a data warehouse today, you will lay the foundations for when you decide to unlock the potential of all your raw website data.

Connecting GA4 to BigQuery is only the tip of the iceberg. It could be a first step towards a marketing data warehouse that consists of multiple data sources. You can easily integrate CRM data or other data sources within BigQuery or Google Cloud. The combination of multiple insights will create a broader perspective and enable you to make decisions based on marketing intelligence.

Should you upgrade to Google Analytics 4?

While Universal Analytics is still a great solution, we believe that its data model will not be able to keep up with the shift in consumer technology and behavior. Google Analytics 4 is, without a doubt, a big upgrade over its predecessor. Overall, GA4 gives its end-users a better understanding of the bigger picture, is built for the long haul and it will have all of Google’s newest features and tools.

  1. Better view of the Bigger Picture

  2. Built for the long term

  3. New and exclusive features

We advise that you start your transition to GA4 as soon as possible. You don’t need to change anything in your website’s source code to start your new configuration. A basic setup of GA4 can be accomplished in a matter of days and can perfectly co-exist with your current Universal Analytics.

In conclusion, we highly recommend that you start taking advantage of Google’s new generation of analytics. GA4 provides a future-proof solution to help your business adapt to the ever changing landscape of technology and regulations.

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