Digital Marketing

Google Analytics 4 FAQs: Stay Calm & Keep Tracking 

On March 16, 2022, Google Analytics shocked the marketing industry by announcing that Universal Analytics would stop processing results in July 2023.

This did not go over well.

Some marketers are unhappy with the user interface; Others are frustrated that the GA4 doesn’t have key features.

Many are still in denial – besides, aren’t you still in beta?

Let’s take a step back and answer your burning questions here:

  • Why is this happening?
  • What do these changes mean?
  • what should I do now?

Why update Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Many marketers have built businesses around Universal Analytics and want to know why this change is happening.

So I asked the former Googler Christa Sidenwho helped create GA4 and is also the founder of KS Digital, asked, “Why is this GA4 update happening?”

Seiden explained that GA4 had in fact been in development for many years.

Originally, it was released as a public beta called App + Web, and in October 2020, the beta tag was dropped and rebranded as GA4.

“GA4 isn’t a huge update, but it’s a whole new way to do analytics — made to scale into the future, work in a no-cookie world, and be more privacy-conscious,” Seiden explained.

Google Ad Articles It was titled “Preparing for the Future with Google Analytics 4.”

… For the future.

We keep hearing this; What does “for the future” mean?

As I read the Google documentation and spoke with analytics experts, I noticed three key themes, or ways in which GA4 prepares your business for the future:

  • updated data model,
  • Works in a world without cooking,
  • and privacy implications.

Let’s unpack each of those.

Data model

The data model tells Google Analytics what to do with the site visitor information it collects.

Universal Analytics is built on a 15-year-old session-based data model.

This was before internet devices such as smartphones were widely used.

A UA measure was created for independent sessions (a collection of user interactions within a given timeframe) on a desktop device and user activities were tracked using cookies.

Fun fact, I learned from Adswerve’s Head of Innovation, Charles Farina, that you can actually still execute GA JavaScript code from 15 years ago.

Yes, I’m talking about the original tracking code (Urchin).

It still works today.

In the past few years, this old measurement methodology has become obsolete.

As much as we love Google Analytics, there are many examples of how it doesn’t work with the way users interact with our websites today.

Farina shared a file Example with remittances.

In Universal Analytics, goals are session-based. You cannot measure goals by the user.

If a user watches four videos in one session, it can only be counted as one conversion.

In GA4, conversions (or goals) are event based.

A world without cookies

Google Analytics works by setting cookies on the user’s browser when they visit your website.

Cookies allow a website to “remember” information about a visitor.

This information can be as simple as “This user has visited before” or more detailed, such as how the user interacted with the site previously.

Cookies are widely used on the web. And they can be useful for things like remembering which items you put in your cart.

However, cookies also pose a privacy risk because they share data with third parties.

As the world becomes more aware of privacy issues, users increasingly want to opt out of sharing their data.

And because more people opt out of sharing their data, Google Analytics can’t make a report on all the people who visit a website.

There is a growing gap in the data collected.

Google Analytics has had to adapt to remain useful to website owners.

And they did.

GA4 is designed to fill in the gaps using machine learning and other protocols to generate reports.

This is called “blended data”.

In the Blog post about this changeGoogle explains.

“As the technology landscape continues to evolve, new analytics are designed to adapt to the future with or without cookies or identifiers.

It uses a flexible approach to measurement, and in the future will include modeling to fill in gaps where data may be incomplete.

This means that you can count on Google Analytics to help you measure your marketing results and meet customer needs now as you navigate recovery and when you face uncertainty in the future.”

Data privacy

Data privacy is a big topic that deserves its own article in length. To oversimplify it, people want more control over their data and its use.

laws like General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act impose this desire.

Google Analytics says that GA4 is designed with privacy at its core – but what does that mean?

All UA privacy settings will be transferred, and we get new features.

For example, Google Analytics 4 does not store IP addresses and GA4 relies on them First Party Cookieswhich is supposed to make it compliant with privacy laws.

I encourage you to use this time to look at your data strategy and set the tone for your company’s data privacy policy, assess your digital footprint and manage consent, and ensure compliance.

What do these changes mean for my business?

The second thing marketers want to know is, “How is GA4 different?”

or really, “How will these changes affect my business?”

Don’t get too caught up in comparing Universal Analytics and GA4.

The numbers don’t match.

It’s a rabbit hole with no actionable or useful outcome.

As Seiden pointed out, this isn’t just a platform upgrade.

It’s a completely new version of Google Analytics.

GA4 is a new data model and a new user interface.

Keep reading for a summary of the main differences between UA and GA4 statements and how they affect your business.

changes in data modeling

The most important change is the way data is collected.

Universal Analytics uses a session-based data model (the set of user interactions in a given time frame) and aggregates data as different hit types (the user interaction) within these sessions.

This is why watching four videos in one session only counts as one conversion in UA.

Google Analytics 4 is user-centric and collects data in the form of events.

Each event has a unique name (the event_name parameter) that is used to identify the event, with additional parameters to describe the event.

For more information about the differences between the two data models, see UA vs. GA4 data In the Google help docs.

Spam detection

Have you ever seen a huge traffic spike in Universal Analytics or a bunch of random traffic sources that you can’t explain?

Spammers can send fake data to people’s Google Analytics accounts using the Measurement Protocol.

As you can imagine, this has caused a huge problem of inaccurate data.

Google has fixed this issue by allowing only matches with a secret key to send data to the GA4 site. This key appears in the GA4 dataflow settings but is not available to the public.

Data retention

Data retention refers to how long Google Analytics retains the classified data. At the end of the retention period, the data is automatically deleted.

The default setting for Data retention In Universal Analytics 26 months. But you can choose a different time period, from 14 months to “Never Expiring Automatically”.

On GA4, you can choose to keep data for 2 months or 14 months.

At the end of the retention period, you keep the data collected in the standard reports, but the classified data used in the exploration reports is no longer available.

What is Aggregate Data vs. Unaggregated Data?

Think of aggregated data as a summary used to look at site visitors as a whole.

Labeled data is dissected or divided into smaller subsections, such as a specific audience or segment.

Shorter retention times aren’t really a big deal.

You can still accomplish the same use cases while doing more to respect user data privacy.

You can still run standard (aggregated) reports to show how well you’re doing compared to the past.

And data from recent months is most useful if you want to make predictions and take action.

User Interface: Reporting

GA4 reports come with a learning curve.

With Universal Analytics, there was an emphasis on pre-made reports. Navigating the Done For You reports was fairly quick and easy.

Google Analytics 4 is geared towards taking greater ownership of our data. With that comes the flexibility of custom report templates.

As the data model has changed and the platform has become more privacy conscious, it may not be possible to replicate some of the tasks you did in Universal Analytics.

As an agency or freelancer, you have the added responsibility of communicating earnings and opportunities to your accounts.

And they will need time to learn GA4 or, more likely, are counting on you to learn GA4.

To visualize data in a way your clients are familiar with, I highly recommend Data Studio.

what should I do now?

There is no need to panic.

You have time to implement a GA4 configuration, time to update business processes, and time to learn new reports.

With that said, the GA4 needs to take priority on your roadmap.

Audit existing analytics setup and create a GA4 configuration plan.

Preparing GA4 before July 2022 is critical.

Start creating historical data so you can do an annual analysis next year.

Once you’ve collected GA4 events, quickly update your team and your operations.

A year from now, they’ll need to get comfortable using Google Analytics 4 to make marketing decisions.

Start planning team training sessions. SEJ has collected the most important educational guides and GA4 resources here.

Last but not least, make plans to extract historical data in Universal Analytics before July 2023. BigQuery doesn’t cost anything apart from low storage fees.

Final thoughts

Not only do you get an upgrade when you switch to Google Analytics 4. You get a whole new way to analytics.

This solution is essential to respect user data privacy and to gain actionable insights in a cookie-free world.

At the heart of this change is a new data model that makes GA4 different from what we’ve used in the past decade.

Right now, it’s important to configure GA4 and annual data conversion events when UA ends in July 2023.

After accepting the change, you may enjoy the flexibility and user insights with GA4.

Happy tracking!

More resources:

  • Getting Started with GA4: These 4 tips will get you up and running
  • Learn GA4: 17 of the Most Important Teaching Guides and Resources
  • SEO Strategy: Complete Outline (+ Template)

Featured Image: Paolo Bobetta/Search Engine Magazine

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