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Google Analytics 4: Is it worth upgrading?

Have you already seen the notification at the top of your Google Analytics report saying that there is a new version of Google Analytics available for all users; Google Analytics 4. The first thing that was going around in my head was how much time and money it would take to transition to this new software? Do we have to relearn the whole software and what things are we going to lose?

I was interested so I decided to write this article to educate myself and other readers on the decision to upgrade to Google Analytics 4.

This article will contain the reason why the software has been developed and what the new features are. We are going to take a look at the costs and how you can upgrade from Google Analytics 4. Finally, I will help you to decide when you should upgrade and transition to this new version.

Why has Google Analytics 4 been developed?

According to an article published by Srinivasan, V. (2020, October 14) from Google they have created this new software for two main reasons. 

The first one is the changing privacy landscape that has been a difficult problem for almost every company in the world. Third-party cookies are being phased out and rules are becoming more strict every day. This calls for new software that can supply the needs of that change. The main idea being not to connect any data to specific user id’s. This way a user’s data will always be anonymized and therefore private.

The second reason is the shift of consumer behavior that cannot be monitored with the current implementation of the software.  

An example of this reason would be the cross-device nature of users and the lack of tools monitoring that behavior. This new piece of software uses machine learning to connect different devices. 

You might have seen the beta of this in Google Analytics 3 but the new software builds upon this. 

To understand the importance of cross-device analysis I can give you an example. Imagine someone doing research on certain products on the train and eventually making the actual purchase on his desktop device. Without knowing this you might miss out on the importance of the other device’s attribution to the sale.

With this new piece of software, we can see the optimal device paths and learn from them. These insights can be used in your advertising strategies and to improve the user experience of your website.

These reasons have given us a new platform with a bunch of awesome features. Did we ever consider that privacy changes can make some things easier for marketers?

What are the new features of Google Analytics 4?

There are a bunch of new features in Google Analytics 4. In the following segment, I tried to summarize these features as much as possible.

Smarter insights

In Google Analytics 3 we have already seen generated insights that can help you learn about your users and the performance of your website without having to draw these conclusions yourself. 

Google analytics 3 insights

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The new algorithm in Google Analytics 4 improves on this feature by automatically detecting trends within your data.

An example of this would be on a webshop. Suddenly the algorithm notices a spike in demand for mouth masks and notifies the marketeer of this opportunity.

Google analytics 4 insights

The emphasis here is trying to predict where certain metrics might go so you can adjust your marketing strategy.

Improved integrations

Another feature of Google Analytics 4 is new integrations within the Google Marketing Platform. This enables you as a marketeer to have better-defined target groups for advertising purposes. 

These target groups are better because it combines the interactions of different apps, devices, and your web platform for a more complete view of a targets group behavior. An example of these apps is Youtube, Google Search, and Google Ads as seen in the graph.

Google analytics 4 integrations

User-centered metrics

Google Analytics 4 will center metrics on users instead of devices or different platforms. This way a the marketeer has a better picture of the entire customer journey of a user. Imagine you set up a bunch of display ads and knowing exactly what people originate from what adds. This takes the customer journey off-site and might give you more insights to work with.

What if a user on his smartphone clicks on an ad for example. Later he buys some products of the clicked website on his laptop because he or she had seen the ad. Google Analytics will connect the information about the ads and the different devices to be able to get a full image of a user’s journey.

Google Analytics 4 dashboard

Privacy centered

When using Google Analytics 4 you are automatically anonymizing users! This means you will not have to ask cookie permission to use someone’s data because it’s not connected to an actual person. 

Google Analytics 4 is built around making privacy a lot easier to manage for marketers because it has gotten extremely complicated over the years. 

According to a post by Stone, D. (2020, July 31) you will be able to set up the following action regardings privacy fairly easy:

  • Decide if you need to accept the Data Processing Terms
  • Anonymize IP addresses for your Web property
  • Disable some or all data collection
  • Set the data retention period
  • Select what data you share with your support team and Google
  • Control ads personalization for your entire Analytics property
  • Review your Google signals setting
  • Control ads personalization by event type or user property
  • Request data to be deleted
  • Delete data for individual users
  • Control ads personalization byt geography
  • Delete a property
  • Control ads personalization for an individual event or session

This will give you full control of all privacy matters enabling you to comply with world-wide data protection regulations without losing insights into your user’s behavior.

New reports

Just taking a look at the menu before and after can give you an idea of how much has changed:

Google Analytics 3

Google analytics 3 menu

Google analytics 4

Google analytics 4 menu

Where we first only saw reports we can now see a bunch of new sections.

  • Life cycle
  • User
  • Events
  • Explore
  • Configure

This doesn’t mean that all the old reporting is gone but the structure has changed so this means you might have to get used to the new application when enabling it. The good news is that this is a new property so you will always have access to the older format of Google Analytics 3 if needed. I can imagine the frustration of creating a presentation for a specific deadline and not being able to find the data. This way you will be able to get used to it at your own pace.

Life cycle

The life cycle section will contain the 4 stages that usually represent a user’s journey when going and leaving from your website or app. 

Acquisition

It starts with the user acquisition reports. These reports contain information about how the user’s got to your website and what kind of traffic they are defined as.

Google analytics 4 acquisition report
Engagement

The engagement reports show insights about user interactions on the website by showing data about events, pages, and screens.

Google analytics 4 engagement
Monetization

The monetization reports show everything that makes you and your organization those big fat stacks. From e-commerce transactions, in-app purchases, and publisher ads. Everything you need to optimize your monetization strategy and keep track of your revenue.

Retention 

The retention report shows your everything regarding keeping customers connected with your business and the lifetime value of your customers. Keep this report in mind when you are optimizing your long term strategy.

Google analytics 4 retention

User

After the life cycle section, Google Analytics 4 zooms in to a user more specifically. Looking at demographics and technology.

Demographics

These reports contain everything related to location, gender, interests, age, and language.

Google analytics 4 demographics
Tech

Tech shows more detail about different platforms, operating systems, devices, browsers, resolutions, versions, and models. Anything that would differentiate users depending on the software and hardware that they use.

Google analytics 4 tech

Events

The event section will pretty much contain nothing before setting it up yourself. All the events that you will want to collect will show up here and it has a report for showing events that are conversions of specific goals that you set up.

Google analytics 4 events

Explore

The explore is fairly new when comparing it to Google Analytics 3. It contains the analysis hub that helps you create specific reports for further analysis.

Analysis hub GA4

An example report is Funnel analysis. This felt pretty intimidating when first looking at but you can break into three main sections. On the left you have to variables tab, this is where you can set up the name, date, segments & dimensions. 

Analysis funnel GA 4

The tab next to that you have the tab settings, this where you setup the tab technique(which are the different starting options) and all the settings that go along with that. There are a bunch of tab techniques to choose from:

Analysis types in GA 4

After setting your preferred analysis technique and other settings you will have the data on the right side ready to be analyzed. This feels like a nice way of analyzing your website and I think this is a nice addition compared to Google Analytics 3.

Configure

The final section is the configure section. This contains audiences, user properties, and debugView. 

In the audiences tab, you can manage and edit audiences that are used in your reports. When creating a new Google Analytics property you will start with 2 audiences.

Audiences

When creating new audiences you can choose to create custom audiences or create them based on suggestions. These audiences are very similar to Google Analytics 3 segments but feel more user-centered.

Creating audiences

The next configure section is the user properties section.

Creating user property's

Here you can create different attributes of your users to use as building blocks for your audiences as stated on the screenshot. 

Eye color property

An example of this would be a person’s eye color or length.

Then finally you have the debugView. Which is a real-time monitoring dashboard of events and user properties on a timeline that can help you identify problems of data collection or help solve them. 

Google analytics 4 debugger

As a bonus, you also still have that the admin tabs with all the different settings that come with it, I think the post will be too long if describing every setting so I will leave you with a screenshot of all the settings you can set and edit.

Admin panel

What are the costs of Google Analytics 4?

It’s free! So nothing to worry about here. I think most of the cost would come from having to spend time making new integrations for all the pieces of software your own and use for connecting to Google Analytics 4. You will probably hit a bunch of brick walls here because the software is so new.

How can you upgrade to Google Analytics 4?

Account view in Google Analytics 3

Upgrading might be the wrong word for this piece of software because it implies that you are losing the old version of Google Analytics 4. This is not the case. When you press that Upgrade to GA4 button in the property admin view of your Google Analytics 4 you will just create a new property that you can always switch back from. This way you can get used to the new software while all integrations around it are being developed by software owners.

New property

You will arrive at the following screen that shows you a bit of information to get started with Google Analytics 4. Simply pressing get started will give you a green connected label.

Pre-upgrade screen GA 4

In this screen, you will have created the Google Analytics 4 property and can see it.

Post upgrade screen GA 4

Before you start collecting any data with your new Google Analytics 4 property you will need to add another on-page tag. You need to add another tag if you want to keep using your Google Analytics 3 property. If you are done with using your old one you can choose to edit your existing one by simply editing the ID in the tag. I don’t recommend this for most companies.

Connected property's
Tagging instructions

For my website, I simply changed the ID in the header.php file in my WordPress content management system. The second I saved this I started collecting data in my new property and my old one was immediately stopped. At first, I anonymized all data specifically by declaring this in the tag but this is not needed anymore because Google Analytics 4 properties have this enabled by default.

Wordpress theme changer header.php file.

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Conclusion

The point of this article was to show and learn about the new Google Analytics 4 software that Google has released. I think the switch to this software will be inevitable for anyone that uses Google analytics. It has a lot to offer and fit’s the changes in user behavior and privacy well. I think that this software enables companies to collect more insights into their audiences without impairing someone’s privacy.

You can set up your new Google Analytics  4 property next to your old one so you can slowly get used to the new ways of reporting and can collect data as you will be starting over with your data collection. 

My advice would be to set this up quickly and forget about it until most of the software companies you work with actually have integrations ready for Google Analytics 4. But feel free to poke around the software beforehand so you can get used to it. It’s free anyway. 

If you have any questions or comments you can leave them down in the comments below.

Want to learn how to use Google Analytics to evaluate your Google Optimize ab tests? Then check out this article now!

References

Srinivasan, V. (2020, October 14). Introducing the new Google Analytics. Google. https://www.blog.google/products/marketingplatform/analytics/new_google_analytics/

Meet the next generation of Google Analytics – Analytics Help. (n.d.). Google. https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10089681

Stone, D. (2020, July 31). Take control of how data is used in Google Analytics. Google. https://blog.google/products/marketingplatform/analytics/take-control-how-data-used-google-analytics/

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