In 2005 you might have been in college, or maybe you were in high school, excited to finally have a Facebook account. Of course, in 2005 you might have been in the early stages of your career, BlackBerry in hand. Whatever you were doing, you were using the internet for school, for connection, and for work. And maybe for shopping. 

In 2005 e-commerce sales in the U.S. increased to $109.4 billion and eBay was one of the most popular sites. In fact, on that first ever Cyber Monday the site tracked 11.7 million visitors compared to Amazon’s 5.6 million.

Recognizing the value of tracking visitor data, Google launched Universal Analytics as a free platform to support online marketers in their efforts to understand their visitors, prospects, and customers. 

Fast forward to today. In 2021 e-commerce sales in the U.S. increased to $870.78 billion. High school students no longer care for Facebook accounts. Instead they engage with media, friends, and strangers through a host of apps – TikTok, Roblox, YouTube, etc. – that they access on the iPhone, not the BlackBerry.

Inspired by the ads present in their social media streams, teens and adults alike shop online via many different apps and devices. And driven by data, brands have improved marketing performance for years. The digital landscape continues to evolve, and marketers must evolve with it.

To help, Google launched a new set of Google Analytics reports and data for your website(s) and app(s). Enter Google Analytics 4, a property designed to support your business as you face evolving measurement standards.


Why Install GA4 Now?

If your company has yet to adopt Google Analytics 4, here’s an incentive: After July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will stop tracking data. Google is encouraging users to export their historical data reports in Universal Analytics now to avoid losing the data.

It is imperative to make the change before July of this year, so you will gain at least one full year of data history with GA4. This way your business can continue benefiting from year-over-year comparisons.

For larger corporations using Universal Analytics 360, Google recently announced that they are pushing the sunset date of Universal Analytics 360 out to July 1, 2024.


What Are the Benefits of GA4?

  1. Privacy-first, cookie free experiences
  2. Cross Device tracking
  3. Event-based tracking

Google Analytics 4 has several advantages that meet the needs of today’s e-commerce brands. For example, GA4 supports direct integrations to media platforms to increase brand reach and awareness; social media integration encourages user engagement and helps grow a bigger audience.

In addition, GA4 aims to provide businesses with a more complete vision of a client’s journey as data is collected across multiple devices, websites, and applications without the use of cookies. 

1. GA4 Uses Artificial Intelligence to Function without Cookies

Google Analytics 4 uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to create a more complete picture of a client’s journey despite the loss of cookies and without retaining IP addresses. Innovation in marketing technology like this will allow businesses to cater to their clients’ needs while maintaining highly regulated privacy laws.

Through predictive metrics derived from algorithms, GA4 can predict future user behavior to fill the third party cookie gap. Because data-driven attribution allows marketers to see how various initiatives influence conversions, they can make more informed decisions as they revise their websites and apps to improve the customer experience. 

2. Track Customer Journeys Across Device

Universal Analytics does not have this capability since its development relied heavily on outdated measurement methodology meant for desktop web users.

As consumers acquire more devices and more apps, there is a need to increase the integrity of unique visitor data.

GA4 can meet this need as it has the capability to measure insights using an event-based data model that can identify first visits, devices used, and levels of user engagement. GA4 can even deduplicate visits. 

3. Event Based Data Model Improves Conversion Tracking

GA4’s event-based architecture allows you to track various parameters.

Automatically tracked events include:

  • page view,
  • screen view,
  • and file download.

Recommended events include:

  • add_to_cart
  • and add_to_wishlist.

The recommended events for games properties include:

  • join_group
  • and level_up.

If you need more specific tracking, GA4 also invites customization of events. 


What Are Key Differences Between Universal Analytics and GA4?

  1. Session Tracking
  2. Event Tracking
  3. Journey Tracking

The main differences are easy to explain and some are more significant than others. For example, Universal Analytics applies two user metrics: Total Users and New Users; while Google Analytics 4 adds one more user metric: Active Users.

This new primary user metric reports the number of users who have been active on a site within a twenty-eight day window.

Another difference is that GA4 combines web and app data in the same property while UA keeps them separate. When it comes to filtering data, UA has options that can select or exclude data while GA4 does not currently support filters. Most significantly, UA relies on session-based metrics and GA4 utilizes event-based metrics. 


1. Session Based Metrics Are Going Away

It is important to note that Universal Analytics based everything around sessions and aggregated data at the session level.

UA tracks data within a given time frame, until there is thirty minutes of inactivity. Although one session can group multiple user interactions, the data typically comes from the first hit. Sources like channels and campaigns are also grouped here, and this data is helpful for tracking the performance of each traffic channel.

This default tracking worked especially well with traditional websites but not so much with single-page websites or apps because the code loads once and no matter how many times the user clicks, the UA report will show just one page view.

In addition, the session indicator cannot track how a single user interacts with a site or product across multiple devices. This is problematic because today’s buyer could be inspired to browse on their desktop during a work break but not finalize the purchase until that evening when they decide to check out on the app.


2. Event Based Model Fires Upon Engagement

The rapidly evolving businesses of today need to learn as much as they can about online shoppers and information about session attributes won’t cut it. An event-based approach is needed for product analytics.

More important than information about the browser, device, country, referral source, etc. is information about a client’s behavior.

How is the client engaging with products and what can be learned about the client’s preferences?

Add item events that identify product, price, and color, in addition to checkout events like total price, discount, and shipping option can help predict future purchases.

Collecting behavioral data about users allows brands to better predict product engagement and product dissatisfaction. In addition, user behaviors can inform strategy and collaboration across multiple teams, such as marketing, IT, product research, and customer success.

Ultimately, event-based analytics allows marketers to improve key performance indicators such as conversation rates, customer retention, and increased revenue.


3. Path Exploration Maps Traffic To and From Goals

Furthermore, GA4 introduces path exploration techniques that allow you to explore your users’ journeys.

The path exploration report, unique to GA4, allows you to determine the sequence of pages visited by users and the actions performed. Path exploration shows your users’ actions working forward from a specific event or page, and backwards pathing lets you select a desired event or page and explore how your users got to it.

You can select an event, like a purchase or conversion, and explore the different paths your users take to reach that event and use that insight to improve the user experience.

In addition, marketers can notice data trends that require the attention of developers. For example, a closer look at first visit segments could reveal that potential clients could not access the webpage, a problem that could be device-specific or browser-specific.  


How to Get Started with GA4

Ultimately, GA4 is a faster and more reliable tool. It is easier to interrogate and query data. It is easier to implement because it’s conceptually simple for people to discuss and design. And it’s easier to do analysis and reporting once you get used to the new way of using the data.

In order to best manage the mandatory transition from UA to GA4 for their brands, marketers should begin implementation now and become familiar with GA4’s interface and capabilities.

Fortunately, Google shares a helpful migration guide for new users.

So what are you waiting for? You have the power to improve marketing ROI by embracing the future of e-commerce today.

All you need is the guide below to set up your Google Analytics 4 property:

  1. Consider account structure (effort varies)
  2. Create a Google Analytics 4 property (very low effort)
  3. Create data stream (very low effort)
  4. Enable data collection (effort varies)
  5. Activate Google Signals: Required for enhanced remarketing and reporting (very low effort)
  6. Link to Google Ads (low effort)
  7. Map Universal Analytics custom events to Google Analytics 4 (effort varies)
  8. Migrate Universal Analytics goals and conversions to Google Analytics 4 (medium effort)
  9. Validate and bid to conversions in Google Ads (medium effort)
  10. Migrate audiences (medium effort)
  11. Migrate e-commerce measurement (high effort)
  12. Migrate or Manually Add users (low effort)

Remember that all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023, and 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2024.


Questions & Answers:

How much will GA4 cost?

Google Analytics 4 will still offer best-in-class website and app data tracking at no cost. Executives should however consider investing in data integrity by engaging a data scientist for custom event mapping, data filters and eCommerce configuration.

How will the GA4 event-based model improve reporting?

The most significant improvements to reporting will include cross-application data tracking and custom engagement metrics for more effective conversion reporting.

How do I transition to GA4 without losing data?

The best way to prevent data loss is to install Universal Analytics and GA4 in parallel before the July 1, 2023 cutover. This will allow you to see reliable year-over-year data in GA4. Universal Analytics data will still be accessible for an undisclosed amount time after 2023 and can only be backfilled using BigQuery, so make sure to export all historical data from UA right away.

How do I configure a GA4 performance tracking dashboard?

GA4 assistant wizard is provided to make setting up your GA4 dashboard easier. Using the GA4 Assistant wizard will allow you to create a GA4 dashboard without compromising your Universal Analytics settings.

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