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What is Google Analytics and the new GA4?

Wouldn’t it be invaluable to know exactly how people interact with your website, the pages they love the most, and where they become disinterested and drop off? Or to know where website traffic came from, and what user behaviour led to a conversion on your site?

Well, business owners have had access to this type of information for a long time now. But many don’t know about it, and even less actually pay attention to the data.

Having access to this kind of information is absolutely crucial, and is also one of the biggest benefits of being online. There is so much that can be tracked and analysed. 

No matter what business size or industry, implementing Google Analytics, and actually looking at the data, is highly beneficial.

In this article, we’re explaining what exactly Google Analytics is, why it’s important, and what it means now that the new GA4 is becoming the sole tool.

So what is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free, online web analytics tool provided as part of the Google Suite, and it provides detailed information about user behaviour on a website or app.

It can tell you:

  • How a user arrived at your site
  • What page they landed on
  • What pages they went on to visit
  • How long they spent on each page and the site
  • Where they dropped off
  • If they took an Event action and what kind

You can set up a Google Analytics account in minutes

It may seem like a tool so powerful and helpful (and free!) must therefore be hard to implement. But it’s actually ridiculously simple to get set up with Google Analytics and start tracking valuable data on your own website.

All you need to do is type in analytics.google.com and ensure you have a Google-friendly email, then it will step you through the process. The trickiest part is getting the tracking code installed on your website, but even this is pretty straightforward these days for all the major website providers, such as WordPress, Shopify or Squarespace.

Why is Google Analytics important?

Knowledge is power! It’s that simple. Knowing how your website or app is performing allows you to make data-driven decisions and optimisations. 

You will be able to know which sources are driving the most visitors to your website, meaning you can make correlations between marketing activities and website performance.

You will know which pages perform best and worst on your site, meaning that you can optimise and adjust pages as needed to improve their engagement and conversion rates.

You will understand the touchpoints involved in your customer journey, and how to more accurately attribute sales performance across channels you’re active on.

You will know at what stage of the purchase funnel you’re losing the most people, meaning that you can optimise the weakest link in your purchase journey and directly impact sales numbers.

Google Analytics has a direct correlation to bottom line sales

When you know this data and can optimise your marketing and sales activities effectively, this has a direct impact on your bottom line. #winning

Google Analytics improves customer experience

When you know there’s a weak point or challenging area in your User Experience, you’re able to fix or improve it with ease. No guesswork on what’s going wrong is required. This leads to a better customer experience.

Google Analytics enhances your brand

When you have data to optimise your marketing activities and website experience, you’re indirectly enhancing your overall brand experience. People expect seamless, easy to follow online experiences and only with insights can you continue to achieve this and optimise weak points.

With all these amazing benefits of using Google Analytics, it’s no wonder that 55.49% of all websites are using it.

Google Analytics enhances your brand

What is GA4?

GA4 refers to Google Analytics 4, the latest version of Google’s web analytics tool. Released in 2020 it has been continually improving since then. 

From July 2023, the current Universal Analytics (UA) will be deprecated and GA4 will become the only Google Analytics tool available for use. This is a major upgrade on the previous version and has come about for a couple of key reasons.

Why is there a new GA4?

GA4 has better data and privacy protection

Google Analytics is highly valuable to business owners due to the rich data it captures about users on your website, but with the increasing emphasis on online privacy and data safety over the past decade, the current Universal Analytics tool has come under fire and even been banned across certain European countries.

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was introduced by the EU in 2016, and since then France, Austria and Italy have taken things a step further to ban Google Analytics completely, as they believed that GA was violating the GDPR. 

The new GA4 tracking method and its data handling protocols is meant to address many of the concerns and abide by GDPR and other privacy laws. 

GA4 has better insights for multi channel events tracking

One of the biggest changes with GA4 is the tracking method it uses. Universal Analytics uses a pageview based model, whereas the new GA4 uses event-based model for data collection. By utilising event-based data, we’re going to be able to see an even more granular level of data and insights. This will make it extremely helpful for tracking and attributing user behaviour across channels.

As customers continue to increase their online touch points, the new event-based model allows us to more fairly attribute conversion events to each of these touchpoints, leading to a better understanding of the different channels that play a role in your events (i.e end goals). This does mean you will see more decimal places against events, as they’re partly attributed to an event.

GA4 has greater use of machine-learning and AI

As machine learning continues to rapidly evolve, it’s being integrated into many programs, and within GA4 it provides predictive reports and insights based on user behaviour. The more data you have the better this functionality will be, but long-term it will be extremely helpful in planning for marketing activities and predetermining customer behaviour on a website.

GA4 has greater use of machine-learning and AI

What are some of the limitations of GA4?

GA4 is harder to use if you’re used to UA

We’re not going to sugar coat it, it’s a pain in the butt to adjust to if you’re used to the old UA dashboard. We’re still wrapping our head around much of the functionality and capability of the new GA4 dashboard. It feels like you need to be an Analytics wizz to master it, but we’re sure that with practice, and as time goes on it will continue to become more user-friendly as they work through kinks.

GA4 data will not match to UA

Due to the different tracking models used, the data in GA4 will appear different to UA. In particular, you will likely see a decrease in Sessions to your website. We recommend implementing GA4 as earlier as possible, so that prior to the deprecation of UA you can run the two side-by-side and understand the differences recorded.

GA4 has limited historical data from UA

When you upgrade your website to using GA4 for tracking, not all of the historical data from UA is automatically carried across. This will make it hard for businesses to run historical reports and analysis… though with the last 3 years we’ve had, it doesn’t feel like there’s any ‘normal’ data to compare to accurately anyway.

#3 Tips for Implementing Google Analytics and GA4 to your website

  1. Understand what data is a high priority to you 

You need to know what data you want to monitor, in order to ensure you’re setting up your Google Analytics account and GA4 tracking correctly. Is your goal to monitor purchases for your eCommerce store? You’ll want to set up eCommerce event tracking. Are you more interested in generating leads via your content marketing? You’ll want to monitor engagement rates like time on page.

2. Follow the best practices for implementing & ensure it’s accurate

It can be confusing to install your own tracking, so reach out to a marketing expert for help if needed. There are lots of tools and help docs available online though, as well as YouTube and explainer videos, so you can also do it yourself as well. Once it’s installed though, be sure to actually test the tracking and ensure it’s working correctly. Setting up your account is just step 1, but it’s useless without installing the tracking.

3. Don’t set and forget on your GA4

It’s absolutely pointless to have access to such valuable data if you’re not looking at it regularly. Depending on your business type and size will dictate how often is necessary, but make it a habit to check in and compare and analyse data, look both at multiple period comparisons to get a big picture view of patterns and performance.

Google Analytics is a powerful, free tool for business owners to analyse their site performance, and the introduction of GA4 is going to allow for even better insights, and privacy handling. With GA4 set to replace UA come July 2023, it’s really important to get your butt into gear and set up your GA4 properly, now. Don’t rely on the auto-upgrade which is pegged to have a few holes in it.

And if you don’t have Google Analytics installed at all yet? I hope you now understand the importance of it, and the benefits it will bring to your business, such as increased sales, improved user experience and enhanced brand perception.

As we’re committed to delivering strong multichannel marketing campaigns for our clients, Google Analytics is a critical tool in our arsenal. If you’re looking for an agency to support your business across its online marketing, feel free to reach out and chat with us about GA4 and your marketing strategy today. 

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