Google Analytics 4 is the latest incarnation of their tracking platform that helps owners gain valuable insights of their website and other digital assets.
Most businesses will know Google Analytics as the tool that helps them track the amount of web traffic they get, monitor important marketing channels, and to measure their main KPIs. But with Google Analytics 4, Google is delivering a new set of tools that is very different from their traditional “Universal” Analytics.
We have seen several iterations of Google Analytics over the years which has led to the development of Google Analytics 4. The rollout coincides with the change in digital behaviour as businesses want to track not only their websites but other properties like apps as well.
In 2020, Google launched a “App+Web” implementation in Google Analytics, which basically enabled website owners to track cross-platform, meaning that it was possible to collect user data across both websites and smartphone applications.
Privacy & Data Modelling
At first glance you will see that Google Analytics 4 comes with a lot of new features that make it very different from the old version. One of the biggest differences is Google’s new data modelling feature that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fill the gaps in the data where traditional analytics may have been blocked by cookie consent rules – and the new focus on the data privacy of users.
Google describes the new Google Analytics as a “privacy first” approach that uses advanced machine learning within GA4 that cleverly fills in the gaps for website traffic and user behaviour without relying on having hits from every page of a website.
What this means for website owners is that GA4 takes the focus of Analytics away from “hits” to one that focuses mainly on the user journey – from first visit to that all important final booking conversion.
Google Analytics 4 – Key features
When you open up GA4 for the first time, you’ll notice the user interface is very different from the Google Analytics you know and love. So, here’s a walkthrough for some of the most important changes
Part of Google’s mission for their new product was to create a single tracking system that provided consistent data structure and reporting across all platforms – both web and mobile.
To achieve this, Google Analytics 4 has made the full transition over to events-based tracking.
Now, this will be a big change for many park owners! In the past, we have been used to page views, sessions, and users. Now, we’re going to have to learn the language of events and parameters. This may take some getting used to, but it provides the opportunity for more data manipulation than simply tracking a page view.
Rather than just knowing whether a customer landed on your booking availability page, you will now be able to see how they interacted with that page – e.g. track any button (or link) they clicked on that page, did they scroll down the page and see whether that leads to them completing a booking.
Combined App + Web view
For those businesses that have added an app to their digital footprint, this one is really exciting – now you will be able to report on web and app performance in one place.
GA4 applies a level of machine learning to your data that enables them to predict how your website or app will perform, with likely outcomes for conversions. You can export this information to Google Adwords and then cleverly target those audiences that are more likely to engage with you and convert to bookings.
Over the last few years, privacy has become a hot topic and that is why GA4 has more privacy controls built into it. This will enable you to control which user you collect data on and the ability to use that data for targeted advertising campaigns whilst ensuring you are compliant with your privacy policies.
With more websites now giving users the control over whether they are tracked online, Google is now also using its technology to fill in the gaps and predict user behaviour.
How do I get started with GA4?
The first thing to mention is that you should treat GA4 as a completely new property in Analytics. Unfortunately, you cannot simply upgrade – so it means adding a new property to your existing Google Analytics set up.
If you are already using Tag Manager, then the process is very straight forward – you can simply add in a new GA4 tag to your existing Google Analytics and it will start tracking data in the new format.
Should you make the switch to using GA4?
The short answer: Yes, you should start working with GA4 as soon as possible… but keep using Universal Analytics for the time being and run the two in parallel.
*Note – You can no longer create the old Google Universal tracking accounts. So, if you are launching a new website and adding Google Analytics for the first time, then GA4 is the new default.
There is also no way of porting your existing “universal” data over into GA4, so the sooner you start using GA4, the sooner you will start building that historical data to review.
You have probably invested a lot of time in your marketing teams over the years, learning about the different Google Analytics reports and understanding how everything works. You will have lots of different custom reports that are set up for senior management teams and stakeholders.
Moving across to GA4 and running the two systems in parallel is a good way to learn the new set of tools. Once you’re comfortable with it, then GA4 should become your primary source of analytics data in the future.
GA4 Report Highlights
You will notice that GA4 has a completely new layout to the old universal analytics and a number of the pre-configured reports have changed quite a bit.
The Reports (down the left-hand side) has undergone a complete overhaul and are now grouped according to your business life cycle, user data, and events. Sub-pages have been removed from the menu headings and the overall options look a little more basic.
While GA4 does have standard reports, the reports as you know them, along with the traditional graph and tabular layout, have been replaced with report cards.
Nearly all report cards contain the functionality to drill down, and do things likes compare audiences.
Events and Parameters
You will notice a greater emphasis on events throughout the new reporting tool. Previously, all web-based iterations of Google Analytics focused on tracking page views. This was fine – but it meant as a park owner, we were tied to only tracking specific pages or URLs.
Here’s the game-changer … GA4 gives us the opportunity to not only track the opening of the page, but also any action that is taken on it. Google’s automatic tracking feature enables you to track events such as scroll, video, exits, site search without additional coding or any adjustments to your tag.
You can define and track just about anything as an event, and then create a custom report accordingly. Which means you can now create customised reports for whatever is most important to your website, business, or stakeholders.
Custom parameters are the key to organising your data in the way that makes the most sense for your business.
For example, you could use the existing page view event to fire a new event when someone reaches the “thank you” page after completing an online purchase. You could also mark this event as a “conversion” if applicable. This example is a similar concept to destination goals within Universal Analytics.
While this concept might seem unfamiliar at first, events are the foundation of GA4 and offer much more flexibility in how you collect data.
Although funnel reports already exist in Universal Analytics, GA4 allows you to customise funnels and define and adjust steps on the fly.
Funnel analysis is great for seeing how your park customers make their way through your website and whether they successfully complete a booking.
You can set up either closed or open funnels (where users can enter at any step); and examine trends over time, enabling you to spot anomalies in your defined steps; and see the elapsed time between each of the steps to evaluate how long it takes to complete the entire user journey and where the biggest delay occurs.
Insights with Machine Learning
Machine learning is entering our digital lives in so many ways and in Google Analytics 4 they are using AI to automate insights and predict metrics.
In the top right-hand corner, you will find the Insights button, where you can access the automated insights.
The resulting sidebar includes a search field and a sub menu of data insights that Google Analytics has pulled for you.
The automated insights highlight data that have seen significant trend changes. In other words, anything that is unusually good (or bad) will be brought straight to your attention. Automated insights are a great new addition to Analytics which means you will never have to go hunting for data anomalies again.
Analyse real-time users
To see some interesting data about your users in real-time, navigate to Realtime Overview which is right below Home in the left sidebar.
By default, you will see the number of users in the last 30 minutes and the information about the device they are using to access your park website (or app) e.g. desktop, mobile, tablet.
You will see the locations of these users, which is really useful. If you click on any location (on the blue dot), then you will see the comparison of all traffic with the traffic from this once specific location.
In the Realtime view, you can also add comparisons with specific dimensions so for example you can see the data for all users versus only users coming from Google organic search.
If you want to get an instant view of how your users are navigating your park website, click the “View a User Snapshot” link to take a peek at how one of your current website users is using your site. Jump into their user journey and see what events they interact with and how they navigate your site in real time.
Google Analytics 4 brings a whole range of new and enhanced components, such as tracking unique users across platforms and devices without code adjustments, and a brand-new concept on measurement tool.
Although it looks Universal Analytics will not be retired anytime soon, now is the best time to set up Google Analytics 4 and harness the benefits of their new reporting tools for your business. I would recommend using both Universal Analytics and GA4 side by side and get yourself familiar with the new reporting interface and the event + parameter measurement tool.