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What is a modern organisation’s most important asset? Some would say people, as there’s no business without a team to run it. Others would say customers, because you need people to buy what you sell. But another, more forward-thinking group might offer up a third answer: data.

The answer to almost any question you care to ask can be found within your business data. And in terms information about your online presence, that data is most likely collected and crunched by Google Analytics.

Google Analytics 4 was released in October 2020. But many users only took notice in March 2022, when Google announced that by 1 July 2023 it would stop supporting the previous iteration, Universal Analytics (UA), and would require its users to move to the newer version of the tool.

The upshot is that the clock is ticking for UA users to make the switch. In this article we’ll take a closer look at what GA4 is, and why you shouldn’t be nervous, but rather excited, about this change.

GA4 screenshot of countdown timer until Universal Analytics stops working. Countdown is as of 9th May 2023
Screenshot as of 9th May 2023

What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

As the name suggests, Google Analytics 4 is the fourth generation of the Google Analytics tool that was first offered in 2005. Introduced in 2020, GA4 was built to replace Universal Analytics, the third iteration of the tool that had been the standard since 2012.

How is GA4 different to previous versions of Google Analytics, and Universal Analytics in particular? In broad strokes, the key change is from a ‘hit-based’ tool designed to record specific actions (Category, Action, Label and Value), to an ‘event-based’ tool which allows any and every interaction to be captured. This means that GA4 is more flexible, adaptable and customisable, which makes it better prepared to address modern trends in search engine optimisation (SEO).

How might this change of tack within Google Analytics translate to real-world results for its users? The best way to gain an understanding of the effects of these changes is to describe them in terms of the benefits they bring. Here are eight of the biggest.

8 benefits of Google Analytics 4

1. Humanised segmentation

One of the prime benefits of the switch from ‘hits’ to ‘events’ is that GA4 offers a less robotic and more human view of users, which in turn allows for segmentation that feels more organic. The upgrade allows you to segment based on any event (or a combination thereof) and even allows you to add the concept of time.

By segmenting based on interactions rather than mechanical and irrelevant metrics like ‘device’ or ‘platform type’, you can better understand users and craft more compelling journeys. The addition of time segmentation meanwhile allows you to do things like analyse how long it takes users to move step by step down your sales funnel.

What’s more, segmented and published audiences are automatically shared with Google Ads, ready and waiting for you to create a campaign for them.

2. A clearer view of the customer journey

Google Analytics has always measured website and app interactions separately… until GA4. The new tool combines the website data pulled by Google Analytics with app data pulled by Firebase Analytics, granting companies with their own app a far more complete view of customer engagement.

Not only that, but by going to the ‘Life Cycle’ section of GA4 you’ll find reports entitled ‘Acquisition’, ‘Engagement’, ‘Monetization’, and ‘Retention’, which represent key stages in the customer journey. These reports allow you to zoom in on customer behaviours at key points in the sales funnel, helping you to identify marketing issues and opportunities.

Imagine a user that first visits your website on their smartphone, then goes home and browses your products on their laptop, then downloads your app and makes a purchase. Thanks to its cross-platform, event-based approach, GA4 is uniquely positioned to stitch this buying journey together and serve it up to you in an ultra-insightful way.

3. Positive engagement metrics

Until now engagement metrics have been a decidedly negative affair, primarily defined by what a user fails to do. Take bounce rate, which measures the percentage of website visitors that leave a page without interacting.

GA4 takes a different and far more positive approach. It is designed to give you a deeper view of engagement, such as being able to tell you whether a specific session was ‘engaged’, which the tool defines as one that lasts for at least 10 seconds and features one or more conversion events or involves two or more page views.

GA4 provides a wealth of other engagement events that can be measured, such as video engagement, file downloads, site scrolling and site search, and each gives you a detailed view of exactly how visitors are using your site, which elements they find engaging, and whether your user experience and marketing efforts are working.

4. Reduced reliance on cookies

Online privacy is coming into ever-sharper focus, with governments, regulators and even certain tech companies making it more difficult for individuals to be tracked online. While current tracking is heavily reliant on cookies, this won’t be the case forever.

Google has said that GA4 has been created with this new reality in mind, saying that “the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers.” The company described a flexible approach to measurement that will utilise AI and machine learning to fill in gaps in incomplete data.

Google appears confident that GA4 is more than capable of transitioning to a low or no-cookie future, which is good news for any business reliant on digital marketing, which these days is pretty much every business.

5. Premium features for free

Another iteration of Google Analytics actually sat between UA and GA4: GA360. This was a paid version of UA that offered users a selection of premium features. But in good news for Google Analytics users, a number of these premium elements have been included for free in GA4.

  • Funnel customisation: Create and customise funnels that suit the specific needs of your business, and make them as simple or as elaborate as you’d like.
  • Path analysis: Explore the most common user journeys to find the linear ways in which people engage with your site, such as reading a blog then subscribing to your newsletter, or downloading your app then making a purchase.
  • Heat maps: Enjoy data visualisations capable of presenting complex information in a more intuitive way.
  • Segment overlap: This report is built on the fact that humans don’t fit in neat boxes, and explains the relationships between the segments you target, including the ways in which many will overlap.

6. Free BigQuery integration

Another premium GA360 feature that is now a GA4 property is the integration with BigQuery, a fully managed and serverless data warehouse run by Google. It is capable of analysing huge amounts of data – terabytes or even petabytes – at super high speed, and allows users to draw out incredibly deep insights with machine learning.

While there’s really no limit to the data that a business can crunch – which means that there’s also no limit to the insights that can be drawn – Google Analytics 4 users are limited to a free monthly allowance, after which they’ll need to pay. Thankfully that allowance is generous: 10GB of storage and 1TB of monthly data processing. That is more than enough for most small to medium-sized businesses, at least those in the early stages of their data journeys.

7. Enhanced predictive powers

Imagine a tool that tells you which users are most likely to make a purchase in the next week, which you are at greatest risk of losing in the next week, and how much revenue you can expect from each active user. Imagine no more, because these predictive powers are all available within GA4, giving you the insights you need to target the right users with the right messages!

For certain businesses the following predictive metrics could prove invaluable, as they can be used to create the predictive audiences required for highly targeted campaigns:

  • Purchase probability: This focuses on users who have been active in the last 28 days, and tells you the likelihood that they will buy in the next seven days.
  • Revenue prediction: This focuses on users who has been active in the last 28 days, and tells you the revenue you can expect from them in the next 28 days.
  • Churn probability: This focuses on users who have been active in the last seven days, and tells you the likelihood that they will be inactive over the next seven days.

8. Better ROI

Perhaps the most compelling benefit of all comes as the result of all the features mentioned above. Thanks to treating users like humans, gaining a clearer view of customer interactions and journeys, focusing on the positives, adapting to changing privacy expectations, offering premium features, and leaning into AI-assisted data analysis, Google Analytics 4 users can expect a better return on their digital marketing investment than they’ve ever enjoyed before.

In reality, the benefits of GA4 extend far beyond those mentioned above, though the deeper you dive into the minutiae of the new tool, the more technical – and for most, the more incomprehensible – it becomes. You’re an expert in your field of business. While using Google Analytics 4 is increasingly critical to the online success of your business, you shouldn’t have to be an expert in that too.

That’s where we come in.

At Traction Marketing we live and breathe Google Analytics and digital marketing campaigns. It’s our interest, our passion, and something we work on all day, every day. We know what works and what doesn’t, and we can use GA4 to help you grow your business faster than it’s ever grown before.

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