Google recently announced that the end of Universal Analytics is in sight. On July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will stop processing new data.
This is a move to push users to Google Analytics 4 as the new go-to solution for monitoring web activity, and it’s also the most significant change Google Analytics has ever made. But what does Google Analytics 4 mean for publishers and media companies?
Why is Google Enforcing This Change?
Facing pressure from the EU and privacy advocates, Google has been spending a lot of time considering how digital marketing and communication will look once third-party cookies are gone.
As cookie-based tracking and third-party data begins to phase out (remember - third-party cookies are due to be blocked in late 2023!) - this shift to Google Analytics 4 comes as a big step to align over 40 million websites using Analytics with changes to privacy and consent.
Unifying the stages of a user journey across platforms has been a challenge since marketing on the internet became a thing. And while Google isn’t the first analytics powerhouse to start moving towards new solutions as cookies and tracking methods become obsolete; it’s certainly the biggest.
There are a number of new features that stand to upend the way scholarly publishers, professional publishers, and media companies are currently tracking how users engage with their content - and several that stand to enhance it!
Event-Based Data Models
Historically, Google Analytics data has been centered on pageviews. This session-level data might include multiple page hits, events, social interactions, ecommerce transactions, or app views.
In GA4, all of these interactions will be processed as individual events.
While session-level data can give you hints into how your digital content performs as a whole - with metrics like number of pageviews, duration, and bounce rate - it doesn’t give you the connection of what that user did the last time they visited your site, or what they’ll do the next time they visit.
GA4 data, on the other hand, is built entirely around users and events. Instead of focusing on content-specific metrics, GA4 reporting is oriented towards understanding how various actions - or sets of actions - contribute to acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention.
Cross-device and Cross-functionality
Along with increased focus on events, GA4 will focus on the context of these actions as part of the user journey. By recognizing actions being taken by consenting site visitors across devices and over time, media companies and publishers can gain insight into behavior trends, influential pieces of content, and user engagement.
Another thing going away with session-based analytics is the use of IP addresses as one of the primary means for tracking and attribution in Analytics. (The platform won't collect or log IP address data, beginning in July 2023!)
The GA4 data retention policy also states that Analytics will only retain a maximum of 14 months of data, meaning that scholarly publishers who want to be able to compare digital content performance year over year will need to think about ways to store historical digital performance data.
An AI-Equipped Dashboard
As cookie-based tracking becomes scarce, Google is relying on artificial intelligence to fill in the gaps so that organizations can better understand how individuals and their audience as a whole are interacting on their website.
The AI will be used for predictive analytics, using data to make assumptions about traffic and user behaviors. For example, publishers and media companies will be able to leverage reports using AI to interpret first-party data signals that:
- Predict churn
- Predict customer buying habits
- Enhance ROI in media strategy decision-making
This AI will also help deliver a more user-friendly reporting experience. Instead of applying multiple filters to create custom reports, you’ll be able to ask GA4 for custom metrics, for example: how many articles do users in the US typically read in a month?
So My First-Party Data Strategy is Set, Right?
... Think again!
While Google Analytics 4 will provide publishers and media companies with a foundation to understand how their visitors are behaving on their web properties - there are limitations on what GA4 can tell you.
If you want to power your marketing strategy with even more first-party data, you need a system that can help you make sense of user data signals coming from every system in your tech stack - not just on your website!
A customer data platform (CDP) helps you understand and act on audience and content insights, so you can:
- See a complete 360° view of your audience across all digital platforms
- Understand the topics and types of content that resonate with various segments of your audience
- Launch personalized messaging to highly-targeted audiences
- And more
Where do I start?
Don’t wait until July of 2023 to launch your new Google Analytics 4 property. In fact, you can create a Google Analytics 4 property now that will collect data alongside your existing Universal Analytics property.
Even if you don’t have time to learn the layout or decide how you’ll want to use the insights, the sooner you set up a Google Analytics 4 property, the more data you’ll have access to when you do make the switch.
Check out Google’s master Google Analytics 4 guide to start setting up your property.
Google Analytics 4 is ready for the future. Are you?