If you’ve logged into Google Analytics in the last few days, you’ve probably been met with a big red doomsday countdown.
“This property will stop processing data starting July 1, 2023.”
It’s finally happening. The long-awaited (and for those of us who don’t like change, still clinging to the reports we loved in Universal Analytics - long-dreaded…) jump from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
As UA fades into the sunset and GA4 becomes our new normal, publishers and marketers who have long relied on Universal Analytics to track content performance and analyze audience behavior will need to recalibrate how they look at their data.
What is GA4?
In a previous post, What does Google Analytics 4 Mean for Publishers?, we mentioned that this shift to GA4 represents a big step to align over 40 million websites using Analytics with changes to privacy and consent as cookie-based tracking and third-party data begins to phase out.
Since 2012, Google’s Universal Analytics platform has grown to be the leading data and analytics solutions for enterprises and small businesses alike. More than half of the websites on the internet are using Google Analytics.
The original Google Analytics platform relied heavily on third-party cookies for tracking and wasn’t built for a privacy-centered environment. Now, facing the pressure of new regulations and protocols that dictate how data can be tracked and used, as well as changing expectations around data privacy, GA4 is Google’s answer to analytics in the shift towards first-party data.
What’s New in Google Analytics 4?
Many of the new features in GA4 are designed to navigate the new limitations around data collection, as well as to provide a more comprehensive overview of a customer's overall digital experience.
Here, we’ll break down some of the changes ahead, new features and data tools publishers can look forward to, limitations organizations may face when using Google Analytics to understand performance, and opportunities where a CDP like Hum can help you get more from your data.
Say Hello to: Modern Privacy Features
GA4 eliminates IP tracking and third-party data, opting for modern tracking measures across devices and sessions like consent mode for cookie-less tracking, machine learning to fill in the gaps of behavioral data for anonymous users, and regional data tracking for EU data in compliance with GDPR.
Say Goodbye to: Historic Google Analytics Data
Universal Analytics stops collecting data from new user interactions in July 2023. This data will be available in your UA dashboard until July 2024, but it can’t be migrated to GA4; meaning your organization won’t be able to reference old UA data in GA4 analytics tools or easily connect patterns across both data sets.
If you set up your new GA4 account months ago to track alongside your existing Universal Analytics account, you’ll benefit from having a record of engagement and activity in the new format. (Still need to set up your GA4 tracking? You live close to the edge, my friend. We recommend using Google’s GA4 guide to walk you through the steps.)
Moving forward, organizations will have two options within GA4 to retain data either for 2 months, or 14 months, depending on your processing activities.
Say Hello to: Events-Based Tracking
One of the biggest improvements within GA4 is greater visibility into behavior at an individual level, not just in aggregation.
Universal Analytics’ page-level metrics (sessions and pageviews) are giving way to person-level, event-based metrics (searches, video views, specific link clicks, scroll depth) in GA4.
It’s also easier to track specific user behavior by creating events in GA4 without the need for special code or tags and triggers in Google Tag Manager, allowing for tracking of more complete and complex user interactions and reporting around how various actions or sets of actions contribute to acquisition, engagement, revenue, or retention.
Say Hello to: Improved Attribution Metrics
Google Analytics 4 will be better at recognizing site visitors across devices, from different platforms, and over time, making it easier for media companies and publishers to gain insight into behavior trends, influential pieces of content, and user engagement.
New data-driven attribution models split the “credit” for specific actions of users among the channels involved, showing how significant organic or paid channels were in assisting events like downloads, form fills, or purchases.
Say Goodbye to: “Bounce Rate”
Instead of bounce rate - a metric that told us how many people arrived on our website and left without taking an action, Google Analytics 4 introduces “engagement rate,” which is essentially the exact opposite. GA4 will tell us what percentage of visitors are engaged with content, for how long, and where they’re engaging.
For publishers and media organizations, this means you’ll have better context around what is driving high user engagement for new and repeat readers.
Say Hello to: A New, Customizable Interface
Insights, reports, events – almost everything in Google Analytics 4 allows for more customization as compared to the UA interface you may be familiar with.
On one hand, this is great for larger enterprises that are very tuned into particular data points they wish to see and want to build highly specific reports to track them; and on the other, this can be really complex and overwhelming for users who don’t have a clear idea of which people and content metrics are most valuable and don’t have access to data scientists that can help them hone that.
Say Hello to: Limited Machine Learning and Predictive Capabilities
Google Analytics 4 provides organizations with some predictive metrics, including:
- Churn probability
- Purchase probability
- Predicted revenue
It’s worth noting that many of the predictive metrics require thousands of consenting users and thousands of non-consent users over a matter of days in order to generate complex patterns, predictions or recommendations across datasets.
Enterprise data can also be loaded into Google’s BigQuery data warehouses for deeper analysis and “data blending.”
Maximize Content Intelligence with Google Analytics 4 AND Hum
Google Analytics 4 may have an increased ability to profile individual visitors and deliver new understanding into what readers are doing or looking for on your site, but it’s not enough on its own to deliver the data-driven insights you need to run your business.
A CDP like Hum lets you collect and connect data from all the platforms in your tech stack - including Google Analytics - building a complete "golden record" for every individual in your ecosystem in one place, so you have:
- A complete view of every touchpoint for every reader, author, reviewer, member, or librarian.
- The ability to personalize content, ads, marketing, and more.
- More advanced tracking of both known and anonymous users.
- Richer behavioral, content and demographic data beyond just events.
- Robust ML and predictive functionality through AI integrations.
- Elimination of data silos by connecting numerous sources in one place.
- Greater data transparency, oversight and control.
Hum’s CDP exceeds the amount of stored data and level of detail Google Analytics alone can provide. What’s more, Hum was built on a full-featured AI engine designed specifically around use cases for content-driven organizations, which means it’s uniquely capable of delivering the most valuable content and audience intelligence.