What does GA4 mean for website analytic reporting?
GA4 is aptly named as this is the 4th version of Google Analytics and its journey began in 2005 when Google purchased Urchin - the predominant analytics tool of its time.
By 2007, Google had launched its Classic Google Analytics. Whilst there were continual updates to the platform it wasn’t until 2012 that Google launched Universal Analytics, often referred to as UA.
Currently, most people tracking their website analytics using Google will collect data using Universal Analytics tracking codes. That leads us to the here and now!
So, what is GA4 and when is it going live?
In October 2020, Google first announced Google Analytics 4 or GA4 and since then, Google has been urging its web and app customers to migrate to the new GA4 service. On 1st July 2023 Google will cease to process your website traffic using UA so the urgency to migrate is now building.
GA4 is the next-generation analytics service that measures traffic and engagement across your websites and apps. Google has provided an abundance of migration guides for those who haven’t yet made the leap. Any new accounts created will only be able to use the new GA4.
What is the difference between UA and the new GA4?
The first notable change in GA4 is that IP addresses are no longer collected or stored to further protect users' data. This however does not mean that you cannot, as an example, exclude internal IP addresses from your traffic flow.
Google has also enabled easier data deletion, allowing users to delete data if requested by any users.
Another big change in GA4 is how Google Analytics collects and structures your data. Google call this a measuring model.
A measuring model is, as it sounds, the method by which Google Analytics measures and structures the data captured.
Within UA, the measurement model is based on sessions, pageviews and hits. (Now don’t worry, we have put together a glossary at the end in case you aren’t sure what this means!).
In comparison, GA4 uses a model based on events and parameters. The idea is that any interaction will be captured as an event.
In layman’s terms, this means that all the UA ‘hit’ types, such as sessions and pageviews are now considered events under GA4.
A new user interface
What we can see in GA4 is a change in ‘language’ specifically around ‘engagement’ and ‘monetisation’. The data streams from UA are still available and in fact, are often more detailed in GA4 as the data is filtered in a new way. It seems to be that the new GA4 layout is simply a redesign of the old format.
Supporting the change in language, you will notice that ‘Bounce Rate’ has changed to ‘Engagement Rate’ i.e., it’s the opposite. Engagement rate tells you the % of your traffic that isn’t bouncing and is therefore engaged. Focussing more on the positive rather than the negative!
Under the current UA interface you can access a plethora of information broken down into categories that, for those of us who regularly use GA, we have gotten used to. With GA4 you will see that there has been a huge change in how they present the data to you.
Under the UA reports, the reporting is focused on ‘total users’ and ‘new users.’ This has always been a primary metric to understand how many ‘new users’ visited your site for the first time, usually in combination with ‘total users’. When looked at comparatively, this will indicate your repeat users vs. new users, and for many of us, understanding the retention level is key.
In GA4 you can now identify 3 user metrics.
Total Users: Now indicates the total number of unique users who log an event.
New Users: The total number of unique users who log any event for the first. New Users are measured by those IDs with the parameter first_open or first_visit.
Active Users: This is the primary metric in GA4 and indicates the number of distinct users who have visited your website and have an 'engaged' session. It is also when analytics collects parameters such as first_visit event or engagement_time_msec.
You need to be careful here, both UA and GA4 use the term ‘User’, but how the data has been calculated is different. In UA, it uses ‘Total Users’ whereas GA4 is using ‘Active Users’.
Under the UA tool, Sessions are defined by a ‘period of time that a user is engaged on your site’, once inactivity passes 30 minutes the session would time out. It also timed out at midnight. With GA4, a session would end after 30 minutes of inactivity but no longer end at midnight. This means that if you were to draw a comparison between UA reporting and GA4 reporting, you would likely see a discrepancy. In turn, if you run an internal monthly report for analytics, you will likely see a change in your ‘sessions’.
Upon first look, GA4 appears to have less reporting. However, whilst there are fewer standard reports, you can create your own custom reports – Which is very handy for that ad hoc analysis! Google has provided templates that you can use to get started. Looking at the new layout at first can be quite daunting. It is easy to default to using the old reporting methods, however, we encourage you to spend time setting up the reports, and exploring the tool because you will get more valuable insight from your analytics.
How to get GA4
To understand in greater detail how to get started on your Google Analytics, it is essential to know if you are running Google Analytics already.
Overall, GA4 provides modern and powerful analytics and it allows for more accurate and granular data collection, greater insights through AI and improved reporting options, making it more useful in our marketing efforts.
We are excited to see the continued development of web analytics, we recommend jumping in and exploring what it can do for you today! Take a look in particular at the new terminology so you are fit and ready when reporting to your senior management.
For more information on how we can support your digital marketing efforts, reach out to one of our specialists.
Analytics Platform by Google
Urchin was a web analytics platform that Google purchased and developed further in 2005.
The 2007 analytics platform was used to track visitors to your website.
Also known as ‘UA’, is the 3rd version of Google analytics launched in 2012.
Google Analytics 4
Also, known as ‘GA4’. The latest version of the analytics platform. All new accounts will be created using GA4, if you are using UA, you will need to migrate before the end of June 2023.
Analytic Terms - Universal Analytics (UA)
A session is considered a period of time a user is actively engaged on your site. A session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity or at midnight. It is considered a ‘hit’.
Events are specific actions to monitor on your website, such as a registration sign-up button being clicked. These events will have a Category, Action and Label and are considered a hit.
Where a user visits a page on your site but does not click on any other links and does not move between pages. They come to your site and leave without exploring more content.
Once a user has loaded a page of your website within their browser, this is called a Pageview.
A hit is considered any specific interaction between a user and your website. Essentially, any interaction resulting in data being sent to Google Analytics.
Analytics Terms - Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
a session is considered a period of time a user actively engages on your site, ending after 30 minutes of inactivity. A session will not end at midnight.
an event is considered a specific interaction between a user and your website, all actions are events.
This is an alternative method to Bounce Rate. If a user visits your site, reads content for a minute and leaves, this is no longer considered a bounce. It is considered engagement. Engagements are considered as:
a visitor lasting 10 seconds or longer,
a visitor having at least one conversion event, or
a visit having at least two screen/pageviews
Considered an event, this is where a user has loaded a page of your website within their browser.
Are not tracked in GA4 – These are now called Events