The Gist

  • Google Analytics 4 (GA4) ingredients. AI-powered predictive analytics, customer lifecycle reporting and more.
  • Privacy, please. GA4 provides more privacy controls.
  • Better CX. Transitioning to GA4 ultimately should lead to better customer experiences. Why?

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of two articles covering key aspects of the upcoming retirement of Universal Analytics and transition to Google Analytics 4. See the first article here: Google Analytics: 4 Tips to Transition from Universal Analytics

If you’re currently using Google Analytics you will likely know that a new version of the platform — known as Google Analytics 4 (GA4) — has been available for a while, and Google has gently been encouraging you to upgrade from the existing version, known as “Universal Analytics." Universal Analytics will be retired on July 1, 2023, and everyone must upgrade by then. Subscribers to Google Analytics 360, the paid-for service, will have a little longer as Universal Analytics will be phased out in 2024.

Recently we covered four tips to consider when transitioning to GA4. In this follow-up article, we cover some of the new features in GA4 and why you should be welcoming the opportunity to upgrade.

What Is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 is much more than just an upgrade to what was Google Analytics 3. It actually incorporates a new underlying data model that takes on a far more granular view of tracking user behavior based on events, leading to a more accurate reflection of how users browse and experience a site. It also leverages artificial intelligence to improve metrics, for example, filling the gaps left by the decline in tracking cookies. 

While this does mean potential improvements to measurement with improved analytics, it also means it’s a greater change when upgrading from Universal Analytics, with a steeper learning curve and an interruption in the continuity of reporting. This means that the switch can feel like an effort; however, we believe there are multiple new features that make the upgrade definitely worthwhile.

Let’s explore eight of the new features in GA4:

1. AI-Powered Predictive Analytics

One of the most powerful features of GA4 is the ability to leverage AI in order to deliver predictive analytics that can help deliver insights to support planning around sales, campaigns and user engagement activities. The predictive analytics come through dedicated reports that cover:

  • Purchase probability: chance an active user will log a “conversion event” such as making a sale
  • Churn probability: chance of an active user will not be active within the next seven days
  • Predicted revenue: revenue expected from all purchase conversations from an active user

Predictive analytics are a powerful feature that can encourage digital marketing teams to be active in using insights delivered by Google Analytics. However, note that predictive analytics requires a significant volume of returning visitors and some set-up to work to be enabled, so won’t benefit all GA4 users.

Related Article: Predictive Analytics: Overcoming Data Swamps in Tech's Dynamic Landscape

2. Reporting Around the Customer Lifecycle

One of the strong points of GA4 is that reporting is based more around the customer lifecycle than in Universal Analytics. Views are provided at each stage — acquisition, engagement, monetization and retention — with the ability to drill down into each of the associated reports.

Arguably this default structure is more aligned to a more customer-centric view of the world, and better reflects the way digital marketing teams think about customer experience and a site’s overall aim to support conversions. Taking that more holistic view of the customer lifecycle should encourage teams to make more meaningful and impactful changes to their site.

3. Tracking Web and App Interactions

Because GA4 is based on a new underlying data model which covers every interaction rather than on a per-session basis, it means the reporting is far more granular. This also means it can far better track browsing behavior which is increasingly done through apps such as Facebook and Twitter, and across different devices. The ability for GA4 to more accurately track web and app interactions is one of its key advantages over Universal Analytics.

Related Article: Leveraging Google Data Studio as the GA4 Transition Looms

4. Options to Customize Reports

GA4 does offer some options for you to create your own custom reports either from scratch, or edit existing ones. helping you to get more value out of the GA4. This is enabled through the report builder facility, which provides a low-code, no-code interface to configure views that will provide value. 

Learning Opportunities

“Detailed reports” can have variable date ranges, dimensions, metrics, charts and summaries. These reports can also be added to the left-hand navigation to make them easier to access. You can also create custom “overview reports,” which act more as an overall dashboard made up of summary cards of different aspects of reporting. The process of configuring reports tends to be a valuable exercise, because it forces teams to explore the different metrics that are available in GA4, and define those that will be most actionable.

5. Exploring Data Through the 'Explorations' Section

Explorations” is one of the most interesting features in GA4. It’s essentially an opportunity to explore your data in greater detail to gain richer insights. Explorations allows you to carry out queries, drill down into data sets, filter data, create segments and audiences and even export the data. Explorations is a very flexible editing interface consisting of a:

  • Canvas to drill down and query data
  • A variables panel to define dimensions, metrics and segments used in the exploration
  • The ability to configure different tabs so you can explore your data in a number of different ways

The Exploration interface can take a bit of getting used to, but when used successfully it’s an exciting feature that really allows you to interact with your data, test a hypothesis and take a more advanced approach to analytics. 

6. More Privacy Controls

Data privacy needs to be top of mind for every digital marketing team, and GA4 has introduced various features to make it more GDPR-compliant. These include:

  • The ability to anonymize IP addresses, which is regarded as Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Shorter default options for the period of data storage
  • More granular controls to ensure GA4 tracks user behavior based on their consent preferences
  • The ability to delete an individual’s user data against a particular time period, to ensure you can fully meet requests for a user to delete their data

7.  Compensation for the Cookie Apocalypse

The more rigorous approaches to data privacy has meant that tracking cookies have been in decline. This has created problems in terms of gaps in site metrics.

However, GA4 aims to use artificial intelligence to compensate for any gaps in data, and adjust metrics to take this into account.

8.  Event and Conversion Tracking

Previously when tracking specific events on your website using the suite of Google Analytics tools meant configuring Google Tag Manager or using custom code, both of which could prove to be quite fiddly.

However, GA4 provides the opportunity for much easier event tracking via a no code approach. It also is possible to track conversions by marking a specific event as a conversion.

GA4: Time to Make the Switch!

If you haven’t yet made the switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 we’d urge you not to delay it any further. You only have a few months left, and doing so early gives you more time to get used to the new features. 

GA4 is a feature-rich platform that can drive a lot of value, particularly for a freemium platform, while also helping you to navigate some challenges around data privacy. It also provides a more robust and customer-centric view of analytics than previous versions, that will ultimately help drive insights to improve customer experiences and increase your conversions.

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