After 17 long years, Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) platform is nearing its end, with an expiration date set for July 1, 2023. This is more significant than it may seem, as over 86% of businesses rely on it to monitor their website performance.
UA has been a good tool. Yes, it has served us all. But it’s far from perfect, with a list of limitations that we conveniently swept under the rug for years. (Like, what the hell does bounce rate really say about reader engagement?)
But things are about to get better.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the sleek and sophisticated replacement for UA, giving us the power to evolve our thinking about web analytics in general.
It will even help non-technical users to think more deeply about their On-Page analysis (all those internal optimizations that can be done on our website to improve rankings) and elevate our Off-Page visibility (actions taken beyond your website).
Even if you’re a die-hard UA fan, we recommend starting to use GA4 in parallel from now on.
You’ll be able to run the previous platform in parallel until it’s gradually phased out. This will allow you to gather a database for GA4 and start working exclusively with this tool from July 2023, as the two are not directly compatible.
GA4 will provide more granular and reliable information about On-Page actions with its enhanced measurement tools.
By tracking On-Page activity, GA4 will simplify what was technically possible with UA. While the latter required customization (in the form of manually adding tags through Google Tag Manager), GA4 will streamline things with its ready-to-use enhanced measurement suite.
Unlike UA, you will now be able to track multiple interactions on your website – from how far a visitor has scrolled down your page to their interactions with specific videos and clicks on outgoing links. That means more specific data with less work. So, this is incredible news! Your team won’t need as much technical knowledge to conduct in-depth analysis of your website (and there’s less risk of them messing things up).
Let’s take a look at some of our favorite new features of GA4:
1- Scroll depth: Provides data on how much a user has scrolled on your page (and therefore how engaged they are). Perfect for understanding where engagement drops off and fixing it. We can’t emphasize enough how many arguments this will resolve!
2- Outbound link clicks: Do you have a page full of outbound links? Identify which ones your visitors click on the most.
3- Video interactions: When you create a new GA4 property, Enhanced Measurement is automatically enabled. This is a set of features that track events and provide reports. It also includes reports on any YouTube videos embedded on your webpage by default. And this is incredibly reassuring. Because you no longer have to choose between getting on-page video analytics or embedding YouTube. Which means, hallelujah, no more keeping videos in two separate places… with two separate sets of analytics.
4- Time-based measurements: Time-based measurements also reveal visitor behavior. For example, GA4’s elapsed time feature shows how long, on average, visitors take to complete a defined set of steps. Good news if you want to understand how long it takes prospects to complete your surveys or read your blog before moving on to a product page.
Bounce Rate is dead.
GA4 abandons the bounce rate metric in favor of an engagement rate, which helps show the user journey in a broader way (it doesn’t record data if users stay on the site but don’t interact with it). As a result, you can say goodbye to the guesswork that comes with average session durations.
We said that GA4 changes extend far beyond On-Page activity. Its Off-Page layer has a different approach to measurement, one designed to make a deeper impact than its predecessor. Bounce rate is dead. Excellent! No one really knew what the hell it meant anyway. Slow page load? Misleading descriptions? Error 404? Take your pick.
Its replacement frees us from this prison of confusion.
It considers both the page where your visitors are and the other stops they make as part of their nonlinear journey. This allows you to see a more connected user journey as it actually happens.
The bounce rate was far from perfect. Why? Because the data collected by UA is simply not as reliable.
Let’s say a prospect accesses one of your pages, then after five minutes, they leave without closing their tab. Google UA would still record that idle time as the duration of that prospect’s session. That sucks because you could end up with a session duration of «five minutes» even though your website visitor abandoned much earlier: UA is as accurate as a drunk archer.
GA4 rectifies all of this. It knows when users switch tabs, for example… and, therefore, records session duration with much greater precision.
Understanding GA4’s Engagement Rate
GA4’s engagement rate metric provides much more clarity about the frequency and volume of visitor interactions. It is no longer tied to page visits as a key metric, allowing you to capture more nuanced interactions that could lead to a conversion, such as a visitor watching a video on your homepage and then leaving (to send an email to one of your sales reps).
Setting the stage for a cookieless future
GA4’s machine learning paints a decent picture of how marketing analytics can thrive in the absence of cookies, using cookieless event lifecycle tracking tools to record user interactions. You’ll have a better understanding of your audience across multiple sessions and devices, and a richer view of each unique journey.
Beyond the shiny new metrics, the release of GA4 raises interesting questions about the future of marketing itself. Most analytics tools, including UA, rely on cookies to determine user behavior. As we rush into an uncertain future without them, a platform that can navigate that uncertainty is key.
Designed to prioritize privacy, GA4 can operate without cookies. Machine learning plays a significant role in this, «filling in the gaps» to replace cookies. It also enhances cross-device and cross-platform tracking. By aggregating user data from apps and websites into a single property, GA4 brings together data from multiple devices. As a result, you can track user interactions across both desktop and mobile platforms.
The new platform also makes you a reporting god. GA4 integrates with BigQuery (Google’s data warehouse). This means you can choose from multiple analysis options, from connecting the collected data to third-party APIs to embedding them in visualization tools for smarter insights that can be shared.
B2B digital marketing can feel a bit like a battlefield. The internet is a noisy and crowded place (with many distracting factors), and having a firm grip on the pulse of your website greatly contributes to determining how successful you’ll be. GA4 supercharges that grip. By providing you with a more 360 understanding of how people interact with your site beyond on-page activity, you’ll be better equipped to adjust what works and what doesn’t.
Event-based data models are here to stay, and that should excite you. Don’t forget to prepare now before it’s too late.
If you want to implement GA4 on your website and receive guidance on how to make the most of it, contact us, and an advisor from our team of Anagram experts will be able to assist you.