The end of cookies is drawing nearer. As a marketer, you may be anticipating this crumb-free life the way others look forward to a new diet: with hope but also a little dread.
The new regimen is worthwhile though, especially for those who’ve done their homework. The transition to more privacy enhances customer protection without sacrificing worthwhile data that digital marketers need to find and engage with the right people.
One key change to wrap your arms around is Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the tech behemoth’s new analytics platform. (Created in part in anticipation of the company’s plan to disable all cookies on Google Chrome by late 2024.)
In our opinion, GA4 is the more holistic product because it tracks usage across multiple devices and touchpoints, providing key information about customer behavior. (A quick vocabulary refresher for those outside the world of digital marketing: analytics are the data behind who is engaging with you online and how, an essential component to building strategies and making decisions around your digital presence.)
How do we know? Once GA4 became available, Interrupt’s digital marketing team started a parallel tracking project for our clients, taking measure of their analytics on both the old Universal Analytics and the new version. We discovered that not only are there no losses to data, in some ways the information is deeper, thanks in part to the engagement of machine learning in “reading” the data.
Let’s dive into some of the key differences you can look forward to.
Key Features and Benefits of GA4
Enhanced User Journey Tracking
GA4 allows businesses to track user interactions across multiple devices and platforms, providing a more accurate and complete picture of customer journeys. In other words, you’ll be able to better understand when a single user is visiting your site from multiple devices. Previously, each device counted as a separate session, which can artificially inflate traffic counts.
While your number of visitors may appear to go down at first, the new numbers should actually be more accurate and helpful.
Event-Driven Data Model
Unlike Universal Analytics, which relies heavily on page views, GA4 utilizes an event-driven data model that focuses on tracking specific actions users take on a website or app. Put another way, the cookie-based UA model would tick the visitor box every time someone comes to your site, regardless of what they do there. (Sure, we could track page views and a few other broad actions, but not with much detail.)
GA4 measures events like scrolling and clicks to help you see how they interact with the content on each page. Best of all, events are customizable so you can zero in on specific activities you want to measure. This approach allows you to gain deeper insights into user engagement, behavior, and conversions—and ultimately make better data-driven decisions.
Insights Powered by Machine Learning
An exciting new feature in GA4 is that it incorporates machine learning algorithms. New predictive modeling tools will automatically surface valuable insights that help companies identify trends—insights that can be used to optimize marketing efforts and make your site more effective.
With increasing concerns about data privacy, GA4 provides a privacy-centric framework in line with evolving regulations and user expectations. It offers more control over data collection, provides advanced consent options, and helps businesses navigate privacy challenges, all while still gaining valuable insights.
Streamlined Integration with Google Marketing Platform
While UA was fairly easy to use, Google says GA4 will be seamless to use with its suite of marketing tools such as Optimize, Tag Manager, Campaign Manager 360, Display & Video 360, and Search Ads 360, enabling businesses to “leverage the power of a unified ecosystem.”
Transitioning from Universal Analytics to GA4
The move from Universal Analytics to GA4 marks a significant shift in how companies can harness their data. But the migration process requires careful planning and execution to ensure a smooth transition.
For the past year, Interrupt has been planning for the upcoming changeover by implementing an instance of GA4 for all clients while continuing to track via Universal Analytics (basically deploying the new product while keeping our eye on the old one, too). This approach has helped us compare and validate the data accuracy between GA4 and Universal Analytics and recognize how the same traffic and activities will present differently in the new environment.
As the transition continues, we encourage all businesses to familiarize themselves with the new interface and its features. We will continue to assess client data needs and validate that GA4 can meet their requirements while serving as a resource for a more seamless transition.
The Bottom Line
The switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 signifies a transformative step in the field of data analytics. GA4 empowers businesses to gain a more comprehensive understanding of user behavior, optimize marketing efforts, and make data-driven decisions.
Embracing the change and leaning into the power of GA4 will lead to improved online efficiencies for all businesses. A cookie-free future can still be a satisfying one.