What is Google Analytics 4?

So – recently Google has been sending around an email about Google Analytics 4 (GA4). In light of that, we thought we’d put together a little explainer on what GA4 is, what it means for you and whether you should consider setting it up. Bear with us, because our old friends at Google can get pretty technical – but we’ll try to explain in lay terms what the go is! 

What is Google Analytics?

If you own a website and use Google Analytics, the platform can show you valuable insights to help you understand how people use your site and how you can make it better. It does this by collecting depersonalised data – usually an IP address, a location, and information about which pages of the site were visited, how long for and in which order. 

We found a great, simple explanation on Reddit (of course) about how you can use that data. In this post, a user explains:

‘As a site owner, I can use that information to find out things about my visitors to make the site better. A few examples: I get a lot of visitors from Russia (I should think about adding a Russian language version of the site!). People always visit my main help page and don’t open any other help pages (Maybe my help section sucks!). People spend an average of 5 seconds on my welcome page (Maybe I should just get rid of the page if nobody’s spending any time reading it!). Most of my users always visit the same page (I should focus less effort on other pages, or put in more effort into making those other pages more appealing!)’

In these examples, the information supplied by Google Analytics helps the site owner make sure their website is easy to use, informative and fulfils its purpose. By extension, that helps the site rank better on search engines and just generally helps their potential customers convert into paying customers. 

Ok, that makes sense. So what is GA4? Is it just the latest version of Google Analytics?

In a nutshell, yes – but it’s still just called Google Analytics. Google Analytics is like the product name (e.g. macOS) but Google Analytics 4 is the iteration of the platform (e.g. macOS Big Sur). The previous version (the one you’re probably still using) is called Universal Analytics (UA). It’s not called Google Analytics 3. They don’t like to make it easy for us!

Got it. So what’s the difference between UA and GA4?

GA4 is set to eventually replace UA. It is easier to use, faster to configure and built to focus on useful insights powered by machine learning. It’s also built to maintain privacy and avoid the need to set cookies unnecessarily (if you don’t know much about cookies, we’ve got a blog on that too!) GA4 is also set to include some more technical cool bits and pieces, like cross-platform analytics and seamless integration with other Google products. 

That all sounds like a good thing – so should I just switch?

NOT YET! Google doesn’t recommend switching to GA4 at the moment. That’s mostly because your GA4 account won’t have any support for old and useful metrics. 

Since it can’t access historical data, switching means you will lose important context on how your website is used. Instead, Google and SEO forums recommend setting up GA4 to run in parallel with the older GA account so your UA data remains intact and accessible. That way, you get the best of both worlds and can experiment with GA4 as it matures. This will also allow GA4 to gather historical data before you make the switch in full. 

It’s a bit like switching banks – you need to keep your old account open for a while longer in case you still need it. Google is certainly moving toward a GA4-centric future, but you don’t need to abandon UA while it’s still useful. There’s no public timeline for sunsetting it, so you’ll likely be able to use it for quite a while. 

Eventually, everyone will make a full switch to GA4, but you may as well get started now.  

Understood. So how do I set up GA4?

If you’re a Roobix client, the good news is you don’t need to worry about how to do it. Just reach out to your Marketing Delivery Officer and ask them, we’ll get it sorted ASAP! 

If you’re not a Roobix client, reach out here or drop us a line on 13 30 40. If you could do with an extra pair of hands (or 60) when it comes to the technical stuff, we’ll chat to you about our Managed Marketing Service (MMS). 

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