Peter Drucker, known to some as the founding father of management, once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
That’s been the whole idea behind Google’s Analytics platform for 15 years. In that time, the data giant has gone through a metamorphosis to become the most-utilized web analytics service in the world. Not too shabby for a platform that had its humble beginnings in the Urchin software platform.
Now, Google has rolled out the newest iteration of its Analytics platform, known as Google Analytics 4. As of last Wednesday, the newest interface is available to everyone with an Analytics account and will be the default for new property setups moving forward.
The new rollout serves as an expansion of Google’s App + Web property, which has been in beta since July of last year. With the upgrade comes better cross-channel integration, including a more robust linkage with Google Ads and incorporation of better YouTube metrics; deeper predictive insights; and more granular data drill-down capabilities. No doubt in response to the growing cry for better data protection, the new Google Analytics 4 will also give users better control over how their site visitors’ Analytics data is stored and utilized.
THE NEW GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4 FEATURES
With Google Analytics 4’s precursor, the Web + App platform, users were given the ability to track a set of common activity and conversion events across both web and app properties all in one place. Prior to the beta rollout in 2019, users historically had to use two separate entities to track web and app traffic—Google Analytics for web properties, and Google Analytics Firebase for mobile app properties.
Now, Google is making cross-channel views even easier to come by with the rollout of Google Analytics 4, which, on top of all-in-one app and web tracking capabilities, includes better integration with the Google Ads platform. While there are multiple new features that come with this, the most noteworthy feature is the new Search Ads 360 report, which can be found in the Acquisition section of any property. In this report, advertisers can find what Google calls “ABC metrics,” which consist of acquisitions, behaviors, and conversions.
Plus, since web and app traffic can all be tracked in one place, marketers can more accurately cultivate and maintain audience targeting lists. For example, if a consumer qualified for a particular audience list based on an action taken on the web, and that same consumer then completed a conversion in-app, that consumer would automatically be removed from the targeting list. In layman’s terms, that consumer wouldn’t be retargeted with ads since they already converted, ultimately saving advertisers both time and money.
Taking it one step further, Google Analytics 4 also features the ability to pull YouTube engagement and conversions into the Analytics interface. Metrics like clicks and engagements from the video platform can now be pulled in Analytics’ Top paths, Path metrics, and Assisted conversions reports.
Codeless Event Tracking
With the newest iteration of Google Analytics also comes codeless event tracking, which is arguably one of the most exciting new features of this rollout, in our humble opinion. Prior to Google Analytics 4, marketers had to add code to a website and/or set up custom event tracking using Google Tag Manager to track certain event metrics, such as button clicks, video plays, and page scroll. Not only is this an additional step (and in our world, extra steps mean more room for error), but this method of reporting also results in data lag because of the extra processing time needed to evaluate the data across multiple entities. Even getting data 24 hours later could result in delayed optimizations and wasted money.
It seems that this particular headache is being alleviated by the new Google Analytics 4, which gives marketers the ability to track both on-site and in-app actions that are meaningful to them without any additional code. This is truly a game changer in the industry, as it will save a significant amount of time in the long run. And, most importantly, these actions will now be tracked in real-time in the Analytics platform. Immediacy in data allows marketers to be much more nimble and proactive when it comes to pivoting strategies. This comes at a perfect time since we’ve all gained a greater respect for the ability to shift tactics quickly this past year.
Analysis Module and New Predictive Models
Another new feature of the Google Analytics 4 platform (which was also rolled out as part of Web + App) is the Analysis module, which is sure to delight data nerds everywhere. This new section equips users with the power to analyze their property’s data in ways more flexible than those provided by Analytics’ standard reporting. This includes “Funnel,” a section used to determine entrance and exit points for a property, “Exploration,” which gives users the ability to drag and drop data visualizations, and “Path Analysis,” which aids advertisers in understanding a customer’s full journey and potential reasons a conversion may or may not have happened.
Google is also flexing its powerful machine learning muscles with the newest Analytics rollout. The new Google Analytics 4 has the capability to alert users in real-time of notable trends in data, such as rising product popularity, and can even make some predictions based off of data trends it’s seeing. One example Google gives is the updated platform’s ability to predict customer churn, allowing brands to more smartly invest in retaining customers. This gives brands and advertisers alike more visibility into the entire customer relay and empowers them to make smarter decisions regarding customer retention strategies.
Better Data Controls and Modeling
With Google Analytics 4, Google has really put some thought into what the future of data collection and analytics will look like. Perhaps the most critical component to the new Analytics rollout is a different approach to data controls within the interface. This gives property managers multiple ways to control the way data is collected, stored, and used on their web and app properties. Some touted capabilities include anonymizing IP addresses, setting data retention periods, disabling some or all data collection, and choosing what data to share with team members and with Google. Clearly Google is taking notice of the general population’s growing savvy to how their data is being collected and utilized.
On a similar note, Google is also preparing its Analytics platform users for a world without cookies (don’t panic—it’s not the kind of cookie you’re thinking of). For years, accurate measurement has heavily relied on HTTP cookies, which are small bits of data stored on a user’s device by a web browser. However, with the growing use of multiple devices by each consumer, many of which aren’t desktop or laptop computers, cookie-based tracking is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
In an effort to shift to more customer-centric, rather than device-focused, measurement, Google aims to fill the huge gaps between cross-device data with a “more flexible approach to measurement,” as Google’s Vice President of Measurement, Analytics, and Buying Platforms Vidhya Srinivasan called it in a blog post about the new Google Analytics 4 rollout.
In an ever-evolving fight for greater transparency and accuracy, Google also plans to rely more heavily on data modeling in the future, theoretically filling in even more data gaps. At its core, modeling refers to the use of machine learning capabilities to assess the influence of various marketing efforts. Google claims their modeling will allow for more accurate measurement in a cookie-less world. As Google’s Director of Product Management, Phil McDonnell, said, “Accurate measurement is the essential foundation upon which your ongoing learnings, decisions, and optimizations are built.”
There’s no denying that as technology advances, the customer journey becomes increasingly more complex and, often, more difficult to analyze and view in a holistic way. Advertisers have already been feeling this weight—according to a study done by Forrester Consulting, 84% of decision-makers consider cross-platform analytics to be critical. Google is seemingly aiming to assuage these impacts with the new Google Analytics 4, providing users with better cross-channel integrations, more variable data analysis views, and machine learning-based technology to make smarter predictions and inferences.
For any new properties moving forward, Google recommends setting them up as Google Analytics 4 properties, since improvements and additions will only be available in this newest interface. For existing properties, Google suggests creating a Google Analytics 4 property to use in conjunction with your Universal Analytics property.
If you need assistance navigating the newest Analytics rollout, or aren’t even sure where to start, drop us a line. We’d be happy to help.