Google Analytics 4 has Arrived
Google has a long history of shaking things up in the world of S.E.O. Changes to the search engine results algorithm changes annually, and in some years we see many different changes. Google isn’t very forthcoming with the all but the most important factors that change leaving the effects of each up date to a series of trial and error testing. When Google changes, the web changes with it, because even though there are many search engine indexes around the world, Google stands as the index with the highest share of the market.
If you can make Google rank your website favorably, then you can win over Bing or Yahoo.
A brief history of Google Analytics
Google Analytics, the main tool that many of us use to measure our objective success with our websites, is undergoing a major facelift this year. It was released in October 2020, and it’s called Google Analytics 4. The name might seem confusing, given the SEO communities scramble around GA4, getting their websites on the new system, and how long to wait until we abandon the old system’s data. You might be asking yourself why this new Analytic system is big news, right?
Google Analytics, like the search algorithm, sees updates almost annually since Google Analytics was launched in 2011. Of course, 2011 isn’t the start of SEO tracking, before 2011 the biggest name in website analytic analysis was Urchin, developed by a company that Google acquired in 2005.
Urchin used data extracted from server logs and combined the data with tracking through page tags in order to capture accurate web visitor data. Urchin gave ISP’s and web hosts a way to sell their users useful statistics to help drive internet traffic.
In 2011, Google stopped developing new versions of Urchin and launched a platform more widely available platform for users, and they called it Google Analytics. Google Analytics was helpful for web admins in the know, but it was primarily designed to be used in conjunction with Google Ads and the Google Website Optimizer.
The dashboard is what makes Google Analytics so powerful, because it’s designed generate custom reports, has a user friendly interface, and is capable of tracking usage in real-time and integrated into goal flow charts.
In October 2012, Google launched Universal Analytics, which took Google analytics and introduced cross platform tracking, the flexibility to track data from device to device, and the ability to create custom metrics for things that Google doesn’t track by default. If you wanted to track action on a particular element, Universal Analytics allowed you to generate your own tracking report.
Google Analytics 360 was launched 2016, and it was a software suite that streamlined interaction with Universal Analytics, and offered additional functionality for tracking tags, surveying data, and generating optimized reports.
In 2017 Analytics created a Global Site Tag function that made implementing Analytics on your website easier. In 2018, analytics unleashed a Marketing Platform which combined Analytics 360 with DoubleClick Digital Marketing, which was an ads server. All of these changes that followed the release of the 2012 Google Analytics dashboard integrated with what was already in use. The average user may not have really noticed any of these changes while they were happening, because the changes were fairly seamless.
In October of 2020, Google released Google Analytics 4, or GA4, and required users to move over into a new platform.
What changed with GA4, and why is it such a big deal?
The first reason that GA4 is such a big deal, and the biggest cause of this latest S.E.O. scramble, is that for the first time in 8 years administrators are being asked to start over from scratch. None of the data from Google Analytics will migrate over to the new dashboard. That has not been an easy pill to swallow, because a lot of time and money has been invested in Google Analytics data.
The reasoning is pretty straightforward. The new data-tracking system is built on A.I. machine learning to authoritatively identify and predict trends. Because the data is being tracked using new metrics and a new algorithmic process, there is no way to convert the old data to the new system. Because the new system is so dependent on machine learning, introducing old data to a new environment would skew the accuracy of collected data. It would defeat the purpose of developing an entirely new tracking process.
So what kind of improved tracking and insights can we expect from GA4?
Data trends can help e-commerce store owners predict products whose demand is rising. So for drop shippers, who use services like AliExpress or Spocket, this gives them increased insight into what products are growing in demand, and should be featured content in their online stores. This type of trend tracking can be used to help e-commerce store owners predict not only what products are going to be in popular demand, but they can give admins insight into users will interactive with their website.
99% of creating an effective website is in knowing what a user wants, how a user will respond to the layout and content of your site, and adjusting both content and layout to reflect what you know to be true.
GA4’s predictive analytics can help you keep your eye on the ball before the ball is even thrown.
Google has said that it has a lot of metrics that it plans to release over time. For example, as the predictive analytics technology matures, it will be able to use audience interaction trends to help you accurately predict churn probabilities. If you haven’t taken a minute to look over my marketing glossary, you might not know that churn rate is the rate at which customers stop doing business with you. This is usually expressed as the percentage of customers who discontinue their use of your service at a given time.
So if your imagination is running wild, like mine, just imagine if you might gain a better understanding of your customer’s jumping-off point. It’s almost like having a rewind button, except instead of saving customers who have left; you can potentially make adjustments to keep them from ever leaving in the first place. The possibilities for this sort of predictive learning are practically unlimited.
GA4 will now let you use predictive analytics to better build your Google Ads integration
As GA4 becomes more commonplace across the internet, it can use the integrations with Google’s marketing platforms to create a strong understanding of conversion, by cross-referencing performance across websites and apps. As an example, if you are building a YouTube channel, then you can track machine learning trends across web browsers, the YouTube app, Google search results, social media, email, and other channels. This will give you a combined outlook, and a more natural view of how your audience is engaging without the usual guesswork that comes with running multiple data collecting streams across the various platforms.
GA4 has a strong customer-centric data focus
Currently, Google analytics has a measurement device that is fragmented by device, browser platform, and a few limited custom metrics that an analyst can setup. But a lot of these views can be extremely limiting, and marketers have longed for more dependable means of segmenting their demographics more accurately. This type of analytic fragmentation is very helpful for building user profiles in marketing efforts.
But imagine a more comprehensive understanding of your traffic. For example, Google can follow a user’s traffic backwards to see if the user found your website by an ad, which ad, and then compare that traffic by their onsite interaction. So if I’m A/B testing a Google Ad with different wording, and one of the ads performs better consistently, than I can conclude that ad wording is successful, and try something else with my unsuccessful ad. Remember, professional grade advertising is about tracking results and adjusting your efforts based on audience reactions. With better customer centric data, we can make better, more informed, decisions.
Once you know what digital marketing channels are driving your traffic and conversion rates, you can double down on these efforts and boost your ROI.
GA4’s dashboard looks familiar but offers a new range of customization in how data is tracked and used.
If you’re in the professional webmaster club, you might be thinking about how these new levels of machine learning and data collection might affect your privacy policies. GDPR and CCPA compliance are both important aspects of working in the professional world of web development. Google knows this, and so they have created a set of granular controls. You can turn on different levels of consent for analytic data collection through your website using a gtag system of consent (Simo Ahava has written an excellent blog about how consent mode is turned on and used).
In other words, Google has simplified a method of collecting consent that is compliant with the GDPR and CCPA requirements.
Best of all, third-party cookies are being phased out and Google is ready to continue data collection without them.
Welcome to the future of Google Analytics
The good news about the new system is that even though you can’t migrate Universal Analytic data with GA4 you have the option of running both systems concurrently. This gives professional S.E.O experts plenty of time to figure out what all of this means for their business. I suspect that as data begins rolling in, the S.E.O. community will embrace the data collection methods and celebrate the value of data coming in from across their various platforms.
I’m really excited about the opportunities to apply predictive analytics to my marketing strategy, but only time is going to tell if I’m right or wrong on this issue.