In October 2020, Google dropped a bombshell on the digital marketing world with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – the successor to Universal Analytics (UA).
Google heralded the new-and-improved version as the future of website analytics, with the capability to track the customer journey across multiple platforms and provide insights like never before; but no one really gave it any notice.
Now with only a few weeks left until it replaces UA, everyone has the same question on their minds:
What is GA4 and how does it actually work?
In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the GA4 universe, tackling those burning questions that should be keeping you up at night, like “How is GA4 different?”, “What are the benefits?” and “Where did the Bounce Rate disappear to?”
We’ll also reveal some exciting new features you need to have on your radar as a self storage operator.
What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
Google Analytics 4 is the fourth and latest iteration of Google Analytics.
It collects data and analyses traffic on your website or mobile app to provide valuable customer insights. This includes:
- the number of users visiting your website;
- how much time they spend engaging with it;
- the interactions they have with it;
- how many conversions are actually completed.
However, as consumer data gets stricter privacy laws and Google phases out third-party cookies, GA4 has emerged to accurately track and report customer behaviour over multiple devices.
So, how exactly does GA4 do this?
To explain that, we have to take a deep dive into the core components of Google Analytics 4 and how they impact data tracking for self storage operators.
One of the biggest differences between GA4 and UA is the shift from session-based measurement to events-based measurement.
Think of the difference between session-based measurement and event-based measurement as similar to a trip to the supermarket. The entire trip can be considered a session. During your trip, you walk down specific aisles, select products and make purchases.
- A session-based measurement would focus on things like: how long you spent in the supermarket, how many aisles you visited and how many items you purchased. In other words, the overall shopping experience.
- An events-based measurement would focus on things like: the specific aisles you visited, what products you looked at, your choice to purchase a certain brand of a product, whether you asked for assistance etc. In other words, the specific details of the shopping experience.
Why is this a good thing?
Well for one, events allow for more granular analysis and, therefore, a deeper understanding of user behaviour and engagement.
This user-centric approach highlights user properties, user engagement, and lifetime metrics across multiple sessions.
Let’s take a closer look at what GA4 events are.
Events & Parameters
With UA, sessions were the primary unit of measurement and data collection revolved around page views and sessions.
Now, GA4 spotlights events. While sessions are still tracked, user interactions, categorised as events, will be the primary unit of measurement.
These interactions are linked directly to a user and each event comes with extra information called parameters that provides additional context to the event.
For example, an event could be a button click, and the parameters could include the button’s label, like “Request a quote.”
These events and parameters need to be manually set up in order to be tracked. This means that events and parameters can be customised to track metrics that are more important to you, like contact forms or unit-size selection.
GA4 is designed to look at how individual users interact with your website or app, rather than just the overall numbers.
Previously, UA relied on User IDs embedded in cookies to track the customer journey. But there was one big problem; cookies couldn’t be transferred from one device to another.
Google’s solution? Advanced cross-device tracking.
The new feature introduces unique User IDs that are assigned when someone logs in to your app or website. If they leave and log in on a different platform, the reports will be able to track the user’s data with this ID.
Think of it like a loyalty program at your local grocery store.
When a shopper signs up for a loyalty programme, each individual shopping trip is connected to the previous ones through the shopper’s buying history. This allows the supermarket to home in on a single shopper’s behaviour. Similarly cross-device tracking connects individual user events across sessions.
Ultimately, GA4’s enhanced cross-device tracking gives you a seamless way to connect the dots and see the complete user journey from start to finish.
This allows you to gain key insights like:
- Whether users prefer converting on mobile or the website; or
- Tablet device use seemed to have a negative impact on conversions.
Privacy and Consent
This means you can configure settings to comply with privacy regulations, which enables you to prioritise user data protection.
What Are the Major Differences Between UA and GA4?
To better understand your insights, we’ve created a simple breakdown of the biggest differences between UA and GA4 and why they matter.
What Are the New GA4 Features and Capabilities?
Aside from its impressive tracking enhancements, Google also introduced a couple of important upgrades and new features to the platform.
Here are four you should have on your radar:
Enhanced Data Visualisation
If you take a squizz around your reports, you’ll notice that very little feels familiar.
The shift towards event-based tracking means that your reports put more focus on user engagement metrics, with three main reports available:
The reporting interface has also been improved to provide more intuitive and visually appealing data visualisations. While some marketers might disagree, it should make it easier to understand and interpret complex analytics data as we get used to this new look.
One of the many exciting upgrades of the platform is its machine learning capabilities. Machine learning allows computers to learn and improve themselves without needing to be programmed step by step.
GA4 incorporates advanced machine learning algorithms to provide self storage operators with valuable insights and automated recommendations.
Machine learning helps uncover hidden patterns in data, identify trends, and predict user behaviour. With this kind of information in the palm of your hands, you can make data-driven decisions and optimise your marketing strategies.
Improved Google Ads integration
GA4 offers improved integration with Google Ads, allowing self storage operators to seamlessly connect their advertising campaigns with analytics data.
This integration provides a more comprehensive view of the customer journey, from ad clicks to on-site interactions. As a result, you can better measure campaign effectiveness and optimise your ad spend.
We collect data from platforms like Google Analytics to understand customer behaviour; but what if you can predict it?
This is exactly what GA4 is attempting to achieve with their predictive metrics feature.
Leveraging machine learning, this new feature allows self storage operators to predict future customer behaviours like:
- Purchase probability
- Churn probability
- Revenue prediction
For self storage operators, these metrics can help you plan ahead, make smart decisions, and take actions to get the best possible results online and in-store.
What Metrics Have Changed?
Google Analytics 4 now has three user metrics: Total Users, New Users, and Active Users.
While UA also has Total Users and New Users, the new measurement model means that these are no longer the same. Let’s take a closer look.
- Total Users: Total number of unique users who logged an event
- New Users: Number of users who interacted with your site or launched your app for the first time. Measured by unique user IDs.
- Active Users: Any user who has an engaged session
Goals and e-commerce are combined into a single measurement called “Conversions”.
Conversions are tracked through the new events model. An event is triggered when users engage with your website or app. To track the success of your self storage website, you can mark specific events as conversions.
One example is when a user hits the “select unit size” button. Whenever one of these marked events occurs, it is counted as a conversion in the reports.
Bounce rate might have been a big deal back in the earlier days of analytics, but as technology gets more efficient, it’s no longer serving a purpose to digital marketers.
Think about it. If your self storage website has a flawless UI (user interface) and seamless architecture that allows visitors to float straight to the quote funnel, your bounce rate will be higher than expected.
As a result, GA4 measures bounce rate differently, favouring engagement over how much time is spent on the page. Google sums it up as the “inverse of Engagement Rate”.
It is calculated by looking at the percentage of sessions where users visit your website, look at the homepage briefly (less than 10 seconds), and leave without triggering an event or visiting other pages.
This new method of measurement allows you to gauge the depth of customer involvement within your website or app, giving you insights that can guide your decision-making and enhance user experiences.
What Are Some of the Current Challenges in GA4?
While Google Analytics 4 promises to be the next best thing, not everyone is convinced. From missing metrics and a lack of customisation to truly detestable design, Google has received some serious backlash in the digital marketing space.
So, if you’re finding some things tricky, take comfort in the fact that you share this frustration with many others. There are three major problems you should know about.
Pre-Made Reports Are Missing
With the upgrade came a big cut on the number of pre-made reports available.
For those who rely on these built-in reports, it could mean that some insights might be lost, reducing the full picture they once had at a glance.
That said, GA4’s new reports do offer a far greater ability to create your own custom reports based on your specific needs.
If you ask any SEO specialist at Digital First what they would change about GA4, they’ll say user interface.
The new look and measurement model means that it can be a real adventure to find simple things, with commonly used features often buried within the interface.
For complete beginners to GA4, this can be a real hassle and time-waster. Plus, the pared-down menu layout makes it more difficult to see updated features and new releases on the platform.
Bad Data Backups
When it comes to backing up your data, GA4 is not as hands-on.
The platform keeps data for only two months as a default, and if you want to extend that period, you have to manually increase this setting.
The upgrade also means that you won’t be able to access historical data in UA come July 2024.