What’s changing with Google Analytics, and why should you care?

February 24, 2022

ITQ Digital caught up with the strategy, UX and conversion gurus from partner Square Owl, and learned how Google Analytics is changing for the better, and what e-commerce merchants should be doing to take advantage of new features, and a whole new approach to analytics.

What is changing with GA?

Carl: The world of data collection and data privacy is changing, with GDPR and the privacy concerns of users and governments putting pressure on Google to change the way they operate. Platforms are being forced to move away from 3rd party cookie tracking, the method that has been used for over 15 year, to tag and track web traffic. In addition, browsers have been changing the way that they manage cookies; for example, safari blocks analytics tracking by default.

Duncan: To respond, Google has announced it will become “privacy centric by design”. Google is changing its tools and methodology with the release of Google Analytics called GA4, which moves away from the paradigm of sessions and pageview tracking to more “event based tracking” where the onus is on the company to up the detail (obviously basic elements remain), and using data modelling AI to fill in the gaps and trends between events. Historically, Google has taken the “firehose” approach of collecting all the data and then letting you focus on what is interesting to you.

The new GA4 data will be richer by comparison, but will need more configuring in the future to get the really good insights out. The standard audience and attribution reports will no longer exist and will be replaced by more meaningful data on the events led to users leaving a website. which means GA will be able to present “opportunities” that were not originally made obvious to the user – not just how much traffic you lost, but why you lost it, and what to do about it!

Why Should Anybody Care?

Duncan: Google is not switching off the existing GA Universal Analytics platform for the foreseeable future, but as privacy controls, device privacy and browsers mature, it will become less and less effective. This means that the longer you wait to move to GA4, the more ineffective and inaccurate your insights will become. From an ROI perspective, any new investment in analytics, reporting and insights should be done on GA4, or its wasted effort.

Carl: In addition, GA4 is better integrated with Google Data Studio and GoogleAds so that insights can be actioned automatically within the Google ecosystem. This enables advanced users like Square Owl to mine the data much more easily (think of moving from using Microsoft Paint to being Tom Cruise in Minority Report!). Since the data is more powerful and actions and outcomes can be automated, it will be much clearer as to what event caused by what outcome, and what to do with that information. Ultimately, it will be easier to use, and more insightful.

How Should eCommerce Companies Respond?

Carl: Start now! Setup a new GA property from your existing GA account, or install a new container with Google Tag Manager (or your prefered tag management system), and just start using the two in tandem. There’s then a GA Wizard you can follow on how to collect data that makes it easy to configure. Don’t be concerned if there are small disparities between the old and the new analytics. If there are big ones, however, you might want to look into those! If you are an eCommerce business, you will also need to implement eCommerce tracking in GA4 and you’ll see some big improvements in what you can see as a result.

Duncan: I agree – get stuck in and get your hands dirty now, and see what it can do and why it’s better. We find that so many of our customers just click down the reports in the left hand menu of GA and understand the art of the possible but never apply it any further. The real power is in the slicing and dicing of the data, and using segmentation to dig deeper. At this stage, you can always bring specialists to explore these more advanced capabilities and learn what your customers are really doing, and how to enhance your web presence to better serve them.

How Will this Improve my Business?

Duncan: Companies have been using GA Universal Analytics for years, but in many cases they haven’t been digging below the surface. If you dig below the surface of the old GA, the insights get less reliable every day, and there are some things you simply can’t see.

Carl: Moving to GA4 allows you to see your user journeys in a new way, and it will get better and better with time. It’s a perfect time to reassess the metrics and KPIs that are important to your business, how you plan to track them and to discover what moves the needle. Starting with a robust tracking strategy for GA4 today will pay off in the future as you move to a more contextual measurement of your ROI.

Want to Know More?

If you have started tinkering with GA4 and want some guidance, please get in touch here and the ITQ and Square Owl teams would be only too happy to help out!