Is it time to upgrade your analytics? 6 under-reported benefits of GA4

With Google having called time on Universal Analytics, now could be the right moment to get on board with a fancy new AI-tastic incarnation.

Switching now not only means new features straight away, for at least a year you can run the new and old side by side while you find your feet, explains Can Ozcer, Head of Expertise & Innovation at 55…

Google’s announcement on a sunset date for Universal Analytics (UA) has led to many brands frantically figuring out how to carry out the major change of switching to GA4. This is, for many, a paradigm shift. The first real overhaul since the beginning of Google Analytics. But this shouldn’t be a moment of fear and instead should be seen as an opportunity. Indeed there are several under-reported benefits for those who embrace GA4 today.

Time to act

GA4 is Google's next generation analytics product and will be Google’s only analytics product starting from the second half of 2023. The free version of the ‘old-gen’ GA, UA is going to stop processing data in July 2023. The enterprise GA360 version of it will only survive until October 2023.

GA4 has a vastly different engine under the hood so a different approach is required. This means analysts should adopt different approaches compared to when they were using UA, with a real focus on a wide plethora of business questions, whether concerning website / app behaviour or marketing effectiveness.

What is really different?

Central to this new system is a move away from a session-based approach and towards an event-based one. This has been popularised by successful ‘product analytics’ suites such as MixPanel and Amplitude. This reflects the move away from the static websites for which sessions and pageviews were perfectly suitable. Today people engage with content in different ways, with websites being called ‘web apps’ – reflecting the fact that they behave in a far more dynamic fashion.

By introducing a bottom-up structure of individual events, GA4 encourages you to come up with whatever is meaningful for your business as an individual unit for analysis. There is a need to work on building a new set of reporting and insight frameworks, but that can only happen after learning about this new system. 

Six reasons to adopt GA4 today:

1) You will get the chance to focus on what is really important

This will be defined by you and your team, rather than trying to fit square pegs to round holes that are Universal Analytics' ‘standard reports’ and event category, action, label structure. GA4 is designed to give you the freedom to focus on the few things that matter, as long as you are up for it – it does mean leaving your safety (vanity) analytics blanket behind and carefully thinking about what measurement framework you and your organisation need.

2) Faster reporting & more powerful features

Thanks to the events-based architecture, data processing & report rendering will be faster. You can now set up Custom Alerts that evaluate its condition much more frequently and get you timely warnings or good news, instead of waiting until the end of the day. These were virtually impossible with the old architecture. The new architecture makes these possible, because it is designed for things that did not really exist as use cases 20 years ago. 

3) A common framework for websites and applications

The new system also introduces a common framework for websites and applications – which means creating a reporting structure that covers all your products is now a lot more streamlined. This is why, before officially becoming ‘GA4’, its name was App+Web for a while. 

This unification was possible with Universal Analytics, but it required serious effort on the design and technical implementation. GA4 makes it straightforward because you have the same interface for all products, with a singular set of dimensions and metrics across these environments. It is all based on the same event-based architecture and has an established and documented framework for ‘rolling-up’ data streams from your different products.

4) You can do Behaviour and Conversion Modelling

Google's significant investment and expertise in AI play a big role in some of GA4's arguably most important features. The most interesting of these is Behaviour and Conversion Modelling. These two are Google's responses to the changing data ecosystem and consumer choices. They work together to give you a more accurate view of the user behaviour on websites & apps and campaign performance when it comes to conversion attribution, while enabling GA4 to still remain privacy-centric.

They strive to fill in the data gaps that are results of browser-specific data limitations and user consent choices. Without GA4, these modern tools won't be in your analytics arsenal. This really is essential to ensure compliance with data regulations – vital in the new ‘privacy-first’ internet.

5) Better integration with Google products & improved audience activation

Meanwhile predictive audiences, powered by GA4's AI engine, is poised to provide brands with a considerable boost for their marketing effectiveness. The ability to combine predictive states such as likelihood to purchase with other observed events and dimensions, such as having added a product from a specific category to basket or not, opens up exciting possibilities for activation.

Beside AI-driven improvements, we are already seeing some great features such as ‘Dynamic Inclusions’ for your audiences. This evaluates past behaviour and includes website and app users in your audiences retroactively to your audiences with a look-back window of up to 60 days – meaning you won't need to wait for your audiences to build up upon creation.

6) Democratisation of key product features

Furthermore, GA4 introduces arguably game-changing features to the free version of the product, some of which were previously only available with the 360 version (costing almost £100,000 a year at its entry-level listing price). An advanced analysis interface called ‘Explore’, a native Google Cloud Platform integration which lets analysts interrogate data in very specific ways tailored to their use cases, more advanced audience capabilities for the Google Marketing Platform suite are the most prominent previously-360-only features coming to the free version of Analytics. 

Democratisation of these features by enabling them at scale without a commercial licence is a huge bet, primarily enabled by the more agile data architecture of GA4.

The above are some of GA4's current offerings that are leaps and bounds ahead of the previous generation. However it is vital to understand that it still has a roadmap full of features, some of which seek to bring existing Universal Analytics functionality to GA4. 

If not now, when?

Ultimately, not implementing GA4 as soon as possible will be detrimental to your business. Not only will you be missing out on the newly designed GA4-only features, you will also be missing historical data in your GA4 properties when it actually is ‘ready’. Based on the pace the product has evolved in the last few months, this is most likely going to be sooner rather than later. 

The good news is that there is a window of opportunity for everyone to run GA4 alongside UA for at least a year. This doesn’t really need to have a decked out fully fledged or customised GA4 running – as with anything in business, prioritisation is key. You can start by implementing only the most important events. The time for procrastination is over. Senior executives and digital marketers who learn how to leverage GA4's more advanced offering today will be best placed to hit the ground running as UA disappears into the sunset.