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Leveraging Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in a Cookie-Less Future

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google’s latest update to its website tracking and analytics platform. GA4 comes after a long tenure of the current Universal Analytics, sometimes referred to as GA3. This update addresses the ever-evolving measurement standards around data and user privacy. Google has included new predictive modeling functionalities to better analyze and predict user behavior while also improving conversion insights to optimize marketing campaigns.  

While moving away from Universal Analytics can seem daunting to some teams, Google Analytics 4 brings a much-needed upgrade for data capture and analytics that companies can easily implement to improve business results.  

Universal Analytics vs. GA4 

One of the most significant updates Google made to GA4 is the data collection method and data structure logic, designed to keep pace with the growing mobile-centric browsing environment. While Universal Analytics structured its data on sessions, desktop web, and observable data from cookies, GA4 moves to event-based data modeling. Each user interaction will now be viewed as a standalone event rather than a session. This changes the focus to event-based measurement rather than sessions and page views to gain a more robust understanding of how users are interacting with your site. Enhanced cross-platform analysis and better understanding conversion pathing and user journeys are a few advantages to this new standard of tracking.  

Google also claims GA4 is designed with privacy at its core. This comes after sweeping regulations to data privacy from multiple countries over the past few years. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in a push to give individuals power over the use of their data and holds organizations accountable for their data collection practices. Apple’s latest rounds of ITP and IOS 15 updates also limit the lifespan of cookies commonly used in marketing platforms and third-party analytics tools.  

GA4 aims to address these regulatory updates by adding access to cookie-less and IP-anonymized tracking features. Universal Analytics collected users’ IP by default, which GDPR considers personal identifiable information. GA4 went the opposite route and anonymized IP addresses by default and doesn’t allow users to disable this, better protecting customers’ information. Data storage features have also been changed to two- and 14-month options instead of allowing businesses to choose up to 64-month retention periods, aligning with governmental regulation. This strategy also aligns with Google’s roadmap to phase out third-party cookies in 2023.  

To further address the cookie-less future, GA4 also uses predictive modeling to cover data gaps using machine learning so marketers can continue to optimize campaigns.  

Additional New Features of GA4 

GA4 also includes other new features, such as:  

  • Analysis Hub: A new template gallery to build insights from your site’s data. This is an update from GA3’s custom reports and pre-made templates that allows for flexible customization and deeper insights.  
  • Machine Learning Models: There’s a greater emphasis on predictive models using first- party and conversion data to build attribution models and new metrics that drive ROI for your business. These new metrics include: 
    • Purchase Probability – The probability that an active user in the past 28 days will log a specific conversion in the next seven days.  
    • Churn Probability – The probability that a user who was active in app or on site in the past seven days will not be active in the next seven days.  
    • Predicted Revenue – The expected revenue from all purchase conversions within the next 28 days from a user who was active in the last 28 days.  
  • Conversion Modeling: New data modeling aims to bridge user journeys by using machine learning to address gaps in conversion touch points. Modeled conversions will only be included when there is high confidence in the data and enough traffic to inform the model. This becomes more important as platforms continue to restrict third-party tracking data to businesses.  
  • Predictive Audiences: These audiences are automatically generated (similar to look-a-like audiences) and score the probability that a user will make a purchase or churn. Predictive audiences can be applied to reporting to gauge impact and be shared with Google Ads accounts to test search traffic.  

When is GA4 coming? 

GA4 is already here. You can (and should) start setting up GA4 property on your website to start collecting data.  On July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will stop processing new hits, but there’s not a set sunsetting date on Universal Analytics right now. 

Setting up GA4 is relatively simple, thanks to the Setup Wizard. If you already have a Universal Analytics property, you can connect a new GA4 property to your current configuration. Setting up GA4 alongside Universal Analytics will allow businesses to dual-tag their site to continue to receive site measurement data they are used to while also gaining new data in parallel.  

Google Analytics 4 isn’t the upgrade most users asked for, but it’s the upgrade that was needed. Data is focused on events, giving marketers greater flexibility to understand traffic and following the evolution of increasing in-app and mobile traffic. Machine learning and predictive modeling are also at the forefront to better anticipate user behavior and drive meaningful insights and future outcomes. Privacy changes are now baked into the DNA of the platform as the ecosystem continues to develop new protections and give users control over their data.  

Preparing for a Cookie-less Future

Upgrading your business’ Google Analytics property will be crucial for adapting to the new cookie-less digital landscape and taking advantage of all these new features can help grow your business. 

While Universal Analytics isn’t going anywhere soon, businesses should start to implement and collect data on a new Google Analytics 4 property to leverage the platform’s new compatibilities. You can learn how to start setting up your Google Analytics 4 property here or reach out to our team of data and analytics experts today. 

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Tags: Analytics, Data & Analytics, Analytics Trends