CommentaryJun 6th, 2021

Introducing Google Analytics 4: New Tracking & a New Way of Thinking


Long the industry standard for measuring digital advertising, Google Analytics launched a significant update recently. More than an update, GA4 provides a whole new paradigm on how to think about and measure web traffic. So whether you're the guy who crunches the numbers, or needs to rely on or manage those that do, here's a quick dive on what you need to know about the new Analytics 4.

Google Analytics Pre-Update: Universal Analytics

As a starting point, a quick recap pre-update. Google Analytics, a free tracking tool from Google, provides data on your dealership's website traffic. It reports on things like which content or products are driving traffic on your site, from what website your visitors arrived, where and how they are converting or what actions they are taking on your site, as well as information like users' age, gender, country, device, etc. Many vendor dashboards are based on GA4, so whether or not you're viewing it in its native form, you're likely still relying on its data to make decisions.

A key point on the previous Google UA is that tracking was accomplished by placing a block of JavaScript code on your website. And while that worked well for your website, tracking mobile devices required a different version of analytics, for example, GA for Apps, or Google Analytics for Firebase, which created a problem. The data from these versions looked quite different from the tracking for your website, often making it difficult to implement consistent tracking.

New Device Support and a New Data Model

With the new GA 4, you can now track your website, an app, OR BOTH together. But since page views, bounce rate, or time on site are different for mobile, GA introduced a second change - a new data model. To unify the collection methods, GA underwent a complete rethinking of how it works, redefining things like page views, transactions, social interactions, etc., under one concept. These are now referred to as events.

With the new GA4, an event can be almost anything you choose; a pageview, screen view, or app view. With each event that gets triggered, you'll also see extra information that describes the event more closely. These are called event parameters.

Also, these properties can now occur in other events. So you can query them together and compare them against each other. It also future proofs the system for the different sorts of devices that you may want to track, like the IoT (Internet of Things) devices or Point-of-sale systems. 

Changing How We Think about Analytics

As you can see, Google Analytics 4 is a significant update, offering new tools with an entirely new perspective on data and how it represents the digital world. In addition to providing more flexibility in what we choose to send into the system, it also allows Google to plug your data into their existing machine learning systems and provide predictive insights. There is no longer a need to ask questions; rather, GA 4 gives us insights right away with new predictive metrics already built-in and available.

The new GA4 is also more independent regarding the assumptions about what type of business it's looking at. In a nutshell, Google Analytics 4 has moved from being less of a reporting interface where you merely view your data and instead of providing you with D-I-Y tools to build yourself. This means your GA 4 setup doesn't have to look like everyone else's. Of course, this means more advanced planning on your part so the events can be properly interpreted later. 

In closing, while the current Google Universal Analytics platform will likely stick around for a while, it's pretty clear that GA4 is the next step in the evolution of analytics data. So if you're ready to jump in and see what the new GA4 can do for you, there are three ways to get started (with varying degrees of commitment). 

1. If you're ready to fully rely on Google Analytics 4 reporting. Set up a new site on a Google Analytics 4 property.

2. Create a parallel new GA4 property collecting data alongside your existing UA property. This will also establish a connection to migrate configuration settings from your UA property to your new GA4 property when you're ready.

3. Add Google Analytics 4 to a site that already has Analytics. Your UA property is left unchanged and continues to gather data.

Note: you'll need Edit permission on your current account. Read more on setup here.  

Ed Steenman is the owner of Steenman Associates, which provides traditional and digital media services to automotive dealerships and dealer groups nationally.

An internationally recognized writer and presenter, Ed specializes in media planning-buying and a Video OTT and has more than thirty years of experience providing traditional and digital media services to the automotive industry.

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