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Google Analytics 4: What We Know and Think So Far

google analytics

Google recently announced a major update to their popular Google Analytics platform. Since then, the marketing community has been buzzing about what this means for tracking web data.

Google Analytics has always been a very valuable tool for improving your website usability. And the hope is that this update will only continue to provide more value. The fact that it’s completely free to marketers only makes it more of a no-brainer to use.

Here’s an overview of the platform from the team at Google:

At GreenMellen, we’re still getting up to speed on Google Analytics 4, but we wanted to share a few thoughts and insights that we’ve learned so far with you.

Get Google Analytics 4 set up now

One of the main disappointments with this new rollout is that it isn’t a seamless transition from the existing Google Analytics system (referred to as “Universal Analytics”). You can’t automatically import data from the old platform into the new—or even manually upload historical data from your web properties.

This means you’ll need to activate Google Analytics 4 and get the tracking code installed on your website as soon as possible. Only then will it start capturing useable data.

However, it’s not time to abandon Universal Analytics just yet. While we’re all learning the details of the new system, it’s best to stick with what we already know for analyzing data. Meaning that we might be using both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics for the next year or so, and you should have the code for both versions on your site at the same time.

It’s a less than elegant solution for the transition period between the two versions. Google is likely still refining the new Analytics and marketers will just need to be flexible in the meantime.

More analysis, less reporting

Google has touted Google Analytics 4 as more of a true cross-platform analysis platform. It’s built on the “Web + App” data platform that Google introduced in 2019. Meaning that you can pull in traffic and engagement metrics from mobile apps if that applies to your business.

The drawback is that Google has placed less emphasis on the reporting aspects. In Universal Analytics, creating data reports was a fairly simple process. Now, it seems like Google would prefer users rely on Google Data Studio for creating these reports and dashboards.

There are a few notable integrations that haven’t been established yet, including Google Search Console, which gives marketers insights into how people are finding their website in search. That would suggest that Google Analytics 4 is still a work in progress and should get added features and connections over time. 

Better UX, but it takes an adjustment

On first looking at the new Google Analytics 4, the first thing you’ll notice is the updated user interface. The design is cleaner and fresher—which is in line with the look that Google has been slowly integrating into their platforms over the last few years.

Even the way certain fields have been labeled are more user friendly. A generic term like “geolocation” has been updated to “Where are your users visiting from?” This makes Google Analytics 4 easier for a new user to access and understand.

However, that also introduces a learning curve for existing Universal Analytics users who were accustomed to finding certain metrics or reports in specific places. Things have been shuffled around in a way that makes sense but will take some relearning.

Machine learning for more insights

A more foundational way that Google Analytics has been upgraded is in their approach to machine learning and smart insights. 

From most pages, marketers can view an insights wizard in the top right corner of the screen. Clicking on that opens an insights pane that offers up a few easy-to-understand reports that are automatically created by Google Analytics.

The other noticeable place where machine learning lives in Google Analytics 4 lives is within the Analysis Hub under the Explore Tab. This new feature gives users the ability to create powerful analysis overviews.

These analytics dashboards are complicated things to build and understand. Thankfully, Google has a number of built-in templates that do some of the work for you.

Goodbye bounce rate, hello engagement rate

In the name of being analytical, Google Analytics 4 has ditched the infamous bounce rate and replaced it with a reimagined website “engagement rate.” The engagement rate is arguably a more accurate measure of user value for a website, but it would be helpful to have both metrics.

By traditional standards, a bounce rate is someone who lands on your website and leaves before navigating to another page. Your goal is to get them to engage them more deeply with your content. However, that doesn’t take into consideration if they stayed on that one landing page for 15 minutes while reading your awesome blog post.

For the new engagement rate, Google considers “engaged” if they meet any of the following:

  • Actively interacted with your website for more than 10 seconds.
  • Visited two or more pages.
  • Completes a conversion—like signing up for an email or clicking a link.

This change with the bounce rate provides another argument for actively monitoring both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. One gives you the tried-and-true bounce rate, while the other provides deeper insights with a new engagement rate.

Remember that these two rates are inverse to one another. A high bounce rate is bad, but a high engagement rate is good. Just don’t get confused between the two.

What do you think about Google

Mickey Mellen hosted A Brighter Web meetup in January 2021 covering the basics of Google Analytics 4. We had a good turnout and an interesting discussion around some of the new features and updates to this data platform.

We love the opportunity to share insights with marketers like you at these monthly meetups. And we invite you to join us for our next session to talk about another marketing topic.

In the meantime, you can also send feedback directly to Google about your thoughts on Google Analytics 4. Hopefully, they’re taking this feedback into consideration as they continue to update and improve the system.

We also encourage you to leave your feedback in the comments section below. Google won’t take those into consideration, but it’s a decent place to have a discussion with marketers just like you.

About the Author

Robert Carnes

Marketing Manager

Robert Carnes is a freelance writer, published author, and professional marketer. His book, The Story Cycle, is your business's guide to becoming a better marketer. Robert lives in Atlanta and you can follow him on social media @jamrobcar.

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