Google Analytics, the web’s favourite way to monitor and analyse website traffic, has been upgraded and users have until July 1st to switch over. Here’s what you need to know about the update.
What is Google Analytics?
Once installed on your website, Google Analytics works behind the scenes to monitor how users interact with your website.
It collects and analyses data such as how many people visited your website and when, where they’re from and what device they’re using, what links they clicked and how long they spent on your site.
It’s an immensely powerful tool for identifying which parts of your website, and wider digital marketing, deliver results, which parts require improvement and even which parts don’t perform well enough to warrant further investment.
The original Google Analytics launched in 2005. There have been three revisions since. Most websites currently use Universal Analytics, the third iteration, but this will no longer collect data from July 1, 2023.
Its replacement, GA4, is available now.
What is changing?
There are two reasons that Google Analytics has been updated for 2023.
The first is that web users are increasingly concerned about their privacy and aren’t allowing websites access to as much information. Responsible websites are even beginning to ask for less information and, in fact, some of the major web browsers have gone so far as to announce that in the coming years they won’t even facilitate this background tracking, also known as “cookies”.
So, in time, the current Google Analytics wouldn’t have enough information available to continue working as it currently does.
The second reason for the update is much more exciting: technology, as it always does, has continued to advance and made it possible for Google Analytics to capture much more useful information than before.
What’s new in GA4?
GA4 continues to track who visits your website, but in addition, it brings several great new features. Some of the most useful include better tracking across devices, tracking what actions users take, and predicting what they’ll do next.
Tracking across devices
Many consumers access the internet from more than one device. They may even use more than one device to visit a single website. For example, an individual shopper may conduct a search on their work PC, scroll through a company’s catalogue on their phone on their commute home, and make a final purchase on their home computer or tablet.
With previous iterations of Google Analytics, there was no way to link these three visits to a website. They’d be counted as three separate visits and we wouldn’t see the full picture.
Now, Google can use AI to learn that these are, in fact, the same people, and provide much more meaningful analysis of the full customer journey.
So far, Google Analytics has focused on what pages a user visited, with some extra information about who they are to give context. But it’s not always about getting traffic, or even making a sale. Different websites have different outcomes that would be considered a success. GA4 uses “events” to track these. Maybe you want them to watch a video, download a document, visit another website. GA4 allows you to set these as objectives, and gives much clearer information about when they happen and the actions that led up to them.
Another way in which GA4 uses AI is to analyse what a user is currently doing and to predict what they may do next. This is a relatively new tool and the full extent of its possibilities is yet to be realised. But as an example, it can currently be used to refine digital marketing campaigns, to ensure that the most impactful messages can be delivered at the most impactful moments.
Take the customer described above, who searches at work, browses on their commute and commits to their purchase at home in the evening. Google will learn this pattern and deliver the right adverts at the most sensible moments i.e. there’s no point pushing for a sale on the mobile device if we know that’s not when that individual makes their purchase. So save those targeted adverts for when they get home.
When do I need to update to GA4?
The simple answer is: soon. For two key reasons.
The first is that Universal Analytics will cease to function after July 1, 2023. So not only will you need to make the change before then to seamlessly continue monitoring your web traffic, but web developers who can help facilitate this will be in high-demand in the run-up to that date. It’ll be better to beat the rush.
Secondly, the sooner you install GA4, the sooner it will begin collecting information on users, giving its AI more data with which to provide better levels of analysis.
What you need to do next
If you have access to any visitor statistics regarding your website, they’re almost certainly being provided by Google Analytics.
And if you haven’t updated recently, you’re almost certainly using the third, and soon to be outdated, version.
This software will cease to work on July 1, 2023. You’ll still have access to your old data for a limited amount of time after that, but no new visitor information will be recorded.
To carry on collecting information, you’ll need to install GA4. How this happens will vary from website to website. For “off the shelf” type websites, this may be fairly straightforward. For custom-built websites, this may be much more complicated.
If you’re unsure, contact your web developer or host and ask the question.
To find out more about Google Analytics, making sure your website is up to date and to learn more about how data can help improve the performance of your digital marketing, contact the eBusiness UK team today.