GA4: The new Google Analytics will bring big changes for ecommerce

The new GA arrives on July 1. Logical Position's Nick Tursi says site owners should migrate data now.

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To succeed in ecommerce, brands must not only tally sales totals and compare them to costs, but also analyze the drivers of those conversions. Putting the learnings about what worked into action can be used to optimize a site in a way that eases the path to purchase, and ultimately propels future sales even higher.

For years, Google Analytics, or GA, has helped brands uncover those insights. The service tracks, analyzes and reports data on traffic for website owners.

“Google Analytics has been a key part of the marketer’s toolkit for a very long time. It helps you understand where your customers are coming from, where they go on your site, how they interact on your site,” said Nick Tursi, Manager of SEO Strategy at digital marketing agency Logical Position. “You want to use all of that to make business decisions based on that information, and shape your site around that.”

For ecommerce brands, the data goes beyond counting and understanding users. It also measures how many of those users converted, and whether they returned to the site. This can all be used to seek the next set of customers, and drive more loyalty.

But GA as we know it is about to change.

GA4 is set to launch this summer, and it will completely replace the tool that is used now. On July 1, 2023, the current version of GA, called Universal Analytics, will be sunsetted. That means UA will no longer process data, and all traffic and analytics must be run through GA4.

That means the first half of 2023 is a period of transition. Rather than simply rolling out a new product release, the switch to GA4 is essentially creating a new platform. In order to avoid any risk of losing historical data, businesses must migrate to GA4. Tursi recommends website owners take that step well ahead of the official transition date, meaning that connected data will be flowing through both properties for a time. That way, historical data will be fully integrated into GA4, and in place once UA is retired for good.

“It is important to get set up as soon as possible,” Tursi said.

Making the switch soon can also provide a period to get familiar with the new Google Analytics. GA4 is set to usher in a series of changes. Google is making many shifts in the interest of privacy – in particular, it is scaling back the use of cookies and adding privacy controls. This move is designed to line up with where digital marketing is heading as a result of EU laws and new scrutiny on tracking in the U.S. that has resulted in privacy prioritization features like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency. In the near future, Google itself will also be making big privacy-oriented moves, as the shift to GA4 comes ahead of the company’s long-discussed, but much-delayed deprecation of third-party cookies.

For those who use GA4 every day, this focus on privacy will lead to changes in how Google Analytics reports and analyzes data.

“It’s going to be very important for you to find the information that you used to be reporting on and get familiar with that new layout and design,” Tursi said.

Tursi outlined the following features of GA4, and changes in key areas that site owners need to know:

Event-based: GA4 is shifting from reporting session-based hits on a site to event-based reporting. This is designed to provide a more comprehensive picture of users and how they interact with a site. This will provide a range of data, some of which is different and goes into more detail than what was available in UA. The idea is not only to protect privacy, but provide more insightful data. Some important metrics to hone in on include transactions, average order value and form submissions.

Multiple platforms: GA4 is designed to make it easier to track across both websites and apps. This will provide a more complete view of the conversion process, and how customers interact with a site.

AI: Google will use advanced data tools to provide insights and detect anomalies that occur on a site. It’s designed so that the site owner doesn’t have to sift through mountains of data to find a way to improve, or investigate what happened during an event. “They’re going to use AI and machine learning in order to keep the customer’s data safe and identifiable information anonymized, but you still get the actionable insights you need as a business owner.”

A new interface: The look and feel of GA4 will also be different. It’s designed to be better organized and easier to navigate. The reports and menus offered will also look different, so the faster site owners can get familiar with it, the more comfortable they can be when it is the only option.

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