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Google Analytics 4 – What’s Changed?


In case you missed the memo, Google announced that they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics by July 2023. This has various repercussions on businesses that rely on Google’s analytics platform to guide business decisions, including ecommerce stores. 

Firstly, once Google sunset Universal Analytics, brands will not have access to historical data that would otherwise be accessible via the platform. Secondly, although some technical marketers will be able to complete the migration process to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) themselves, it is relatively complex, and might overwhelm non-technical store owners and teams. This could result in outsourcing migration to GA4. Lastly, although GA4 is comparable to Universal Analytics, there are differences in metrics and tracking methods that will take some adjusting to. 

Not to worry though, we’ve explored GA4 ourselves and have highlighted the most notable differences that you should be aware of. 

Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 – What’s new? 

The move away from cookies, towards User ID attribution and modelling

The primary reason for the introduction of GA4 is the shift away from cookie based tracking, towards a more privacy centric future –  a sentiment that should resonate with ecommerce stores who are already future-proofing themselves from the ‘cookiepocolypse’

Aside from the privacy discussion, the cookie-based system, although commonly adopted, has its flaws. A big one being  that the cookie system is not by any means a catch all solution. Not everyone accepts cookies, and even when they do,tracking customer journeys across devices is patchy at best. 

To counter this, the release of GA4 has made Event & ID based tracking available to the masses. In this system each unique visitor is assigned a User ID, and events (page visit, click etc.) are then associated with this ID. Google uses four methods – known as Signals – to unify user data into a single cross-device user journey:

  • User-ID 
  • Google signals 
  • Device ID 
  • Modelling

The logic behind how Google associates events with users will depend on your Reporting identity options (Google Analytics > Admin > Reporting Identity). We recommend taking the time to explore and understand these settings, as they impact the output which you are basing business decisions on. 

A clear view of customer journeys

GA4’s ability to associate events across devices with a single user provides a far more complete view of a customer’s journey. This allows for more granular insights to be made with a higher degree of confidence in the less fragmented data.

It’s common for a user journey to span multiple devices on their way to making a purchase from your ecommerce store. Someone could discover a brand on their work computer, spend time during their commute browsing on their mobile device, then complete the purchase on their personal laptop or tablet at home. With Universal Analytics, reports would show three sessions with one conversion, which is fragmented and makes understanding the complete picture of their purchase journey tricky.

GA4 has been developed to help join up the dots of that journey into something more cohesive. In the example above, GA4 should show one journey. This results in a better understanding of how users discover your brand, where they “window shop”, and where they convert.

Manipulate and visualise data with the new “Explorations” section

GA4 offers more flexibility with the way data can be visualised. It’s actually impressive that Google has created one system that flexes to fit the huge variety of business types and priorities. The new “Explorations” section allows users to visualise segmented data in a number of ways, enabling users to learn more from their website data. 

Additionally, GA4 has elevated their ecommerce capabilities. Once correctly set up, new predictive metrics have been introduced such as: Purchase & churn probability and Predicted revenue (from all users active in the last 28 days). 

Retention section

Unsurprisingly, we at LoyaltyLion are very excited to see the introduction of the new Retention section in Google Analytics 4. It’s fantastic to see Google investing resources towards the loyalty and retention space! 

As it stands the retention section seems to be in its infancy. However, if you have been using Google Analytics for long enough you’ll be aware that it is an ever changing, adapting and iterating system. Knowling this, it’s reasonable to assume that we can expect to see more from both the new predictive metrics and the retention section in the coming months and years. 

Improved tracking for Mobile Apps

Until the release of GA4, businesses that offered both an app and website experience would have no option but to track the two in separate properties. This resulted in a disconnected workflow and made combining metrics time consuming. 

With GA4, businesses that have an app and website now have the option to view events in the way they deem relevant. For example, a business could segment the events to view the app and website data together, side by side or individually. So the flexibility and control is put in the user’s hands. 

Want to learn more about how you can elevate your ecommerce store using Google Analytics? Read our blog post now

Special thanks to our friends at LoyaltyLion for their insights on this topic.
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