TL;DR: Google has released its new analytic tool - GA4, in the following article we are going to discuss the key differences between GA4 and GA3, how to prepare best for the transition between the two and the timeline this going to take effect.
Google Analytics is an essential tool for digital marketers and businesses to understand their audience, drive sales, and optimize their online presence. With the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and the impending end of life for Google Analytics 3 (GA3), it is crucial for businesses to understand the technical differences between the two platforms and ensure they are ready for the transition. In this blog post, we will dive into the technical aspect of the change between the platforms, focusing on the new approach GA4 takes in measuring user engagement, emphasizing engagement rate as the primary metric, and how this contrasts with GA3's focus on bounce rate.
After comparing GA4 and GA3 in the table above, let's focus on the four most significant differences that deserve particular attention. These differences are crucial to understanding how GA4 revolutionizes the way we analyze and interpret data, making it essential for businesses to adapt to the new platform.
Data Model: One of the most significant differences between GA4 and GA3 is the change in the data model. GA4 introduces an event-driven data model, which is a substantial departure from GA3's session and pageview-based approach. This new model allows for more flexibility in tracking user interactions, leading to a deeper understanding of user behavior. In GA3, data was primarily organized around sessions and pageviews, with user interactions being somewhat secondary. This structure limited the granularity and complexity of the data that could be captured, making it challenging to get a complete picture of how users were engaging with a website. GA4's event-driven data model changes the game by making every interaction on the website an event. This includes not just pageviews, but also clicks, scrolls, video plays, and any other custom events you choose to track. By organizing data around events, GA4 allows businesses to have a more holistic and detailed view of user behavior on their website. This new data model enables better decision-making by providing more meaningful insights into user interactions. It allows businesses to better understand the user journey, identify drop-off points, and optimize the user experience based on real, actionable data. As a result, businesses that transition to GA4 can expect to see more accurate analytics, better targeting, and improved marketing strategies.
Session Engagement: Another important differentiator between GA4 and GA3 is the way they measure session engagement. GA4 emphasizes engagement rate and engagement time, moving away from GA3's focus on average session duration and pages per session. This new approach provides a more accurate and granular view of user engagement, capturing the depth of user interactions with a website. In GA3, session engagement was primarily measured using average session duration and pages per session. However, these metrics often failed to capture the true extent of user engagement. For example, a user could spend a significant amount of time on a single page, interacting with its content, but still be considered as having low engagement if they didn't visit any other pages during the session. GA4 introduces the concept of "Engagement rate" and "Engagement time" to address this issue. Engagement rate is calculated as the percentage of engaged sessions out of the total sessions, with an engaged session being one in which the user spends at least 10 seconds on the site, views two or more pages, or completes a conversion event. Engagement time, on the other hand, is the total time users spend actively interacting with the website during a session. By focusing on these new engagement metrics, GA4 allows businesses to better understand how users are truly engaging with their website. This improved understanding enables them to optimize their site for better user experiences and target their marketing efforts more effectively.
Bounce Rate: GA4 introduces a new approach to measuring bounce rate, which is one of the most significant differences compared to GA3. Bounce rate is a metric that traditionally represented the percentage of single-page sessions in which users viewed only one page and did not interact further with the website. In GA3, bounce rate was considered a primary engagement metric, but it often led to misleading conclusions about user engagement. For example, a user could spend a significant amount of time on a single page, consuming content without interacting further, and still be considered a bounce. This made it difficult for businesses to accurately assess the effectiveness of their content and user experience. In GA4, while bounce rate is still present, it is no longer the primary focus. Instead, GA4 introduces the concept of "Engagement rate" and "Engaged sessions". Engagement rate is the percentage of engaged sessions out of the total sessions. GA4 calculates bounce rate as the inverse of the engagement rate, meaning that as engagement rate increases, bounce rate decreases, and vice versa. This new approach to measuring bounce rate in GA4 offers a more accurate representation of user engagement. By focusing on engagement rate rather than bounce rate, businesses can better understand how users are interacting with their website, allowing for improved optimization and targeting efforts. Additionally, the shift in focus towards engagement rate helps businesses identify and prioritize areas of their website that require attention, leading to a more effective user experience overall.
Audience Segmentation and Targeting: GA4 boasts advanced, dynamic audience creation capabilities, as opposed to GA3's limited audience creation. This enhancement allows businesses to create more targeted marketing campaigns and better understand their audience segments. In GA3, audience creation was limited, with businesses having to rely on predefined audience segments or create custom segments with basic criteria. This limited capability often made it difficult for businesses to fully capitalize on the power of audience segmentation and personalization. With GA4, businesses can create highly customized audience segments based on a wide range of criteria, including user demographics, behavior, and even predictive attributes. Additionally, GA4 enables businesses to combine multiple criteria in a single segment and create complex audience definitions that better align with their marketing goals. This advanced audience segmentation and targeting capability is crucial in today's digital landscape, where personalization plays a key role in driving customer engagement and conversions. By leveraging GA4's powerful audience creation features, businesses can deliver more relevant and personalized experiences to their users, ultimately driving better results from their marketing efforts.
Understanding the timeline
With Google's recent announcement on February 24, 2023, the timeline for the transition from Google Analytics 3 (GA3) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has become clearer. In this section, we will outline the key dates and milestones associated with the GA3 to GA4 transition, helping you understand what to expect and when to take action.
Automatic GA4 Property Creation (March 2023): Starting in March 2023, if you haven't already created a GA4 property, Google will create one for you based on the settings in your Universal Analytics property, unless you opt out. If you have created a GA4 property and connected it to a Universal Analytics property, Google will copy over any configurations (e.g., goals, audiences, etc.) from your Universal Analytics property that you have not marked as complete in your GA4 property, unless you opt out.
GA3 Data Collection End Date (July 1, 2023): Until July 1, 2023, you can continue to use and collect new data in your Universal Analytics properties. After this date, new data collection will cease, and you will need to rely solely on GA4 for your analytics data and reporting.
GA3 Data Access (July 1, 2023 - at least January 1, 2024): After July 1, 2023, you'll be able to access your previously processed data in your Universal Analytics property for at least six months. It is crucial to export your historical reports during this time, as your data is essential for maintaining historical insights and informing future strategies.
360 Universal Analytics Extension (July 1, 2024): Users of 360 Universal Analytics properties will receive a one-time processing extension, which will end on July 1, 2024.
Check if your Google Analytics property is impacted
Here are some steps to ensure you are ready for the GA3 to GA4 transition:
Learn the differences between GA3 and GA4. GA4 has a new data model, measurement protocol and user interface. You need to understand how GA4 works and the implications for your analytics data and reports.
Plan your GA4 property setup. Decide on your property structure, data collection setup, user permissions and integrations with other systems. A well planned GA4 property will set you up for success.
Train your team on GA4. Educate your analytics, marketing and development teams on how GA4 works and the changes required to implement it. Continuous learning will be required to make the most of GA4.
Review your existing GA3 reports and dashboards. Recreate key reports and dashboards in your GA4 property to ensure you have continuity in your analytics data insights. Some reports may no longer be possible or need to be adjusted in GA4.
Run GA3 and GA4 in parallel during migration. Migrate your website and apps to send data to both GA3 and GA4. Analyze the differences in reports to validate your GA4 setup before deprecating GA3.
GA4 is the future of Google Analytics. While the transition from GA3 will not be easy, the benefits of GA4 in terms of data quality, machine learning features and integration capabilities will be worth the effort. Plan your transition carefully and buckle up for success!
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