How (and why) to upgrade to Google Analytics v4

I’ve been using analytics tools since the days of Web Trends and Urchin and – as the StateFarm meme says – “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

And when it comes to web analytics platform updates – this is the real deal Holyfield

Google Analytics has been teasing this upgrade for the better part of a year and it was well worth the wait. Google has taken what it’s learned from the Firebase Analytics architecture and applied a modern understanding of Analytics to the front end – to create the best data platform available.

If you’ve left Google Analytics in the past – chances are they’ve solved for the reasons you left:
> Native + Web
> CoHorting
> Better Funnel Analysis
> ML driven insights

After using Amplitude for over a year (which is very good) – I can say that Google now has parity with this very talented upstart. And given Google’s proximity to the ‘Marketing stack’ – GA is once again the leader in MarTech analytics.

The biggest shift on display in Google Analytics v4 is the move from Channel focused ‘Last Touch Attribution’. The previous Acquisition Report in Google Analytics featured Last Touch attribution prominently – with very few people changing the default model to something different. The next version of GA – splits the focus between User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition. Where the User Acquisition would be akin to First Touch. And Traffic Acquisition would be an analog for the old Default Channel Grouping report.

TLDR: GAv4 is way smarter with attribution and presenting the data in clearer ways. Now more than ever – someone can deduce insights from the GA interface that will lead to smarter marketing decisions. 

And Google is getting serious about User Retention too. What was a subset of another report now becomes its own section. This should signal to us that Google is putting more value in the analysis of repeat behavior. 

For many marketers – this is a dream come true. But GAv4 is also a major technical feat as well.

The technical improvements we are seeing from GAv4 are almost as noteworthy as the marketing improvements.
> Faster data processing
> BigQuery exports w/o premium costs
> More robust integrations w/ Google Ads
> Less prone to data failures 
> Useful real-time reporting

All in all – there’s no way most marketers won’t have GAv4 deployed on their site in 24 months. This is a transition just about everyone will begin to make. My recommendation is to get started today. Tag your website with GAv4 (in addition to your existing tags) to start collecting the basics.

Here’s a short tutorial on how to setup that GAv4 tag to get going right away. This doesn’t require any dev or coding and can be setup in just under 5 minutes.

In 1-2 years down the road, when you are ready to switch your production dataset to GAv4 – you will have historical data and the change won’t be as arduous. 

Google originally called this product App + Web. There’s was an emphasis on bringing Native App data into your data model. However – Google landed on Google Analytics v4 as a naming convention and I believe that tells us something. I believe that name change is signaling to developers they should upgrade, even if they don’t have a Native Application. And there is so much here in v4 for ‘web’ sites – I wholeheartedly agree. Native or not – GAv4 is the future of Digital Analytics.