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How Google Analytics Continues to Evolve

Google Analytics is the most widely used service for giving businesses insight into their website traffic. Web analytics helps with search engine optimization and provides valuable site visitor data that helps effective marketing. It is essentially a baseline for businesses to measure how effectively they reach their target audience, how much traffic it drives to the site, and how well the website performs. 

Google Analytics is undergoing some monumental changes. Some are in response to international privacy laws. Others are part of a strategy to provide better user journey mapping and insight into user engagement through a more integrated experience. However, business owners must be aware of the changes and what they mean to fully leverage their capabilities.  

A Brief History of Google Analytics  

Google Analytics launched in 2005 due to the purchase of Urchin. The UTM tracking parameters still used today in digital campaigns were named for the original Urchin Tracking Module.  Urchin was the first service that provided website analytics in as little as 15 minutes. While that doesn't sound impressive now, businesses had to wait up to 24 hours before Urchin to access their site data. 

The original Urchin On-Demand software had a licensing fee of at least $500 per month. After Google acquired Urchin, it made some changes and released it to the public for free. It caused such a frenzy that Google had to suspend taking on new users for a year to shore up its infrastructure to accommodate the massive demand.  

Google continued to build on the success of Urchin On-Demand, eventually releasing Classic Google Analytics, and the service has undergone several changes since its original release. In 2014, Google implemented Universal Analytics. UA enabled tracking of a single user across multiple devices, providing incredibly beneficial insight for search engine marketing. However, because the new service had such a broad reach, some governments implemented privacy laws to restrict how much information it could gather on users. Google responded in 2020 with the release of GA4.  

Changes in Google Analytics 4  

GA4 is one of the most significant changes for Google Analytics in quite a while. One of the privacy concerns involved third-party cookies that track a user across multiple domains. This release eliminates the use of third-party cookies. It used either first-party cookies only on a single domain and implemented with user consent or no cookies. It also increases the efficiency of data collection by using the same method across desktop and mobile applications.  

Some of the changes may be surprising but make a lot of sense. For instance, one of the standards for years has been bounce rate. However, users often misinterpret bounce rate as always unfavorable, whereas the reality is more nuanced. In GA4, they are replacing it with engagement rate to more accurately reflect how visitors engage with the site on their user journey.  

Another change is the ability to track users across channels, funnels, and domains. You get a more accurate picture of how your users move from app to website and even through redirects once they leave the site. GA4 uses hit detection to track user activity. It considers any event a hit, enabling the collection of a vast array of data on user behavior. 

Google Analytics 4 will still support Google Tag Manager. Google Tag Manager transfers information from your website to Google Analytics, giving you a central repository for all your tags. It helps businesses by allowing them to deploy tracking code or pixels on their web or mobile sites without code modification. In 2023, GA4 will completely replace Universal Analytics. 

How To Gain Search Insights  

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2018 was a significant win for privacy but a blow for marketing and technology companies. They could no longer track user activity or gather information without consent using third-party cookies. However, it also spurred developers to find new and better ways to track the user journey across devices, domains, and channels.  

Google Analytics will remain a key player in tracking your metrics and web interactions without tracking app activity. The changes in GA4 help to protect customer privacy while still providing the foundation of your web resources in reaching customers. Unfortunately, the overall accuracy may decrease because it no longer tracks cookies. 

While Google Analytics is excellent for its accessibility, its reporting is still limited. The free service was never a comprehensive solution, as it didn't track app activity. It will never provide the same data insight and analysis level that a digital partner or premium service can provide. While Google Analytics is still valuable, businesses must understand its purpose and limitations to assess how it works with their reporting capabilities. 

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Angela Todd

Written by Angela Todd

Angela Todd is a Digital Marketing Consultant for Federated Digital Solutions. She has over 20 years in both sales and marketing. With experience in both the newspaper and radio industry, Angela found her passion working in digital marketing for the past few years. It was digital marketing where Angela finally felt like she wasn’t just a consultant to her clients, but a true partner and extension of their marketing team. Bringing her clients, a return on their marketing is what gets her out of bed every day.

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