Published on March 21, 2022
Analyze This: Google is Cooking a New Dessert
When the history of Big Data gets written, perhaps one word will suffice: cookies. A tech empire built on cookies is on the verge of disappearing, and the trail of crumbs that users once spread far and wide over the internet is drying up.
No more cookies, no more crumbs: the Web is going on a diet.
So yeah, it’s a good time to talk about analytics. Specifically, Google Analytics 4, or GA4, the latest version of this powerful tool that allows you to drill down into user data in ways once considered impossible.
Its motto could be: no cookie, no problem. So what’s the secret sauce of Google Analytics 4’s cookie substitute?
Every Move You Made
First of all, the cookies in question are “third-party” cookies, so-called because these cookies come from a URL other than the one you’re currently visiting. So if you’re scrolling through pages while dreaming of a trip to Croatia, and then ads for Croatia start showing up on the digital version of, say, The Washington Post, you have seen third-party cookies at work.
Third-party cookies have been excellent at tracking user behavior online. They have also made many of these same users feel like their privacy is being invaded. The former enriched companies like Google and Facebook; the latter is why politicians in the U.S. and the E.U. have sought to curb their use.
Where Google Analytics 4 Figures In
While Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox by default blocks third-party cookies, Google Chrome does not. And since Chrome occupies 67% of the browser market share, cookies are still being gobbled up and power 90% of Google’s revenue, which come from selling ads.
But Google will phase out third-party cookies starting in 2022, and nowhere is this retreat more apparent than in what GA4 brings to the table. How can Google analyze data, the heart of every version of Google Analytics, without having as much data?
Funny you should ask that question. The answer should be no surprise to those who’ve been paying attention. Two letters that spell the future and all the unknowns that come with it: AI.
Cue the Machines
There are several important advances in Google Analytics 4, but the most salient for companies who want to know if an ad campaign is actually moving the needle is the way that GA4 can fill in the missing data gaps that will come once cookies disappear.
GA4 uses machine learning–a kind of application of artificial intelligence–to make certain predictions about how users will interact with your website. They can predict churn and purchase probability, and also forecast revenues generated from in-app purchases.
For example, GA4 can predict whether a user who was active on your website within the past seven days will be active on it within the next seven. This stands in contrast to what a cookie can do: actually track the user’s trail of crumbs from website to website.
Essentially, without cookies, online advertising will have to migrate backwards, to what magazines did in the Print Age, and use broader demographic approaches instead of the narrow targets provided by cookie-enabled analytics.
But That’s Not All!
GA4 has other very robust innovations that show why it remains such a powerful tool. The Web + App metric empowers you to track traffic across websites, software, or apps on all platforms, aggregating the data instead of having it bifurcated into two different realms. Such “cross-platform metrics” can allow you to see a user migrate from app to website back to app again.
Moreover, Google Analytics 4 has fully integrated all of Google’s products, such that you can now determine if a Youtube ad has led to a bump in web traffic. The new GA4 interface is more customer-centered as opposed to device-centered, meaning that demographics and real activity of users come to the fore. Again, with the curtailment of cookies, demographics will become even more important when analyzing how well your web-based ad campaigns are working.
WordPress users might have some initial trouble getting the Realtime metrics up and running, but the effort is worth it. The Realtime feature allows you to glean insights into the users who have come to your website, which is pretty useful but even more so if you fully utilize the Comparison metrics. You can compare across many different parameters, such as demography or events. For example, if you notice a sudden spike in users, you can ascertain where they’re coming from or whether they’re first-time visitors.
You can also play around with a feature called “View User Snapshot,” which will let you look under the hood of an anonymous user on your website and see what events they’re triggering and where they hail from. Snapshots are pretty much the definition of anecdotal data, but this is a cool toy anyway.
Google Analytics 4: Let’s Do This
For better or worse, data is going to get harder to come by. The loss of cookies (among other things) has led to a massive devaluation of Facebook. Could Google face such a reckoning? GA4 makes it seem less likely, because even without cookies, Google still has a stranglehold on user preferences and demography and also has devoted considerable resources to AI-driven machine learning.
The new GA4 interface might be a little odd to those who’ve grown accustomed to Universal Analytics, but the wheels of time spin despite our inclinations. The future will arrive and one thing you can count on is that it will be very different than the present. There’s no time like now to teach an old dog some new tricks.
This post was last updated on June 13, 2022