Analytics in a cookieless future
by Harry Dance, Head of Digital Marketing, Kayo Digital

Harry reveals what marketers can expect with the new upgrade to Google Analytics.

13th May 2022 Read time: 5 minutes Watch time: 44 minutes

You have likely received this stress-inducing email if you run or manage a website. The subject line was: ‘We will begin to sunset Universal Analytics in 2023’. If you opened that mail, you would have seen a sub-header reading: ‘Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing Universal Analytics’. 

This is the latest development in the performance marketing space, which has seen its fair share of disruption in the last few years. Third-party cookies are soon to be a thing of the past. Customers are demanding more privacy. Now, analytics dashboards are changing. How do marketers keep up with it all?

Harry Dance, Digital Marketing Director from Kayo Digital, joined the What’s Possible Community to highlight what has changed in this latest update and what it means for marketers in the short term.

Where’d all the cookies go?

Firefox and Safari have already outlawed third-party cookies. Google is set to drop them in late 2023. 

Marketers have relied on third-party cookies to understand their audiences at a deeper level. The problem is that they collected far too much data on a user and are being frowned upon by consumers who prefer to have their details private. 

As a digital marketing industry, change is what we have to get used to but also have to deal with on a daily basis,” Harry said.

In the face of these cookies disappearing, Harry says marketing teams will have to identify what data they want and need and then create a strategy to see if procuring that data through the analytics dashboard is possible. Google states that its GA4 platform is privacy-centric by design and will only process first-party data in future.

Harry stresses that GA4 can work with cookies but is designed to function without them. The platform will use machine learning to fill in data gaps where there are no cookies that can be relied on.

New data model. No more bounce rate.

GA4 moves away from a hit-based model to a user/event-based model. It has introduced a brand-new data model. This redesign will provide much more information on what a user does on a web page.

It now focuses on the user. By events, I mean actions. It will track what they are doing on your site. Are they scrolling down on the page? That’s an event. Are they clicking a button? Are they watching a video? Everything is an event,” Harry explains.

With an event-based model, marketers using GA4 can become much more selective of what data they want to extract based on how users engage with a website. You can also combine many events based on what you are trying to prove about how users use the site.

GA4 will also collect groups of users who display similar behaviours into cohorts. This can give marketers great insights into how customers behave and tailor their targeting accordingly.

Google is also retiring the ‘bounce rate’ and replacing it with the ‘engagement rate’.

The bounce rate was typically measured by the percentage of people that land on a page and leave in 30 minutes.

In the past, marketing professionals would construe high bounce rates as unfavourable. The engagement rate will instead be measured by the percentage of people who have been on a page for longer than 10 seconds or clicked a conversion on a page.

Cross-platform analysis

Additionally, user journeys are much more precise with GA4. Google writes that ‘you will get a better understanding of your customers across their entire lifecycle’.

They boast more intelligent tracking and predictive analytics, with new audience segmentation functionalities that help marketers understand how users interact with a brand.

A significant benefit is that GA4 can be integrated across your website and app. If a user goes from app to website, it will track that user. Historically, Universal Analytics lacked that functionality.

You can also track a single user between two different domains. It could track if a user left your website, jumped to a different website, and returned. It will be counted as one session instead of two. Harry says this will be beneficial for eCommerce companies specifically.

Good time to migrate

Harry suggests that NOW is an excellent time to move over to the new analytics platform due to the pandemic’s effect on data.

It’s a really good time to add GA4 because nothing has been normal in the last two years. When comparing today’s data versus this time last year, internet usage was very different. Data isn’t consistent,” Harry commented.

Marketing teams who want to become acquainted with the platform before implementing it can access a demo account that Google has provided – you can learn more by clicking here.

Harry sums up the benefits of GA4. It will be a cookie-less platform. You can go in-depth with the user events you want to analyse, and with audience segmentation, marketers can discover new ways to target their intended audience. 

The negatives, according to Harry, are that the platform is new, and marketing teams will be unfamiliar with it. Google has launched the product, but some of the functionality is not complete, and as a result, it’s not a finished product…yet.

However, there is no ignoring GA4; it will become the standard by July 2023. Harry says the best time to start playing around with it (and breaking stuff) is right now.