Google Analytics - The 15 Second Crash Course
Google Analytics is one of the core technologies we use here at Hatfield Media. Google Analytics allows us to monitor, track, and analyze user behavior on our websites. We use Google Analytics to inform our digital marketing campaigns, UI/UX, Design, SEO, and more. This author would go as far as to say Google Analytics (or an alternative) is the single most important piece of software you can have installed on your website. Without frontend tracking, user behavior becomes much more opaque and that leads to additional difficulties.
Universal Analytics & Page-Driven Measurement
In the earliest days of Google, and the internet really, the mindset that Google took was "Pages" being the most important aspect of the web. One of their original search algorithms was called "PageRank" which was for two reasons - firstly that it was developed by Larry Page, one of the original Google Founders - and secondly because the algorithm went about tackling the massive task of indexing the internet from the approach of individual pages.
However, when we think about it in hindsight, there are many, many more aspects to the internet than simply pages. There are APIs, Apps, Forms, Videos, Images, Music and Audio Files, 3D Objects, Structured Datasets, and really an infinite amount of data types that can be hosted somewhere and made accessible online. Google's initial practice of using "pages" as a framework for mapping the web was obviously a great idea in the beginning, but it's getting old fast.
The image for this section was pulled from the Wikipedia page on PageRank and shows how PageRank mathematically works for a simple network with the ranks expressed as percentages.
Hatfield Media & Event-Driven Measurement
At Hatfield Media, even though we use Google Analytics almost religiously, we have been using it in a manner slightly other-than-intended for several years.
The reason for our usage of the software in the "abnormal" way described above is because we use event-driven measurement instead of page-driven measurement. Instead of focusing on metrics like Pageviews, Bounce Rate, etc., we focus on events that are more closely correlated to user behavior. This means that the insights we can provide through marketing data analysis and site performance reporting are all the more powerful.
Let's look at an example to demonstrate. This example will be over-simplified to illustrate the concept, so don't poke too many holes in it.
In an e-commerce site, we want to know when a user adds a product to the cart. That's a massive KPI for almost all e-commerce.
The traditional (very old school, pre-2010s) way of behavior measurement would be pageviews. So we would track the view of the product page, and then the view of the cart page. Another example would be tracking a "/thank-you" page view after a contact form is submitted.
The modern method of behavior management is event-driven. Instead of tying these conversion points to whether someone viewed a page, we would much rather emit an event when someone clicks the "add to cart" button. That way no matter what page that "add to cart" button lives on, we can still measure that conversion point down to the second of when the user actually adds an item to the cart. Additionally, it becomes easier to flex and experiment with A/B testing or more advanced conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies, and other page optimization procedures.
Google Analytics V4
Google has noticed the same trend that we did - it's better to use more flexible events to drive your measurement and tracking systems than specifically focusing on page-view specific metrics like time on page, bounce rate, and so on.
This reason is why we believe that Google is deprecating Universal Analytics. As Google continues to develop more products for other digital mediums - Firebase for Apps, their Google Cloud platform, and more - their analytics product needs a more flexible and modern attribution and measurement model.
The bad news is that there is a significant amount of work that must go into preparing for Google Analytics Version 4. Additionally, if you don't follow the steps properly, you will likely have issues with period over period comparisons, syncing, and more. The good news is that if you're one of our clients, it won't be something you need to worry about.
As an agency, our plan and goal is to beat Google's sunsetting of Universal Analytics by an entire year by running both the Universal and V4 versions of analytics. While this creates significantly more work, we want to ensure that our clients have enough data in the new platform for us to continue to make actionable and data-driven marketing decisions, and that there is no disruption in the service we provide our clients. All the while without sacrificing ingestion of new data in the current platform.
If your agency or provider hasn't discussed these next steps with you, we'd be more than happy to. We provide free consultations and are simply a phone call or form submission away!