The gold standard in website analytics is getting a major upgrade.
When I started building websites in the mid-90s, hit counters were a big deal. Boomers, Gen Xers, and probably a few early adopter Millennials know what I'm talking about. For anyone born after that, a hit counter is a graphical tool that displays the number of visitors to a webpage.
Hit counters came in many different shapes and sizes, as shown below:
I’m not gonna lie. I installed more than my fair share of hit counters on websites back in the day. This was really the only way to know how popular a website was in the 20th century. Believe it or not, you can still install one on your website today, thanks to the official HitWebCounter website.
Relying on a hit counter to measure a website’s effectiveness, as you can imagine, was flawed. Nefarious website visitors could simply refresh a page to rack up “hits.” Furthermore, popularity alone is not necessarily a good indicator of whether or not a website is working.
It wasn’t long before companies realized there was a need for meaningful website analytics.
History of Website Analytics
By 1997, web pages had moved from just links and text to more and more visual elements. This resulted in hit counters, which registered all activity and become inaccurate.
The first analytics software that I used was Urchin. Urchin was one of the most popular solutions for website traffic analysis because of its relatively low price point of $495. Urchin was acquired by Google in April 2005 and relaunched as Google Analytics.
Introducing Google Analytics
Google Analytics was initially released as a tool to help website owners track the performance of their websites, including page views, visitors, and traffic sources. The tool quickly grew in popularity, and Google Analytics was soon adopted by millions of websites around the world.
Since its introduction, Google has added numerous features and improvements to Google Analytics, including goal tracking, custom reports, and event tracking. In 2012, Google Analytics was integrated with AdWords, allowing website owners to track the performance of their campaigns. In 2016, Google Analytics 360 was launched, allowing businesses to access more features and metrics. Today, Google Analytics is one of the most popular web analytics tools in the world, with millions of websites using it to track their website performance.
Why Analytics Matter
Website analytics are important because they provide insights into how visitors interact with your website. This data can be used to help you make informed decisions about changes to the website, such as design, content, or navigation. By understanding visitor behavior, you can improve the overall experience of your website and increase the chances of conversion. Analytics can also help you identify areas of improvement, track progress, and measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
What is Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics, first released in October 2020. It is a completely new analytics platform that uses machine learning to provide more detailed and accurate insights into user behavior, helping businesses understand their audience and optimize their digital marketing efforts. It features a new, streamlined user interface and powerful new features such as predictive analytics and cross-platform reporting.
What’s New In GA4
According to search engine marketing specialists Black Truck Media (shout out to Jason Dodge for letting me share this except from their blog), each of GA4’s features prioritizes a better user experience and objective-focused data, according to a Google Help Center article.
Learn how GA4 is set to improve data measurement for your business with a few of its major highlights:
- All-encompassing approach to the consumer journey. With a new events-based measurement model, your understanding of customers is no longer limited to independent sessions in a given time frame. Data in GA4 is built around users, making it easier for you to track the complete customer lifecycle.
- Comprehensive data collection across all platforms. To help your business gain a more unified picture of customer engagement and behavior, GA4 will combine app and web data. Previously divided into separate properties, this new feature will allow for revolutionary integrated reporting.
- Improved understanding of return on investment (ROI). Using data-driven attribution, GA4 is able to credit conversions beyond a user’s last click. This can help your business understand the full impact of your marketing efforts across the customer journey and better optimize campaigns for success.
- Easily predicted and activated user insights. Thanks to machine learning technology, GA4 gives your data greater value with predictive insights on user behavior, conversions, and potential new audiences. Plus, insights can be implemented through expanded integrations with other Google products, such as Google Ads.
- Optimized and prioritized user privacy. GA4 allows you to consider customer compliance needs without losing key measurement functionality. Continue to track engagement and conversions with country-level privacy controls by limiting user-level data, like cookies.
When Do I Need To Upgrade?
On July 1, 2023, standard Google’s Universal Analytics properties (the current version of Google Analytics) will no longer process data. You'll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023. However, new data will only flow into Google Analytics 4 properties.
What You Need To Do
If you haven’t migrated to GA4, you still have time (assuming you’re not reading this on July 2, 2023.) Google has excellent documentation on the process:
There are three ways to get started if you are a website editor or administrator:
- Option 1 for websites without analytics: Set up Analytics data collection for the first time
- Option 2 for sites that currently have Google Analytics installed: Add Google Analytics 4 to a site with Universal Analytics (Analytics “classic”)
- Option 3 for websites using a content management system (CMS) like Wix, WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, GoDaddy, WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, Awesome Motive, HubSpot
If all of this sounds about as fun as a root canal, contact your friendly neighborhood web developer. I’m sure they’d be happy to help.