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Google Analytics Generations

Google Analytics Generations 700 460 Nicola Lapenta

The evolution of the most used Data Analytics platform in the world.

Content index

Introduction

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service provided by Google that allows you to analyze detailed statistics on visitors to a website. It is the most used statistics service on the web, with a world market share of 84.1% ( data of 22/01/2021 source w3techs.com ).

It is used to observe various types of traffic statistics of a site: such as the duration of the session, the origin of the visit, the number of pages visited, the most viewed pages or the geographical location of the user’s origin.

It can be used to analyze Google Ads online campaigns or to monitor the quality of the pages and to know the useful information in order to achieve  a goal. These goals can include sales, lead generation, specific page views, or the download of a specific file.

This article aims to deepen the history and the main evolutions that this platform has had since 2005 until today (figure 1).  If you want to deepen the JavaScript technology used, read the article Google Analytics Technology.

timeline of Google Analytics generations
Figure 1 Timeline of Google Analytics Generations

GA1 – Urchin Analytics

The technology that gave rise to the Google Analytics platform was developed by Urchin Software Corporation, a web analytics company based in San Diego, CA. The founders of the company were Paul Muret, Jack Ancone, Brett and Scott Crosby. 

In April 2005 the company was acquired by Google and the Urchin product became “Google’s Urchin”, then simply Google Analytics. Figure 2 shows an example of the version 3.0 hourly report.

example google analytics urchin
Figure 2 Hourly traffic report from the Urchin platform.

In 2006, Google added the Measure Map technology acquiredby the US consultancy Adaptive Path to the original Urchin analysis system. The Measure Map tool provided bloggers with information to understand how their blogs were being used, from tracking visits to different page activities.

In June of the same year, Google AdWords (now renamed Google Ads) was integrated, the first platform to manage advertising campaigns that allows you to insert advertising spaces within Google search pages. For each campaign, information is added to measure the ad group ROI and the effectiveness of the keywords used. It is also possible to optimize ad groups and keywords. In order to get the most out of this relationship

The tracking and data analysis takes place with a Javascript tracking code called snippet. Figure 3 shows the first Urchin snippet.

The photo shows the Urchin javascript code
Figure 3 The first javascript snippet urchin.js

GA2 –  Classic Analytics

During the Emetrics Summit in San Francisco in 2007, Google launched the new version of the platform where the interfaces are redesigned for greater personalization and collaboration.

The data is presented in a clearer and more contextualized way, so you can go through individual reports with more information rather than having to extract multiple reports to figure out what action to take. Figure 4 shows an example of a 2007 dashboard of this version.

Other useful features introduced are:

  • custom dashboards;
  • scheduling and export of reports in pdf format;
  • e-mailing of reports and dashboards;
  • help and contextual suggestions;
  • trend chart with the ability to compare long date ranges.
example google analytics GA2
Figure 4 A second generation Google Analytics view.

Since Google Analytics launched in November 2005, web analytics has gone from being a niche function to becoming a core business aspect for companies of all sizes. The simplifications introduced have made it possible to find useful information even for less experienced users. The list of table 1 shows the main features compared with the previous Urchin version.

Table 1 Comparison of Google Analytics features with the Urchin Software platform.

FeaturesGoogle AnalyticsUrchin SoftwareDescription
Self-Hosted Solution+GA is hosted by Google
Standalone Software+Software is installed, configured, and managed in-house.
Track Unique Visitors++Accurate visitor count
Import Historical Data+Process historical log files
Multiple Visitor Tracking Methods+JavaScript-based, IP + UA, etc
Number of Goals204Conversion activities per profile
OS SupportN/ASomeUrchin supports Windows and Linux
Date Range Comparison++Compare data between 2 date ranges
View Full Visitor Clickpaths+See how individual visitors navigated your site.
AdWords Integration++Google Analytics automatically imports AdWords cost data
Import Cost Data from other Engines+Yahoo, MSN, etc. cost data import
GeoLocation Reporting++Learn where site visitors are physically located
Funnel Navigational Analysis++Define a series of pages for visitors to follow
Visitor Segmentation++Drill down into data on-the-fly
Track E-Mail, PPC, Other Marketing++All online marketing can be tracked
Status & Error Code Reporting+Track which pages failed to open
Track Robots and Spiders+Track when your site is crawled
3rd Party Authentication Integration+Integrate Urchin 6 with your pre-existing authentication system
Benchmark Analysis+See how your site compares to others in your industry
Email Reports++Schedule custom report emails (Urchin requires add’l development to accomplish)
E-Commerce Tracking++Track your e-commerce sales
Advanced Segmentation+Create and analyze segments on the fly
Custom Reports++Create customized reports (Urchin requires add’l development to accomplish)
Data API++Extract data remotely using a 3rd party app.
Pageview FeesNoneNoneUnlimited website visitors
PriceFree$2,995

Google for this version changed the original Urchin javascript snippet as shown in figure 5.

The photo shows the javascript code of Google Classic Analytics
Figure 5 Second generation Google Analytics javascript snippet.

GA3 – Universal Analytics

On April 2, 2014, after a long beta phase, the new version of analytics called Universal Analytics (UA) was officially launched. The new version will gradually replace all previous versions. Figure 6 shows the graphic interface.

View of example google analytics GA3

Figure 6 A Google Universal Analytics view.

In this version with the new snippet created (figure 7) a broader view of the marketing channels is provided and the data of users who use multiple devices and different sources to browse and interact on the Web. 

The photo shows the javascript code of Universal Analytics
Figure 7 Google Universal Analytics javascript snippet.

Important features introduced with this version are:

  • centralized multi-platform views (mobile phones, tablets, computers);
  • cross-channel measurement;
  • integrations of metrics;
  • possibility of using API (Application Programming Interface) to interface the analysis systems of large customers.

GA4 – Google Analytics 4.0

On October 14, 2020 Vidhya Srinivasan officially announced the birth of the 4th generation of GA originating from the App + Web beta version. The new version has many features that make it the most complete ever with a customer centric analysis approach. In addition to the real-time views shown in figure 8, it has a number of really impressive new features introduced.

View of example google analytics GA4
Figure 8 A realtime view of Google Analytics GA4.

The extent and number of new features introduced with the new version is truly impressive. The main ones recently activated are listed below:

  • improved user interface;
  • integrated data collection from both mobile app and web;
  • advanced segmentation;
  • bounce rate no longer available;
  • goals replaced by a simpler conversion system;
  • fully cross-device and multi-platform reporting;
  • the views disappear and Google Analytics Properties are generated;
  • greater integration with Google Ads;
  • customer-centric data measurement;
  • more granular data controls (RAW mode data);
  • advanced features available to everyone;
  • predisposition not to use cookies.

Unfortunately, the data model of this generation does not allow compatibility with the previous Universal Analytics version. For this reason, it is not currently possible to transfer data from Universal Analytics to this version. To learn about an alternative strategy, read the article Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics, you can learn more about all the advantages of configuring the new GA4 property.

Also for this new generation the javascript snippet has been updated as shown in figure 9.

The photo shows the javascript code of GA4
Figure 9 Google Analytics GA4 javascript snippet.

Final considerations

The sequence of evolutions of the Google Analytics platform clearly shows the will of Mountain View company to provide useful information to perform effective data analysis. Understanding how users interact with a website directly or from connected digital channels behave will make it possible to make increasingly precise strategic marketing decisions.

The recent stringent privacy rules require major non-traceability changes on visits to online sites. The most promising evolution is for a new concept of Cookie Less, that is, only users who give explicit consent will be tracked. Changing the data collection approach will be a new challenge that will once again change the paradigm of online data analysis. This will seriously question the JavaScripts technology that platforms uses. 

Knowing that the latest version of Google Analytics 4 is already prepared for this big change allows you to configure and customize this truly innovative platform with confidence.

Author: Nicola Lapenta

Credits:  Official Blog Google Analytics productsOfficial Blog Google Marketing Platform, Google Marketing Platform , Google SupportWikipedia, Blog Avinash Kaushik, W3Techs, Urchin Tools.

Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

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