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What’s new in web analytics? - First glimpse of Google Analytics 4.0 and Microsoft Clarity

Is the web analytics scene changing, as the big players are rolling out new tools for every web site owner's use?

Google is having a major update to Google Analytics with version 4.0 and Microsoft just released an all-new analytics tool Clarity. While the classic web analytics has focused around page views and visits, sources and potentially recognizing returning users, the new tools are very much focusing on individual user, experience and session flow.

These are some of the first impressions on these products after I installed them to my personal web page. Next step will be taking them to the company web page, and write a follow-up or update after a couple of weeks, if there are some new learnings by then.

Google Analytics 4.0

Google Analytics has been the dominant web analytics tool for individual web sites and major corporations alike, with its different versions, Analytics (free) and Analytics 360. These mainstream analytics have grown to support many different aspects of a user journey, but the October 2020 update with GA 4.0 is a completely new approach to seeing the user.

Google now wants to offer a much deeper customer-centric approach, and - not surprisingly - there's a strong emphasis in ad targeting and performance. This new property is by default meant for "Web+App" and should do a better job in recognizing users from multiple devices, even if they are not logged in to your service. A completely new set of analysis and reporting templates is available for all users. The new machine learning models promise to offer better and focused information about what is happening on your web site.

Unless you decide to opt out, the new tracking will include scroll tracking, outbound links, internal site search, video usage and file downloads. These have all needed some additional configuring or event tagging before, and now will become available by default. For enterprise users, the tool is currently in beta. It will be super interesting to follow how things will proceed with this, even though currently there may be some flaws in data and discrepancies in the user interface. All new properties for GA are now created to this new environment, so there's likely going to be a complete switch or merge at some point.


Microsoft Clarity

Microsoft has now started a completely new analytics service, which is now available for all users and can be easily added to any web site. The first impression is, that this really intends to be what the name promises: clear and simplistic view of your web service. And compared to Google Analytics, which has been around for 15 years, it really is much simpler to use. On the other hand, it's not a fair comparison, and I think Clarity is more aimed to competing with tools like Hotjar because there's a major focus in session recordings and heatmaps.

My quick try-out shows that while it was easy to implement, the product itself is still a bit unfinished. I did manage to see some session replays, but they seemed to be stripped of all the CSS definitions, so I only saw a raw html page with some Times New Roman text and images. Due to lack of insufficient users or some error, I don't really know of the heatmaps yet, either. But I'm sure both of these will be fixed soon, as they seem to be central to this product.


What next?

I suggest you start collecting data to both, even if the services are quite raw versions as of now. It's not the right time to switch from your current analytics to either of these and disable the current data gathering, but run the tags simultaneously. It's a good idea to use a tag manager to control the new tagging to allow for limited tests and quick changes if necessary.

Make sure you run a speed test (i.e. Google Page Speed) before adding any tags and check again after adding to make sure you don't harm your site performance.

Some warnings apply, though. Even though both promise to be extra careful with any personally identifiable data (PII), they also make sure it's your responsibility to ensure that nothing sensitive is stored to the analytics data. So, if you run a web page with forms to enter PII or have "My account" or "My orders" page, make sure you know what is being stored. You may want to run these new tools on a limited set of "safe" pages to start with.

If you want to discuss more of these tools or share your thoughts, feel free to contact me!

Loihde Advisory provides data-driven expertise to improve the productivity, automation and customer experience of e-commerce and services.