It’s been around two and half years since Google Analytics 4 was introduced to the world. Earlier, Universal Analytics, the previous generation of Analytics, was used for data collection. Since the needs of businesses and the behavior of consumers have significantly evolved with time, advanced consumer engagement measurement tools are required to address the new challenges. Hence, Universal Analytics is being replaced with Google Analytics 4.
In fact, Universal Analytics and Universal Analytics 360 will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023 and October 1, 2023, respectively. So, all businesses that are still using Universal Analytics and Universal Analytics 360 should switch to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 is the next-generation analytics service that allows you to measure and analyze the traffic and engagement across all your websites and apps in one place. As per Google, GA4 is a new kind of property with different reports from what you have been seeing in Universal Analytics properties. GA4 was formerly known as “App + Web”.
With GA4, you will be able to take advantage of privacy-first tracking, multiple channel measurement, and AI-based predictive data without using different tools. This tool can provide you with data for website traffic and user behavior without relying on hits that come from every page. It is mainly designed to focus on processing cross-channel data while keeping privacy at its core.
Hence, businesses can now use GA4 to track users across all platforms, including websites, apps, and software. Unlike previous tools that relied on cookies and third-party data, GA4 is all about events as it uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.
What is the issue with Universal Analytics?
Difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics (GA4 vs. UA)
To understand why it is beneficial for businesses to switch to Google Analytics 4, you first need to know how Google Analytics 4 is different from Universal Analytics.
Generation: Universal Analytics is the previous-generation version of Google Analytics 4 and was based on traditional data collection methodology to collect data. On the other hand, Google Analytics 4 is the next-generation analytics tool based on the event-based data model. With GA4, you don’t have to rely on cookies and third-party data for data collection anymore.
Privacy Control: Though Universal Analytics offers various options for privacy controls, Google Analytics 4 has a privacy-first approach at its core. Unlike UA, GA4 no longer stores IP addresses and it provides more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage. So, with GA4, you will be able to not only collect more comprehensive and granular data to ensure a better user experience but also fulfill users’ expectations by maintaining their data privacy.
Tracking Properties: Universal Analytics exploits the hit-based strategy and uses page hits, e-commerce hits, event hits, and social media hits to track behavior and traffic. On the contrary, Google Analytics 4 uses an event-based tracking strategy, where each interaction is referred to as an event.
For instance, in a UA property, a hit type can be the page view, event, social, transaction, user timing, etc. But a GA4 property captures all the hit types as events only. There is no distinction between different hit types in the GA4. It will lead to a lot of space saved in processing. Plus, in GA4, a new attribute called screenview is also introduced, which is the app analog to a pageview.
Note: Don’t compare pageviews between UA and GA4 as they are calculated differently.
Sessions: When it comes to counting sessions, both UA and GA4 differ a lot. In UA, a session consists of multiple page views, events, social interactions, and e-commerce transactions. A session typically ends if there is no activity for 30 minutes or there occurs another qualifying reset event. In GA4, session metrics are gathered from the session_start event – which is an automatically collected event. And the duration of a session depends on the time period between the first and the last event in the session.
There are also other nuances that lead to other differences between the UA and GA4. Some of these are:
- While GA4 automatically detects a user activity, UA relies on the manual firing of an interactive event. It means a user who launches an app may be considered an active user in GA4 but not in UA.
- In GA4, a new campaign doesn’t start a new session; however, a new session starts with a new campaign in the UA.
- UA processes the hits if they arrive within 4 hours of the close of the preceding day. In contrast, GA4 processes events even if they arrive up to 72 hours late.
- In GA4, you can send parameters with each event that can further define the action the user took, such as to describe the value of the purchase or provide context for where, how, and why the event was logged. And you can log up to 25 parameters with each event. However, this isn’t possible with UA.
Custom Event Creation: Even though GA4 doesn’t offer any way for goal measurement, it gives the admin the freedom to label some events and set the value to create custom events and track necessary insights that are specific to your case. However, in UA, you can track events as conversions and goals.
What’s New in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
Google Analytics 4 has many new capabilities that you will find very useful. Some of these are as follows:
- It allows you to edit, create, and adjust the way events are tracked without editing onsite code.
- Data for Data Import can be gathered from both the websites and the apps in one place.
- It has made it seamless to do cross-platform tracking without adjusting the codes. You can track the traffic and consumer behavior across all platforms.
- It comes with a Life Cycle Report that focuses on the user journey, giving powerful insights to understand the complex, multi-platform buying journeys of customers.
How Is Google Analytics 4 Going to Change the Website Tracking Process?
Google Analytics 4 is going to completely change the way marketers track the traffic and user activities on their websites. You will need to rethink every interaction with the website as an event. It will help save loads of data processing space and ensure streamlined and extensively customizable data configuration.
You are going to see a much different set of reports for your website that is focused more on users instead of sessions and hits. These reports come with a new suite of Customer Lifecycle reports that include Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. Apart from that, you will also be given more insights through funnel analysis reports, segment overlap reports, and more.
Unlike UA which allows only desktop web-based tracking, marketers will be able to track both automated events and custom events across all platforms with GA4. While it may take some time to get used to the reports of GA4, they deliver a strong analytics experience that evolves with a changing ecosystem.
What’s more interesting, marketers don’t have to worry about the bounce rate metric. Instead, they can focus more on user behavior to truly observe which site content is most engaging to users and where there is a scope for improvement. Plus, GA4 comes with a free integration with BigQuery that allows businesses to access their raw data and combine it with the rest of the data for full spectrum analysis.
Features of Google Analytics 4
Some of the most popular GA4 features that are being liked by the users are:
- Free Predictive Analysis: Powered with ML and AI, GA4 allows you to create predictive audiences for shoppers and churners on your site along with predictive metrics in Explorations.
- Custom Reports and No Dashboards: Dashboards look cool but they aren’t comprehensive. So, now, enjoy custom reports with a more comprehensive approach.
- Freedom to Create up to 300 Events without the Help of Web Developers: While you will find most basic events in GA4, you can create new events without any assistance from web developers if you think some events are missing.
- Effortless Conversion Tracking: Once an event is tracked in GA4, it can be marked as a conversion by toggling it on. And you can track up to 30 conversions in GA4, unlike UA which allows tracking of only 20 conversions.
- Free Anomaly Detection: You don’t have to stress over if something was statistically significant as you will also be informed about anomalies. An anomaly is detected when Google thinks that something is going to happen, but it doesn’t.
How Will GA4 Help in Better SEO Performance?
Since Google Analytics has always been one of the top tools in the SEO tool arsenal, the enhancements and improvements incorporated in GA4 are certainly going to boost the SEO performance.
With GA4, you will be able to:
- Find easy opportunities to boost website traffic as GA4 provides conversion data that you can easily tie to business metrics and perform SEO accordingly.
- Locate high-converting pages, compare SEO metrics, and take action to improve your page with a low-conversion rate.
- Help analyze landing pages and improve SEO efforts to increase their conversion rate
- Find more keyword opportunities as GA4 tracks internal site searches and then create new content according to the search demand of your site visitors and app users.
- Monitor organic traffic to find issues and fix them
How to Switch to Google Analytics 4
Via App + Web property
If you already use App + Web property, you already have access to GA4 property and you don’t need to do anything. You can go to your GA account and open the property. There, you will see the new GA4 interface that you can start using right away.
Via GA4 Setup Assistant
For those who want to set up a GA4 property that works in parallel with an existing UA property, for now, all you need to do is:
- Go to Admin à GA4 Setup Assistant
- Then, click the Get Started button that will take you to a quick overview of what your new GA4 property will look like.
Your UA property will remain the same and your GA4 property will not have any historical data. However, if you are using Google Tag Manager or gtag.js implementation, you will be able to import any tracking configurations from your UA property. Users of analytics.js don’t have the flexibility of importing tracking configurations.
In case an error message is displayed, you will need to either reinstall Google Analytics 4 or reconfigure all the tags from the beginning.
In both cases, you should click on Create Property. And that’s all. The Setup Assistant will do the rest of the job. Once it’s done, you can click See your GA4 property.
For those who don’t have a Google Analytics account
Log in to your Google account at analytics.google.com after creating one.
- Click the Start Measuring button.
- Enter your account name
- Select your preferred data sharing options and then click Next.
- Give your GA4 property a name and choose the most relevant time zone and currency (depending on where your clients and server are located).
- Provide some business data, which is optional, and then click Create to complete the account setup process.
To start tracking, make sure that GA4 is installed on your website. Since GA4 tracks across all web and app platforms, you will pull data by using data streams that can come from any platform.
How to Set up Data Stream
To set up a data stream, go to Admin à Data Streams. Then, click Add Stream and select the type of stream you want to create (iOS app, Android app, or Web). Enter the information of your data stream, such as the URL of your website, and give a name to your Data Stream. Finally, click Create Stream.
Even though Google Analytics 4 has received a lot of criticism even from top digital marketers, it is going to replace Universal Analytics the next year. By now, you have noticed that GA4 is going to be a more useful tool as it is built to address the new challenges that businesses and marketers face today. Google Analytics 4 has made it easier to track users across all platforms, which wasn’t possible before unless someone was willing to follow the ad hoc approach and feel depressed by tracking so many platforms separately and manually. However, with GA4, it’s all about getting used to it. Once you are, you will feel amazing to experience how easy and fun tracking and analysis has got with GA4.