Google Analytics 4: Top Things to Know

GA4 Google analytics 4 - things to know

Google Analytics 4: Top Things to Know

Google understands the marketplace and user trends; it also knows how to sample and model data collections derived from the actions performed by websites and app users. Furthermore, it understands that people, browsers, and extensions hide and block their data from being used.

The current version of Universal Analytics (UA) relies on a data sample that is considerably limited compared to a newer version. Marketers make decisions based on the smaller UA data samples derived from a segment of the website’s visitors.

Equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Google designed Google Analytics 4 (GA4)–rolled out officially in October 2020–to effectively measure and track data samples and use them for its algorithms. GA4 creates reports from the data samples, models the behavior of actual users visiting a website (or an app), and predicts how they’ll behave in the future, e.g., will they purchase from a particular website or not.

Let’s see how GA4 does so.

Meet Google Analytics 4!

Google Analytics 4 (formerly known as App+Web) is an analytics and reporting platform allowing observation of and recording user activities in websites and applications. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a new property replacing Universal Analytics (UA). The old name for GA4, App+Web, is self-explanatory and reflects one of the main differences between the old and this new version of Google Analytics.

Google Analytics 4 can mix data streams of Firebase Analytics coming from Android or Apple apps with Google Analytics in your website, all across one property. GA4 exhibits several secondary features enabling the users to track events on websites (applications), segment visitors into relevant audiences, and produce custom reports.

Therefore, it’s undoubtedly an enhanced property that many websites and applications will benefit from. In digital reporting and analysis, GA4 has carried out a strategic shift. While the previous tools had primarily focused on Sessions and Pages, GA4 has adopted a more user- and audience-based approach. This strategic shift has affected nearly every aspect of the platform.

GA4 – concentrating on privacy-first approaches, cross-channel data samples, and AI-driven predictive analytics– is most likely the future of analytics.

The GA4 reports can help businesses and marketers evaluate their websites’ audiences and journeys more precisely. Furthermore, the data can help them decide what other marketing tools can be of any assistance, e.g., advertising on social media, running Google Ads, and other marketing avenues.

GA4 vs. UA: What Are the Differences?

Since the launch of Universal Analytics (UA) in October of 2012, it’s been the sole standard of website reporting and analysis. In light of UA and the unprecedented access to data and reports it provided, marketers could make faster, more efficient decisions about their site, content material, and advertising efforts.

However, UA could only support website analytics, bringing us to, perhaps, the most decisive difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics: GA4 is a property enabling you to report on both websites and applications.

Other considerable differences: the user interface & how the data is analyzed. Initially, Google created Universal Analytics to collect information, store data, and build reports. On the other hand, GA4 is constructed to store data for various Google sites corresponding to tracking and tagging duties. For instance, Google Analytics 4 stores the data collected and tracked from Google Tag Manager.

Another essential difference between UA and GA4 is that GA4 retains the data. In Universal Analytics, once the code/script is added to your website’s pages, the platform will automatically track page views. Then, you’ll need to use (for example) Google Tag Manager to track specific events such as video views, page scrolls, or button clicks.

In Google Analytics 4, all the data– e.g., a page view, a click, or purchasing– is retained as an event. When everything is an event in GA4, it’s easier to analyze and cross-reference all the information obtained from your website.

Now, let’s briefly review some other differences between GA4 and UA:

GA4 Is a Model Based on Users & Events

Google Analytics 4 focuses mainly on users, with each interaction labeled as an event; hence, Sessions and Pageviews are now events. This change empowers marketers to accurately track user journeys across the web and mobile apps.

In the previous model, URLs and time frames were responsible for tracking and grouping the interactions. Due to the new event-driven data model, cross-referencing insights are now more accessible in GA4.

Furthermore, GA4 lets you see how users navigate your website or app, improving the pathing analysis.

Every time someone signs up for a newsletter, a generate_lead event is sent to Google Analytics 4. Once set as an end event, you can utilize pathing analysis to monitor user behavior before subscribing. Their recent actions lead to the prediction of future behavior and tailor your site or app to encourage more sign-ups.

In Google Analytics 4, events are categorized into four groups:

  • Automatically collected events. Once the GA4 base code is installed, events (like page_view, session_start, and first_visit) are automatically tracked.
  • Enhanced measurement events
  • Recommended events
  • Custom events.

Phasing Out Cookies

In the face of some of the latest privacy laws– e.g., GDPR in Europe and enhanced privacy online, tracking users with cookies is becoming more challenging. Firefox and Safari have already blocked cookies by default, and Google plans to do the same soon.

Improved Debugging

In Universal Analytics, debugging is tricky because you cannot pinpoint if the issue is related to Google Tag Manager or your website. In GA4, a live debugging report named DebugView is implemented in the interface, helping users overcome these challenges.

Free BigQuery Connection & New Layout

In addition to providing BigQuery, allowing compiling large and complex data sets to be queried easily, the GA4 user interface is the most immediately apparent change.

The following table compiles some of the core differences between GA4 and UA:

Model is session-based Model is event-based
Only supports website analytics Applicable to both websites & applications
Specific actions (e.g., clicks) are Events All user interactions are Events
UA can run side-by-side with GA4 Efficient use of AI & Machine Learning
Collects & stores data & builds reports Retains data for distinct tracking suits


Major Benefits of GA4

Here are several key benefits associated with GA4:

Cross-Platform Tracking (Web & Apps)

If users are active on more than one platform–for example, having a website and an app–they undoubtedly need to compare or analyze the corresponding data in one unified reporting environment.

In the old Google Analytics, doing so was a manual process requiring time and effort. However, the new Google Analytics 4 can track web and app data in one property (Google Analytics App+Web).

You can utilize GA4 to monitor the user experience from start to finish– and across platforms. Moreover, you can create segments and do advanced cross-platform attribution analysis, as well as see the complete customer journey, including:

  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Monetization
  • Retention

This is a handy possibility that empowers marketers to better understand the cross-platform experience of users. It’s also possible to extrapolate information for a generalized demographic and create more accurate customer models.

Redefining Measurements As Events

With Universal Analytics, the platform would track events as specific actions (such as filling forms and clicks) to provide businesses a window to their user. In UA, page views are the primary metric, and other metrics such as screen time and transactions are monitored extensively. In this short-sighted picture, UA offers a siloed system with numerous promotions, which are pretty tricky and time-consuming to track.

With Google Analytics 4, all user interactions have been turned into events, collecting and storing all measurements as separate events. Instead of tracking generalized data, businesses can now better comprehend the individual users to adapt their content for earning more conversions and loyalty.

AI & Machine Learning For Predictive Metrics

What if you could’ve predicted what users will buy within the next month and how much revenue will result from their purchase?! Believe it or not, you can (at least partly).

Google’s AI-powered insights can automatically notify you about product data trends. GA4’s predictive metrics allow you to make large-scale, data-driven decisions. Using the following predictive power, it provides quantitative metrics to help monitor users and actions which may yield a purchase:

  • Purchase probability– The probability that a user who has been active in the last 28 days would purchase something within the next seven days.
  • Churn probability– the probability that a user who has been active within the previous seven days would idle within the next seven days.
  • Revenue prediction– the predicted revenue a user who has been active in the past 28 days) would bring in within the next 28 days.

Subsequently, active Google Ads campaigns or social media could target these audiences to conclude the AI-powered algorithm. These algorithms help improve retargeting campaign success as well as boost website performance.

Should I Move to GA4?

What’s the fuss about GA4? Should I finish setting up my Google Analytics 4 property today? Yes, but …

The switch to Google Analytics 4 is somewhat overwhelming, it’s crucial to gather data for future use as soon as possible. We’re almost confident that, at some point, Google will dismiss the old Google Analytics, but apparently, Google Analytics 4 isn’t completely matured yet. GA4 is getting off the ground, and it’s only collecting a small portion of data compared to UA.

Google Analytics 4 is forward-facing only, and it can only collect data from the date it’s enabled; it can’t collect historical data before that time. Also, data cannot be retroactively pulled from Universal Analytics. The GA4 documentation isn’t expected to be complete yet; the changes and additions to reports in GA4 are reflective of its relative immaturity. Thus, we don’t expect Universal Analytics to be going anywhere just yet.

What’ll Happen to the Existing UA?

To our knowledge, there’s been no official word from Google whether UA will become obsolete in the future. It’s, nevertheless, wise to get used to the new property while you still have the time and work with the old one– you can run UA and GA4 side-by-side. This way, you can accustom yourself to the new property without losing your current reporting capabilities.

For the moment, it’s recommended you run both properties separately and preferably independent from each other. This parallel run will give your new GA4 property some time to gather historical data.

Google Analytics 4 is the future of analytics, and with cookies being eliminated, now is perhaps the perfect time to start using it to collect data. Setting up GA4 now will help machine learning and AI accurately predict user probability, making data more meaningful when you eventually make the complete switch.

Biggest Pitfalls of GA4

Google Analytics 4 is still in beta, so some things still need to be worked on. Although GA4 is making steady progress in marketing analytics and reporting in many regards, it’s still missing some fundamental functionality we’re used to in UA. Although some of the features omitted in GA4 are intentional, others have fallen through the cracks.

In the following, we look at significant items still being missed or limited in Google Analytics 4.

Common Filter Functions

Building up a new Google Analytics view used to have two main steps: (1) dial in all of your settings and (2) add in your filters. Internal IP addresses, lowercase URLs, and advertising click IDs were most common. GA4 has dissolved a couple of these into their sections, such as internal and development IP addresses but didn’t offer a method for advanced users to make more granular filters for the others.

Common Date Range Parameters

Most businesses tend to report monthly or quarterly and review data on a month-to-date or quarter-to-date basis. However, you won’t find any date range capabilities available in Google Analytics 4 for filtering in such a manner.

Search Console Integration

GA4 has native integrations for Google Ads, Ads Manager, and BigQuery. Still, it has not made a data link to their other popular website reporting and maintenance platform, Google Search Console. Inputting this data into your UA account provides immense value because it allows you to look at what search queries were driving traffic to your site and which ones were driving more engaged users.

Bottom Line

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Are you still not sure where to start with GA4? No worries, we’re here to help! Our development team is always keeping up with the latest marketing trends, and we’ll help businesses learn more about or implement Google Analytics 4.

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