Get the lowdown on GA4, Google’s latest iteration of the analytics platform.
Here, you’ll find:
- What Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is all about
- Key features of this new property
- How GA4 affects the Universal Analytics sunset
- Potential GA4 drawbacks
Are you one of the many digital marketers who feels like they practically live in the Google Analytics platform?
Then you may have been buzzing with anticipation when you heard the search engine giant was rolling out a new Google Analytics version, dubbed Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Then, that anticipation may have turned to dread when Google announced it was sunsetting its Universal Analytics version of GA (and its related app data). Luckily, we went ahead and laid out a few options for exporting your Google Analytics data.
(Hint: You may want to make a plan for that now, since Google claims the Universal Analytics property’s data won’t be accessible as of July 2024).
But once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, what’s next? Here’s everything you need to know about Google Analytics 4.
What is GA4?
Google Analytics 4 is the latest iteration of the popular web analytics tool. Essentially, it’s a hybrid platform of Universal Analytics (UA) and Firebase, Google’s platform for mobile developers.
Announced in October 2020, the GA4 property promised to usher in more intelligent insights, cross-platform analytics, a new approach to data control, and much more.
Machine learning (ML) is at the core of this tool, providing improved functionality. Let’s take a closer look at what this most recent version of Google Analytics is all about, how it can streamline your marketing efforts, and which key features to take note of.
GA4 vs. UA: Data collection
One of the biggest differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics is how these platforms collect data. That’s because different data collection methods mean different reporting and analysis options.
For example, Google explains UA counts one conversion per session for the same goal. GA4, on the other hand, can count multiple conversions per session for the same conversion event.
Other main components include:
- UA is session-based, while GA4 is event-based
- Bounce rate has changed (GA4 uses engagement rate, but that includes any session over 10 seconds, not just non-bounces. This means looking at UA and GA4 comparisons is like comparing apples to oranges.)
- Data-driven attribution is now the default instead of the last non-direct click
- GA offers better cross-domain tracking
Why do you need GA4?
There are a handful of reasons why it’s a good idea to start leveraging GA4. If you’re looking for the best-possible tracking, particularly across multiple devices and platforms, GA4 is where it’s at.
What’s more, nearly all businesses are facing some level of competition – other similar companies bidding on the same keywords and trying to attract the same customers. So it makes sense that you’d want to take advantage of all the latest tools, tactics, and platforms at your disposal.
GA4 is Google’s new-and-improved analytics platform. Just like with the app update notifications you get on your phone, each iteration is better designed, offers more features, and makes data analysis more clear.
How to get GA4
Ready to get started with GA4? You’re in the right place – here’s what to do.
Step 1: Choose a setup option
You have three setup options to choose from.
If you’re new to Google Analytics, you can set it up GA4 for the first time for your website and/or app:
- Go to analytics.google.com
- Select “Start measuring” if you’re creating an account for the first time
- If you’ve created an account and just need to make a new one, click “Create Account” under the “Account” column in the Admin section
- Name your account
- Set up your data-sharing settings
- Click “Next” to add this property to your account
If you’re adding GA4 to a site that has used UA, the process is a bit different.
- Someone with an Administrator or Editor role needs to complete this setup
- Click “Admin” on the lower left of the Google Analytics dashboard
- Select the desired account in the “Account” section unless it’s auto-selected
- Under “Property,” select the UA property you want to convert to GA4
- Click “GA Setup Assistant” in the “Property” column
- Select the way you want to migrate your UA data to GA4 (you have a few varying options)
- Create the property (either new or migrated from your UA settings)
- Choose how you want to install your Google tag – this can be done manually, with a CMS, by using an already existing tag, or by creating a new tag
Lastly, you can add GA4 to a site builder platform (like WordPress) or CMS (content management system like HubSpot).
- Determine that your platform accepts a Google tag ID (see the list here)
- Follow the steps outlined by Google that coincide with your particular platform
Step 2: Finish and review your setup
Once you’ve completed the above steps, you should see a message at the top of your “Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant” page saying your properties have been connected successfully.
Pro tip: Make sure you note the name you gave your property in the platform so you can easily find it in the future.
Step 3: Monitor the results
To see your new GA4 property, go to Setup Assistant. This section can walk you through things like recommended features and settings to ensure your setup is complete.
To check that data is now being collected properly, Google recommends browsing your website, then selecting “Realtime” from the report navigation section. From there, you should begin to see activity (though it can take up to 30 minutes for data to start appearing).
4 key features of GA4
Just like the search engine’s algorithm, it’s likely we’ll see updates and iterations of GA4’s features and offerings as time goes on. For now, here’s what you can expect from the platform’s latest iteration.
1. Cross-platform analytics
Marketers are already working hard to track user behavior across social media accounts, domains, sessions, and devices. Google Analytics 4 allows you to do it across platforms.
Today, the user journey happens mostly via websites and mobile apps. GA4 lets you learn how the customer moves across multiple platforms while engaging with your brand, helping reduce churn in the process.
Let’s say someone browses your website today and then signs up for your services from your app tomorrow. With regular Google Analytics, you could only analyze each stage of this journey separately. Now, you can bring them together to get a clearer picture of how your customers behave.
If this process sounds familiar, that’s because GA4 is a new name for Google’s App+Web property. The former platform was enhanced and adjusted to become Google’s new and improved tool.
With high-quality cross-platform analytics, you can understand which customers’ actions precede the conversion event, which can help you better adjust your strategies moving forward.
2. Advanced data control
With Google Analytics 4, marketers gain access to better data controls to manage and retain information. You can choose when to implement customer data into ad optimization or when to limit the data use to pure measurements.
The new data model allows marketers to start adapting to the impending cookie-less scenario brought about by changes to online data privacy.
GA4 also includes conversion modeling to help measure the customer journey without cookies (trackers that were used to monitor and analyze site visitor behavior) and identifiers.
With advanced data control, you can rely on GA4 to measure marketing results even when third-party cookies are entirely phased out.
3. More insights from machine learning
As Google continues to integrate more artificial intelligence (AI) and ML into its analytics tools, marketers are able to see more insights into future customer behavior.
The program analyzes trends in collected data to predict consumer behavior. This is based on things like past purchasing actions, browsing habits, ad-clicking activity, and more.
Recently, Google also added predictive metrics, giving users the option to predict revenue for certain customer segments. These insights can help you analyze different customer groups to understand why some spend more than others, so you can better optimize your marketing campaigns.
4. More benefits for Google Ads
Put simply, Google Analytics 4 provides deeper integration with Google Ads.
By using data collected and analyzed by GA4, you can create more specific custom audiences and segments to enhance your paid search marketing efforts.
As a bonus, you can track conversions that came from YouTube with GA4.
Additional Google Analytics 4 features
Here are a few additional features offered by GA4:
Free BigQuery Integration
The BigQuery integration helps you send raw data directly to the cloud data warehouse to generate ML-driven insights.
Previously available only on GA360, the funnel feature is now accessible to all GA4 users to build segmented custom funnels.
With GA4, you don’t need to add custom code or use Google Tag Manager for core event tracking. The new tool includes automatic event-based tracking with an Enhanced Management feature for scroll, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement, page views, and file downloads.
GA4’s Free Form (ex-Analysis Hub, ex-Explorations) option offers access to custom reports. You can create visualizations of cohorts, paths, funnels, or segments to get a better understanding of their behavior. These reports are shareable, printable in PDF format, and downloadable as an Excel workbook.
GA4 allows you to customize automated tables. Users with admin access can customize data presented in the program’s reports, saving you time on juggling metrics and custom dimensions.
This AI-powered tool allows you to identify anomalies in metrics over time. When a value changes drastically (beyond the set interval), you get notified.
Improved audience builder
GA4 improved the existing audience builder feature and added more options, including event scoping, time-based sequences, exclusion, and duration. As a bonus, exclusions aren’t all permanent.
A nice new feature GA4 offers is the debugging view. You can put the test data into one report specifically created for debugging, which improves troubleshooting.
You can now (finally) update the attribution measurement within the platform to options like data-driven and position-based.
A huge GA4 benefit is the ability to measure time in a way you couldn’t with UA. GA4 can measure the time between actions, whereas UA could essentially only measure time on site.
Pro tip: Launch Mappers offers a pre- and post-migration checklist template that can help you get ready to fully migrate to GA4.
Potential GA4 drawbacks
Once the initial excitement around GA4 subsided, a few downsides came to light. As a result, not all marketers are amazed by this latest iteration.
If you’ve been using Universal Analytics for years, GA4 could be hard to get used to. The new program is substantially different. Some issues marketers have pointed out include:
- The need to use separate tools for GA4 reporting, data collection, and analyzing
- Some old pre-defined reports (landing page, site search) are gone
- Data organization tiers went from Account-Property-View to Accounts and Property
- There are no GA4 filtering mechanisms for things like updating URLs from uppercase to lowercase
- Building data collection off of data streams can take some getting used to
- You no longer build out and track goals the same way
- Ecommerce tracking is a bit more complicated
- There’s no annotation feature
Despite these snags, many new users call GA4 beginner-friendly. It seems to have a lower learning curve for someone who has never used Universal Analytics before, but a steeper one for seasoned GA users.
While there are some hoops to get through, it seems fair to remain optimistic that the additional features we all want will continue to be built out.
Pro tip: Consider a setup assistant (like, ahem, your favorite digital marketing agency partner) to help build out your GA4 properly.
Historical Google Analytics data issues
Another problem marketers face with GA4 involves keeping historical data.
When you set up a Google Analytics account, the program begins collecting data from your website. Everything you’ve collected over previous years doesn’t appear in the GA4 view. That means you can’t currently compare year-to-year data on the same platform.
Because of this, you have to take action to preserve your UA data between now and July 2024, as mentioned above.
Pro tip: GA4 has a setting that defaults data retention to two months. We recommend a best practice of setting this to 14 months upon implementation.
Google Analytics 4 is a highly efficient analytics tool with impressive potential for future improvements.
Getting used to GA4 has transitioned from a “nice to have” skill to a necessary one, in light of UA’s demise.
With Google being one of the leading ad platforms in the world, GA4 is an excellent opportunity to take full advantage of the existing features and improvements available.
The good news: By having an expert implement GA4 into your marketing efforts, you can start preserving historical data ASAP and gain an advantage over competitors who may not yet be on the bandwagon.
This post has been updated and was originally published in December 2020.