What is Google Analytics 4? A Complete Guide for Marketers
In October 2022, Google announced a significant change to Google Analytics – Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which is now the default when someone creates a new property. The previous generation of Analytics is called Universal Analytics (UA), which was the default property type for websites prior to October 2020.
One of the major reasons for this upgrade that Google cites in their announcement is the shift in consumer behavior and major changes to online privacy policies.
These shifts led Google to conclude that current analytics solutions did not provide a holistic view of the customer journey, which is mostly a cross-platform experience. To solve this problem, they launched GA4. It provides a machine learning-based approach to gaining cross-platform insights. It automatically surfaces useful insights and gives a comprehensive understanding of the customers present across different platforms and devices.
At its core, GA4 focuses on providing more data catering to the entire customer journey, including customer acquisition and degree of engagement, monetization, and retention.
Key Features of Google Analytics 4
Let’s discuss the core features and benefits of GA4 in detail.
1. Deeper integration with Google Ads
GA4 measures interactions across different apps and the web. Meaning, it can report on conversions like YouTube engaged views that occur on the web and in-app.
In particular, this integration will allow you to see web and in-app conversions for YouTube ads, Google ads, other non-Google paid channels like Facebook, and organic channels inclusive of email, social and search. This would further help simplify measuring the overall impact of all your marketing investments, irrespective of the acquisition channel.
2. Smarter insights
Google Analytics can now alert marketers about important data trends, which has been made possible by leveraging the existing machine learning models of Google.
For example, GA4 can use website data to identify the products experiencing an increase in demand due to changing customer needs. Such capabilities can help marketers be proactive and reactive as they can predict future actions that customers may take.
The new predictive metrics will also be added over time, like evaluating the potential revenue that you can earn from a specific group of customers. Then you can create custom audiences for reaching higher-value customer groups.
3. Customer-centric measurement
A more customer-centric approach is another key focus of this upgrade. It helps track the entire customer journey, which is usually a fragmented experience involving various platforms and devices.
As Google describes, GA4 uses various identity spaces, including User IDs that are provided by marketers and unique Google signals from users who chose ads personalization, to give you a complete view of how people interact with your business.
Again, this boils down to knowing exactly from where your customers are coming and what actions they would take throughout their lifecycle while interacting with a business.
4. New approach to data controls
Google Analytics 4 is designed to adapt to the new privacy landscape with granular control on collecting, retaining, and analyzing user data. Specifically, it is designed with an approach to data collection that does not use identifiers or cookies. This new platform will leverage data modeling to fill in the gaps in the customer journey, where data may be inaccessible or incomplete.
5. Reorganized reporting
Regarding reporting, Google’s goal was to make it simple to track a customer throughout a marketing funnel.
Previously, Google Analytics had only the Acquisition report. But now the new sections like engagement, monetization, and retention offer more visibility into the later stages of the customer lifecycle.
Additionally, another new reporting capability is the “Analysis” section, which provides multiple templates to analyze conversion funnels, user journey, cohort analysis, and more.
How to Migrate to Google Analytics 4
If you are setting up an entirely new property, you will be using GA4 reporting by default. Nonetheless, we will discuss how to make the transition if you are still using legacy version.
1. Create the GA4 property and launch it
Creating new GA4 property and launching them as soon as you can is of utmost importance.
Properties won’t import historical data from UA (Universal Analytics), meaning your GA4 property will begin tracking traffic data from the moment when you create it and forward.
So, the sooner you create it, the sooner you will have data populating in the GA4 property.
For launching the new property, you will need to:
- Create the GA4 property
- Add the new GA4 tracking tag to the site
Here is how you can connect a new GA4 data stream to your current UA.
- Login to your Google Analytics Account
- Click on Admin (Gear icon, bottom left navigation)
- Confirm that you have selected your desired account
- Click GA4 Setup Assistant (it will be the first option in the Property column)
- Once you reach inside the Setup Wizard, click on the large blue button to get started
- There’s just one more step, click on the blue button to Create Property.
Important note: The G4A setup assistant automatically work with gtag.js. If you use a website builder like WordPress, you’ll have to add the Analytics tag on your own. You can easily do this with Google Tag Manager.
2. List your key items
GA4 property(ies) do not extract some of the tracking items from other properties (including UA properties). A few examples of such properties are goals, content groupings or events.
The following is a list of the common tracking items people use in Google Analytics. Though you may have some additional ones:
- Goals (Conversions)
- Content Groupings
- Custom Dimensions/Metrics
- Referral Exclusions
- Product Link Connections
After creating the list, evaluate the things that you want to keep and the ones you want to discard. And perhaps where the gaps may exist, for which you may want to create new tracking items like new goals, new events, etc.
Remember that the goals are created in every reporting view. And the reporting views are not used with GA4.
So, if you want to save all the goals that you currently have in different reporting views (for the same UA property), you’ll have to list all the goals and create them again in the GA4 property.
3. Begin migrating individual items to GA4
Once you have a list of items that you want to recreate in GA4, the real set up work would begin.
Here are a few common items for setup and some tips to set up each one:
Events in GA4 are somewhat similar to UA setup, but you may be required to set the tagging up anew for GA4 goals.
You may have manually set up some events in the past, such as scroll depth, which are now automatically added in GA4.
So, first you need to check the automated goals that are being tracked in your GA4 property. You can do this by looking at the events under ‘Configure’ in the navigation.
(Note: You’ll not have to recreate the events that Google has already created for you)
Google Tag Manager can be the easiest tool to use for this effort.
b. Content Groupings
In Universal Analytics, the content groupings were created only in the interface. However, in GA4, all the content groups are created using page tagging as there’s no interface setup.
Though it may require a lot of investment of time at the onset, this is a nice change.
A page can have various “gtags”, and an easy to implement these is through Google Tag Manager.
You can also visit this reference guide from Google to implement content groupings in GA4.
c. Custom Metrics/Dimensions
Similar to UA, setting up custom metrics and dimensions would be a two-step process – it needs to be set up in both the code and the interface.
Your existing UA custom metrics and dimensions tags may migrate fine to GA4, but you’ll still need to set up the metrics and dimensions in the GA4 property interface. For this you can refer to Google’s setup guide.
d. Goals (Conversions)
In GA4, the goals are renamed as “Conversions”, and all the goals are event-based.
While migrating your UA goals to GA4, it is highly advisable to begin with the event-based goals. Because these are very similar to the original goals set up in UA.
Once you have set up the events in GA4 and tagged them as conversions, begin with the engagement goals and destination-based goals.
- You can add previous destination-based goals to GA4 either via the interface or code
- For the previous engagement-based goals, you’ll have to create a GA4 audience. And then you need to create your engagement-based goals again while utilizing that audience.
Just like all other things in the UA to GA4 migration, you’d have to move ecommerce tracking from UA to GA4. Even though it is same as UA, Google suggests to create a separate set of tags for GA4 ecommerce tracking.
Again, you can take help of the Google Tag Manager to implement ecommerce tagging across the website.
After launching all the tracking items in GA4 property(ies), carefully check if they are tracking properly.
4. Decide a date to migrate to GA4 as your only source of truth
As many organizations rely on Google Analytics for reporting, it is important for them to agree that eventually GA4 property will become the “only source of truth” for data and reporting.
Ideally, you should wait until you have YoY data in your GA4 property prior to changing your only source of truth to GA4 because tracking and metrics in GA4 are entirely different than they are in UA. Therefore, you can’t accurately use UA data from a year and compare it to GA4 data in another year.
5. Archive your UA data
In addition to forcing everyone to migrate to GA4, Google decided that they’ll also delete all the historical UA data beginning on January 1, 2024.
Though it has become unavoidable to archive this data, you should also plan to archive it in case you need to reference it in future.
- Determine the data that you need regularly
- Consider the intervals in which you access the data (If you want to archive your data in the way matching these data usage habits)
Quick Tip – if you aren’t a developer and you don’t know how to use the GA API, consider using Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-On, which works with Google Sheets. It is very handy and pulls the data fast.
And you are done.
GA4 is a game-changing tool for marketers, providing valuable insights into website traffic and user behavior. With its powerful analytics capabilities, GA4 can help marketers make informed decisions and improve their overall marketing strategies.
Unlike previous versions of Google Analytics, GA4 offers enhanced flexibility and improved privacy measures, making it an essential upgrade for any business looking to stay ahead in today’s digital landscape.
As you become more familiar with GA4, you’ll quickly realize its true value. Its advanced features and in-depth analytics provide marketers with unparalleled insights and the ability to forecast user behavior like never before. If you want to take your marketing efforts to the next level, GA4 is the way to go.