What is GA4?

What is GA4?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics (GA) that allows you to combine your data from apps and websites. This new property utilizes an event-based tracking model that collects everything as an event. This means all of your data is under one scope so you can build more reports and analyze different metrics together better than ever before. GA4 is privacy-focused and durable for the future of digital marketing. The interface uses the intelligence of machine learning to pull out valuable insights about customer journeys across platforms, while maintaining a seamless integration of Google’s advertising platforms. GA4 is designed to optimize campaign performance while increasing ROI.

Starting July 1st, 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) properties will no longer be processing data. That is why it’s important to understand the new capabilities of GA4, so when the time comes you will be better prepared to help your clients make the switch. From now on, any new accounts will be GA4 and existing UA accounts will no longer be processing any new hits following the July 1st deadline. All account properties can be updated to GA4, which means a new property will be created alongside your existing UA account. It is recommended that you start making the transition now by setting up GA4 accounts along with your already existing properties, as previous data in UA will only remain viewable for 6 months after the transition date. Starting the transition now will give you the time to accumulate data in GA4 without losing any of your current data collection as well as increasing visibility of your data after the transition. 

Previously, Universal Analytics was in large part dependent on cookies in order to track the customer journey and performance. With the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), websites are now required to have users’ consent to cookies. This response directly impacts some of the core digital marketing practices and dependence on behavioral data collection. As reliance on cookies begins to be phased out, Google Analytics 4 event-based tracking will prove to be the most durable. 

Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4

Understanding the key differences between GA4 and UA will be important before you make the switch. The biggest difference between the two properties is the way in which data is captured and the measurement model put in place. In Universal Analytics, data is collected based on session times and page views, while GA4 collects data as events. These range from a number of different metrics such as pageviews, clicks, impressions and downloads. In UA, a session can contain multiple events, page views and transactions, however, this is not feasible on GA4. This may seem confusing and potentially problematic as there are no event categories for the new property. Every hit will now be tracked as an event, so some metrics may be calculated differently in GA4 than in UA. This makes it important to begin collecting data in GA4 early in order to get the best idea of how to interpret any discrepancies between the two. GA4 has created 4 groups to track different events: Automatically collected events, Enhanced Measurements events, Recommended events, Custom events. 
Automatically Collected Events: Automatically triggered and recorded events based on basic activities that happen on your app or website (ad_click, ad_impression, file_download, first_open, page_view).
Enhanced Measurement Events: Lets you measure interactions with your apps or websites by enabling events in GA without having to change any code. 
Recommended Events: Additional events that can be added and tracked on your website or mobile app to help measure more features, behaviors and generate more useful reports (prescribed parameters needed). 
Custom Events: Events that can be tracked on mobile apps or websites that GA4 does not track by default. 
Another important difference between the two properties is user reporting across platforms and devices. Due to the event-based tracking model in GA4, businesses can now track users across platforms and devices. This delivers better insights on the customer journey on a user-by-user basis compared to Universal Analytics. 
As it stands, GA4 is much more limited in terms of its reporting capabilities compared to reports offered in Universal Analytics. Although, the GA4 property does offer more customizable reporting views that provide more specific insights . You can build these custom reports in the ‘Explore’ tab. Since Google Analytics 4 utilizes machine learning, there are more opportunities to gain better insights on changes in data trends, which allows for you to better optimize media strategies. 
In short, the difference between GA4 and UA is mainly in their working model. GA4 gives you a more customer-centered approach, allowing you to track users’ steps throughout the customer journey and gain more granular insights.

Next Steps 

In order to prepare for the transition to GA4 there are a few things to consider. The first step is to assess the account structure, although if you already use Universal Analytics this should be an easy change. Once you have considered your account structure, you should begin creating Google Analytics 4 properties. Google offers you the ability to set this account up alongside your already existing properties which can be done in the admin tab under the account column. 

After establishing your GA4 account, you will need to begin setting up data collection. You’ll need to add GA4 tags to your new web pages so that you can begin seeing data pull into your new Google Analytics property. Also, you should activate Google signals. This will enable you to use existing GA features so you can include aggregated data from Google users who have Ads Personalization turned on. 

In terms of data collection, you should also make sure to have the account linking your ads to the new property. This ensures that you structure your data as the transition date approaches. 

Making the switch to GA4 should not be rushed. Start the clock to get a general overview of the GA4 interface and its products. Start by making business decisions based on what you feel will make sense for you and your clients. 


Written by Ryan Burt

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