Digital marketers, analysts, and developers might have been surprised to see their Google Analytics accounts turned into Google Analytics 4 (GA4) with what may have seemed like a complete overhaul. It’s normal if you feel like you have to learn how to use Google Analytics effectively, all over again. I can imagine you have a lot of Google Analytics questions because, at first, we did too!
What is Google Analytics 4? Where do I begin? Do I need to make the shift now? Is all my past data from Universal Analytics (UA) now irrelevant? We’ll answer these and more ahead.
It’s understandable that the changes have brought on a lot of questions. Fortunately, Google has done a better job than usual in providing clear answers, and we’re here to help you on this journey, warm up to GA4 and make informed decisions.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What It Is: Google Analytics 4 – a New Property for Both Websites & Apps
- How It Works: Old Ways & New Features
- Universal Analytics & Google Analytics Firebase: separate tools for websites and apps
- Google Analytics 4: a unified analytics platform
- 2019 Beta Version
- 2020 Fully Launched Version
- Understanding the New Terminology
- Google Analytics 4 VS Universal Analytics
- Google Analytics 4 Pros & Cons
- Effectively Using GA4
- How To Set Up Google Analytics 4
- Set-up for new websites and apps
- Set-up for websites with existing universal analytics
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in.
Google Analytics 4: A New Property for Both Websites & Apps
What is Google Analytics 4? GA4, previously known as “App + Web,” is Google’s next-generation platform for web analytics that covers both websites and mobile apps. So whether you’re someone who uses Google Analytics for a website, an app, or both, GA4 is ready to meet you there.
More importantly, it’s an entirely new property that’s designed to be more realistic and relevant in the insights it delivers to help you grow with businesses and more effectively measure key insights across any platform. This is thanks to the machine learning that’s central to Google Analytics 4. It’s also designed to keep pace with the changes in consumer behavior.
And in just a year, it will completely overtake Universal Analytics just like UA phased out 2008’s Google Classic Analytics. So the big question is, should you make the leap now?
Krista Seiden gives sound advice via Twitter saying that now’s the time to start trying it out and build up your historical data. Starting now gives you plenty of time to adjust and keeps you from the stress of cramming.
Let’s learn how this will improve your bottom line and keep your customers satisfied.
Created for Your Business & Your Customers
GA4 was created to help businesses improve their marketing ROI, according to Vidhya Srinivasan, Google’s VP/GM for Buying, Analytics, and Measurement. She shared this in Google’s October 2020 announcement about GA4.
She also mentioned the increasing importance of digital analytics tools needing to keep up to pace with changes in business and consumer behavior:
- Even the last standing bastions of brick and mortar are moving online and facing pressure to make sure their marketing budget is spent wisely.
- Major changes are seen in consumer behavior in the past two years, with mobile becoming the dominant method of doing research and shopping
Google is adapting to meet the needs of the current business environments and the people they serve. Hence, the launch of Google Analytics 4 came not just with a focus on helping businesses make better analytics-based decisions, but also with a focus on meeting consumer digital needs and their expectations of privacy.
Trends from Google’s data have shown that there have been significant shifts in the way consumers expect their online experience to be, as well as their perception of the way their data is being handled.
People are expecting their search intent to be understood by companies and at the same time, expect more transparency with how their data is used. These insights fueled GA4’s functionality which is to be a digital analytics tool that:
- Adapts to customers’ desire for privacy first
- Gives businesses a clearer picture of consumer behavior to help them adapt to their customers’ needs and gain long-term wins that improve the bottom line
Google Analytics 4 is here to help businesses ride the wave of change in their customers’ behavior and adapt to doing business post-pandemic. Here are a few quick points from Vidhya Srinivasan on how GA4 will help:
- Alerts on important trends where you need to take immediate action
- Predictive metrics to gauge the potential income from a specific customer group
- Google Ads integration
- App and web measurement in one platform
- Measurement that’s centered on the customer instead of by platform or device to gain a clearer picture of customers’ interaction with your business
- Simpler reports that will give you the ability to focus on specific parts of the customer journey
- Machine learning to help fill in the data gaps that come from the phasing out of cookies.
UA & GA4: Old Ways & New Features
By now, we’re used to Google making updates. But we still go through a learning curve, especially with a major update like Google Analytics 4.
I am a believer that to understand how something will help us, we need to understand how it was designed and how it functions. To understand a lot of the features of the previous GA version, it was important to understand how cookies functioned. Similarly, GA4 has a lot of features that need to be fundamentally understood to be able to visualize how certain data points can help us.
Universal Analytics & Google Analytics For Firebase: Separate Tools That Work Together
Universal Analytics (UA) is the web analytics tool used from 2013 until Google Analytics 4 was launched on October 14, 2020. Firebase is Google’s platform for mobile app activity measurement. They’re separate tools that work together to collect data we use to get a holistic picture of the customer journey.
Most people refer to the Google Analytics data engine as GA. But to fairly differentiate between the old and the new, we’ll use UA to refer to what most know as GA.
If you were managing a website, UA was your best bet. For an app, it was Firebase. If you were managing both, you would’ve needed to use both UA and Firebase.
You also would have brought the data from both platforms together to get a clearer picture of your customers’ journey. It would have then taken a lot of time and effort to see/analyze which touch-points from the two data sets led to the customers’ decisions.
But as laborious as it was, it was working better than “no data”, and many have benefitted from the powerful insights of UA & Firebase.
Google Analytics 4: A Unified Analytics Platform
Google Analytics 4, on the other hand, is now the default platform for both websites and mobile apps. It’s a unified tool that can collect Google Analytics metrics from either one or both. Here’s how it started and how it’s going:
How It Started: App + Web (July 2019)
Google introduced GA4’s beta version in 2019 and was known then as “App +Web.” It was introduced with the functionality that’s at GA4’s core which was to let users “combine app and web data for unified reporting and analysis.” App + Web was simply a beta version that Google encouraged users to try out back then, UA was still the default tool.
How It’s Going: GA4 (October 2020)
In Google’s Skill Shop course for GA4, they share that “users often switch devices or profiles as they interact with your website.” It makes sense when we think about our last purchase online. This behavior often leaves analysts with duplicate journeys that are confusing to distinguish.
Google Analytics 4 offers a solution by de-duplicating consumer data on both platforms. It’s able to “measure a single user journey across devices based on the best available user identifiers.” This new ability will save businesses time and the pain-staking process of manually digging through Google Analytics’ metrics.
The focus with GA4 is on the customer journey and all data is organized based on this.
This also gives businesses more accurate insights across any platform their customers may use and consequently provides them with better experiences.
Curious to know what other new features are included in Google Analytics 4? Check out this quick list of GA4 features:
- Measurement of journeys per individual. No more duplicate users.
- Insight into both website and app data on one platform
- Made for websites, apps, or both
- A seamless combination of data streams that clearly show all the touchpoints your customers interacted with
- Automation by machine learning
- Defining audiences based on IDs you’ve created for signed-in users
- Customer lifetime value analysis
- Path analysis
- Funnel analysis
- BigQuery Export
Overall the focus has shifted from click metrics to engagement metrics. The new Google Analytics reflects the shift the search algorithms have made in recent years, to put users first.
Understanding the New GA4 Terminology:
The most confusing part of GA4 comes from the usage of new terms, and the addition of new sections.
In many ways, the new GA4 makes it easier to find essential information. It also highlights this renewed focus on customers’ journeys and engagement. You will notice that you won’t see “sessions” by itself any longer. It’s been replaced with “engaged sessions.” And “engagement rate” is a newly added measurement.
Which raises the question:
What is “engagement” in the new Google Analytics 4?
Engaged sessions is the number of sessions that lasted 10 seconds or longer, or had 1 or more conversion events or 2 or more page views. Engagement rate is the % of engaged sessions.
And where did bounce rate go in GA4?
It’s the reverse of engaged sessions. Roughly. Bounce rate was a really flawed and misunderstood metric. So much ink and discussion was wasted on the relevance of the bounce rate. Now, you’ll have engaged sessions and non-engaged sessions. That should make it more simple and clear.
What are enhanced measurements?
Most data points in GA4 are now considered “events.” In addition, certain events that needed to be tracked via Google Tag Manager, will now be available as enhanced measurements.
Here is information on what all the enhanced measurements are and how to turn them on.
Google Analytics 4 VS Universal Analytics
Now, let’s bring it all together by comparing the technicalities of Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. Here’s a quick table showing the differences:
|Google Analytics Metrics||UA||GA4|
|Pageviews and Screenviews||
For example, you can add details to the event content_view like the title of the article the user read on your blog with the parameter “article_title”.
||Some user properties are already tracked automatically:
|Data Collection Settings||
Google Analytics 4 Pros & Cons
Now we’ve run through the differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. The most notable change is GA4’s event-based model where user interactions are collected and stored as events. Compared to sessions in UA, events give more insight as to what happened on your website or app.
So what do current users have to say about those differences and using Google Analytics 4? Here are a few pros and cons from people’s experiences:
Google Analytics 4 Pros
GA4 can be used for both websites and mobile apps.
Databox quotes Caligenix’s Dr. Tzur Gabi in their article on Google Analytics 4. He shared that GA4’s main advantage is its usefulness for websites and apps individually or both. “It’s a larger summary of your business that mirrors the funnel of acquiring and retaining users while collecting reports of customer demographics and new technology releases.”
GA4’s event-based model makes analytics scalable across platforms.
Maryna Sharapa, OWOX BI’s PR manager, shares in Towards Data Science that GA4’s event-based model efficiently collects data from any device and platform. She’s seen that this model helps improve data quality.
In UA, data used to be difficult to analyze as it came from two different places: sessions for Analytics and events for Firebase. It was challenging to move between the two and analyze the data. GA4 makes it easier to analyze and makes the data more useful.
GA4 is privacy-centered.
Alexander Hall, CEO of 121 Watt, in an article on Ryte Magazine takes GA4’s ability to collect data without the need for cookies or identifiers as one of its advantages. It respects consumers’ privacy and right to data protection.
Availability of Google 360 features.
Bud Hennekes highlights on CXL that Google 360 features like BigQuery export and funnels are now accessible. New features on the funnels like the ability to build segmentable and retroactive funnels are an exciting prospect on GA4.
Google Analytics 4 Disadvantages
GA4 doesn’t merge with UA’s historical data.
Bud Hennekes also notes on CXL that GA4 doesn’t bring in UA’s historical data. So for those who wish to see their old data from UA, he advises you to:
“add the global tag in GA4 and begin collecting as much data as possible now, even if you don’t plan to switch to GA4 for analysis and reporting for a while.”
He also shares a tweet by Krista Seiden, KS Digital’s founder and former Evangelist for Google Analytics, confirming that merging isn’t possible between UA & GA4. She suggests using Data Studio to bring the two together so you can view them on a single dashboard.
Some of GA4’s features are still being rolled out.
Social Media Examiner‘s Michael Stelzner interviewed MeasurementMarketing’s Chris Mercer. Chris shares that Google Analytics 4’s new features like connecting to Data Studio aren’t readily available yet. For him, its functionality is only 20-30% of UA’s which is why he believes it isn’t ready yet to be used to make major marketing decisions.
Effectively Using Google Analytics 4
There are several ways to can take advantage of Google Analytics 4’s new features in 2021.
- Reset your expectations. GA4 is about the customer journey not just page views.
- Maximize your ability to create specific audiences by grouping users who will either make a purchase or not. This ability comes from insight into the probability of their decision that’s based on GA4 making predictions from first-party behavior.
- Dive into the new metrics for user engagement and see who’s engaged by your content through their interactions on your website/app.
- Notice the data trends that Google Analytics 4 alerts you to. This allows you to respond quickly and make decisions when they matter most.
- Prepare your marketing strategy for a future without cookies by using GA4’s ability to collect data without the need for it.
- Make work more efficient with GA4’s enhanced measurement that you can automatically enable.
- Use Google Analytics 4’s “Debug View” to help you set apart your data that’s flowing in real-time.
- Maximize your ability to roll up data from both websites and mobile apps.
- Leverage on GA4’s Analysis Hub and BigQuery export that are now available on the platform. This feature was previously only enjoyed by Google Analytics 360 users but now, you can take advantage of it too!
How to Set up Google Analytics 4
Ready to finally try out Google Analytics 4? There are three ways to set it up and you can choose which one works best for you. Here are your options:
Step 1: Visit google.com/analytics and create a new Analytics account for free.
Step 2: Once logged in/you’ve created a Google Analytics account, click “Admin” at the lower-left corner with the gear icon then select “Create An Account.” Provide your details and configure your settings for data sharing with Google.
Step 3: Click “Next” to proceed to the next two steps to create your first property.
Step 4: Add your business property data (web/app data).
Step 5: Add your business information (industry/size/intent in using Google Analytics) then click “Create.”
Step 6: Select “Data Streams” under the “Property” column.
Step 7: Add the data stream applicable to you. Choose from “web” for websites and “Android” or “iOs” for apps. A Firebase project is automatically created when adding a data stream for your app. Data collection begins once the Firebase SDK is added to your app.
Step 8: Set up your website for data collection by adding the Analytics tag to your website’s pages. Read more detailed guides here for the following:
- For Google Analytics on WordPress, Shopify, etc.
Google Analytics provides an easy-to-follow guide on how to set up Google Analytics 4 for websites with existing UA. You can skip the following section if you’d rather watch the video. You can read on if you’d like to follow the steps at your own pace.
Step 1: Open your Google Analytics account and click “Admin.“
Step 2: Choose your desired account under the “Account” column.
Step 3: Click the UA property that’s collecting your website’s data under the “Property” column.
Step 4: Click “GA4 Setup Assistant” under the “Property” column.
Step 5: Select “Get Started” from “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.”
Step 6: An optional step is to “enable data collection using your existing tags” if you’re using a gtag.js.
Step 7: Select “Create Property.“
Step 1: Open your Firebase console.
Step 2: Select “Analytics” then “Dashboard.”
Step 3: Select “Begin upgrade”
Step 4: Follow the instructions presented on the screen to finish the whole process.
Google Analytics 4 In Conclusion
Google Analytics 4 is a powerful digital analytics tool that reimagines the customer journey and how data is measured. It’s no wonder that Google has made it the default platform for its analytics.
So try collecting data using Google Analytics 4 alongside Universal Analytics as soon as you’re able and let us know what you think. By the time GA4 is the default platform, you would have already learned the ropes and more or less have overcome the learning curve.