If you’re a business owner, marketer, or analytics enthusiast, you’ve probably already heard the news about the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA) and the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4). But, what is Google Analytics 4? How does it differ from Universal Analytics? And how can it help you gain deeper insights from your website’s data?
As the future of Google Analytics, it’s crucial that you get to grips with the basics of GA4. To help you along the way, we’ve put together a digestible guide to everything you need to know before you get started with GA4. From key benefits to limitations, let’s get stuck in…
What’s in this article?
“It’s key for marketers to get to grips with GA4 because it provides a more holistic view of user behaviour across devices and platforms, allowing for better data-driven decision making and improved marketing performance. With Universal Analytics sunset as of July, it will be critical that you familiarise yourself with the platform and equip your teams with the skills and training they need, otherwise you risk missing out on valuable insights and business potential.”
Danny Smith, Senior Analytics Manager at Semetrical
Google Analytics 4, also commonly referred to as GA4, is a powerful web analytics tool that has been developed by Google, Once Universal Analytics ceases to process new data on 1st July 2023, Google Analytics 4 will be the only Google web analytics tool you can use to track your website activity after that date.
Previously known as ‘App + Web’, Google Analytics 4 is a new property that was released from Beta at the end of 2020. Two key factors that led to the release of this upgraded version include a transition in consumer behaviour, as well as major changes to online privacy policies.
Google Analytics 4 provides businesses and website owners with comprehensive data and insights to measure and analyse user interactions on their websites, and applications. For example, users can track metrics, such as pageviews, bounce rates, conversion rates, and demographics. The platform enables users to gain a deeper understanding of their audience, measure the impact of their marketing efforts, and drive enhanced online results.
|Universal Analytics (UA)||Google Analytics 4 (GA4)|
|Uses a session-based model where data is organised into hits, sessions, and users.||Uses an event-based model where data is organised into events and parameters.|
|Does not have any built-in machine learning features.||Incorporates advanced machine learning and Al capabilities for automated insights, predictive analytics, and anomaly detection.|
|Requires separate implementation and tracking codes for each property.||Designed to provide a unified view of user behaviour across websites, apps, and other digital properties.|
|Does not have any privacy-focused features.||Includes features to help businesses comply with data privacy regulations.|
|Dated reporting interface with limited capabilities.||Offers a more modern and streamlined reporting interface with enhanced data visualisation and exploration capabilities, as well as customisable dashboards, real-time reporting, and improved integration with other Google marketing products.|
By now, you should have a solid understanding of what Google Analytics 4 is and the main differences between GA4 and UA. With everything you now know in mind, let’s take a closer look at the key features of Google Analytics 4 and how this powerful platform can help you.
Previously, using Universal Analytics, users had to create complex and multiple goals, however, Google Analytics 4 offers a more simplified way to track and measure user interactions with simplified goals and events. It uses an event-based model where events are defined as specific user interactions, such as click, submissions, or custom events.
Best of all, these events can be defined using a visual interface, which makes it much more intuitive and user-friendly, so even the less tech-savvy users can navigate through. GA4 also offers built-in events templates for common actions, which further simplifies the process.
Google Analytics 4 provides deeper integrations with other Google marketing tools through its enhanced data-sharing capabilities and unified tracking approach. Some of the most popular examples of these integrations include:
Rather than focusing solely on session-based data, GA4 offers a more customer-centric measurement approach by looking at individual users and their interactions. This event-based data model that focuses on individual user interactions enables businesses to track and analyse specific actions taken by users across multiple sessions and devices. As such, this provides a more comprehensive view of how individuals engage with a website over time, and offers insights into the complete customer journey.
User-ID tracking, audience creation and segmentation capabilities, Lifetime Value (LTV) reporting, and machine learning insights also add to the comprehensive view of user behaviour and engagement patterns that GA4 offers.
In addition to this, Google Analytics 4 incorporates machine learning and AI capabilities to deliver advanced insights and predictive analytics, which can help businesses make more data-driven decisions and optimise their site accordingly.
With this data, businesses can begin to gain a thorough understanding of the customer journey from start to finish, create personalised user experiences, and optimise their marketing activities based on real customer needs.
In comparison to Universal Analytics. Google Analytics 4 offers improved visibility on the later stages of the customer lifecycle. It has done so by reorganising reporting and simplifying tracking with a new section called ‘Life Cycle’. WIthin this section, there are four different reports, including:
Previously, Google Analytics only offered the Acquisition report, which only offered a fraction of the insights. Now, users can gain much greater visibility across the marketing funnel, even post-conversion.
Google Analytics 4 offers a new approach to data controls that empowers businesses and website owners to have more granular control over the data they collect and use for analysis. Thes controls enable users to define and configure how data is collected, processed, and stored, while ensuring compliance with current and future data privacy regulations and internal data policies.
Such features include data deletion, data retention setting, and data sharing controls, all of which enable users to customise their data management practices in line with their specific requirements. This new approach to data privacy puts users in the driver’s seat, giving them greater control over their data and ensuring it is managed in a responsible and compliant manner!
New reporting visualisation within GA4, as well as enhancements to existing reports, provide users with a dynamic and engaging way to present their data and draw more meaningful insights.
The ‘Analysis Hub’ features a template gallery of available charts and graphs, such as heat maps, user flow charts, and cohort analysis. Using GA4, users can easily create customisable dashboards and reports that showcase key metrics and KPIs, enabling them to quickly identify trends and opportunities.
Although having more data doesn’t always correlate with better quality data, Google Analytics 4 does offer additional parameters that provide greater granularity for certain metrics.
Parameters are the additional pieces of information that can provide greater details into the actions a user has taken, providing more context to the event. For instance, you may know a customer made a purchase, but what was the value of the purchase? GA4 enables you to log up to 25 parameters with each event, such as product IDs, quantities, purchase values, time spent on page, page scroll, and more.
While Google Analytics 4 certainly provides a host of enhanced features and capabilities, like most things, it also has its limitations. The key limitations of GA4 you should consider include:
Since GA4 uses a different data model to UA, this means that historical data collected in UA may not be fully compatible or transferable to GA4. As such, you may experience issues when trying to perform year-on-year comparisons or analyse long-term trends in data.
Although GA4 offers fantastic integration with other Google marketing tools, its integrations are not limitless. In fact, GA4 has limited integration with some third-party tools and platforms, which can impact your ability to integrate other analytics or marketing tools that you may be using within your business.
Despite GA4 being seen as an upgraded version of UA, it does not currently support all the features and functionalities that you previously had in UA. For instance,some advanced features, like Custom Reports and Custom Variables, are no longer available.
There’s no doubt that Google Analytics 4 will be a learning curve for many people! With an entirely new data model and reporting interface, users will be required to learn and use new concepts, terminologies, and workflows. This may be particularly challenging for those who are unfamiliar with UA to begin with and may require some practice, or even training sessions to get familiar with.
GA4 offers limited data retention in comparison to UA, retaining just 14 months of data, while UA retains data for 26 months. Again, this can impact the ability to perform historical comparison or long-term trend analysis.
Similar to Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 is a free tool offered by Google, and there are no costs associated with using one or more properties on your account. However, you may be required to get a paid subscription to the Google Analytics 360 suite to use some advanced features, such as BigQuery Export and advanced data modelling.
To conclude, the sunsetting of Universal Analytics is looming, which means you need to get prepared to make the transition to Google Analytics 4. Don’t delay, we recommend creating a new GA4 property as soon as possible to start gathering data and get familiar with the platform. Now’s the time to start making the most of the new features of GA4 and unlock the full potential of your website data! Not sure where to begin? Read our step-by-step guide to setting up Google Analytics 4 for more information on how to get started.
Alternatively, partnering with an Analytics agency can be a game-changer when it comes to implementing and leveraging GA4 to the max. The new data models, reporting features, and customisation options can be best-used with specialised knowledge, experience and training. Meaningful data insights play a crucial role in driving better business outcomes, including informed decision-making, precision in targeting and segmentation, resource and investment optimisation, proactive issue identification, enhanced user experience – you name it.