A Complete Guide on Google Analytics 4

A Complete Guide on Google Analytics 4
22 April, 2023 • ... • 2173 views
Sara Kurczyńska
by Sara Kurczyńska

In 2020, Google announced its plans to release Google Analytics 4, the latest version of Google Analytics. On July 1, 2023, the current version of the company’s data collection and web traffic analysis tool (Universal Analytics) will cease processing new data.

What is Google Analytics 4? In case you would like to learn more about it, read on! In the following guide, we are going to go over everything marketers need to know about it.

First, we will outline its features and benefits, as well as explain how it differs from Universal Analytics. After that, we will give you a few useful tips for unlocking its full marketing potential.

What is GA4?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics, a data collection and website traffic analysis tool used by millions of businesses around the world. It allows you to keep track of key metrics, such as the number of users visiting your website, the amount of time they spend on it, and their overall conversion rate, to name a few. This year, Google Analytics 4 is going to replace Universal Analytics, the older version of the tool.

Key differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4 is quite different from its predecessor. To give an example, it is especially effective in gathering cross-channel data. As a result, it gives you an easy way to track users across different applications and websites. In the following section, we will touch upon a few other key differences between the two platforms.

Different interface

One of the most significant differences between the old and new Google Analytics is the interface. The number of tiers of data organization decreased from three to just two. For that reason, you should not expect to find some of the old Google Analytics reports and even certain features in the same place you are used to. Below, you will find a comparison image of the old dashboard and the new one, as well as an official video walkthrough of the entire interface.

A comparison image of two screenshots showcasing the difference between the Universal Analytics dashboard and the Google Analytics 4 dashboard.
Source: Erudite Agency and Google

Better cross-device and cross-platform tracking

Google Analytics 4 can measure website and application data together in one Google Analytics property. It allows you to see the entirety of someone’s customer journey across different devices and platforms. You can then use that data to better analyze the needs and habits of a specific group of customers, as well as to build reliable customer models.

Reorganized reporting

When it comes to reporting on the customer life cycle, Universal Analytics only generated reports about customer acquisition. Whereas, Google Analytics 4 can generate reports on the entirety of the customer life cycle, including retention, monetization, and engagement. It is a great change. It makes understanding the needs of an average customer much easier.

A screenshot showcasing what the new reports snapshot looks like.
Source: Google

Predictive insights

Google Analytics 4 leverages machine learning and AI to provide you with more detailed insights into user behavior. It does so by filling in the gaps left by users who decided to opt out of data collection and cookie usage. 

With such a functionality, GA4 should be able to adapt to the latest privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA. Instead of being reliant on user data preferences, if any data is incomplete or inaccessible, it uses predictive analytics and data modeling to compensate for it. Then, you are provided with three additional metrics:

  • Purchase probability. It is the probability of a user logging a conversion event in the next 7 days. The said user had to have been active at least once within the last 28 days.
  • Churn probability. It is the probability of a user not being active within the next 7 days. The said user had to have been active at least once within the last 7 days.
  • Predicted revenue. It is the revenue expected from purchase conversions within the next 28 days from a user who was active at least once within the last 28 days.

Data privacy

It is also worth noting that GA4 is heavily focused on customer privacy, and not without reason. The latest privacy laws like CCPA and GDPR made many companies reluctant to keep on using Google Analytics. The newest version of the tool is meant to ease such doubts and ensure total compliance with any and all relevant data privacy regulations by making use of the aforementioned predictive insights.

Debug view

In Universal Analytics, debugging requires installing additional browser extensions, most of which work only in Google Chrome. In contrast, Google Analytics 4 makes it possible for you to access debug mode directly from the reporting interface. As a result, you can monitor user activity on a given Google Analytics property in real-time, with all the user properties and custom parameters set.

A screenshot showcasing what the debug mode looks like.
Source: Google

Differences in data collection

Google Analytics 4 differs in how data is defined and collected, as well as what certain data elements and parameters are called. To give an example, Google Analytics 4 is event-based. An event is a user interaction with your website, such as clicking on a link or making a purchase. Google Analytics 4 measures many such interactions by default, no configuration required, and uses them to compile detailed reports. Additionally, with the help of GA4 Event tags, you can set up different events without writing code.

On the flip side, Universal Analytics was focused on page views, which were often inaccurate and lacking. Aside from actual page views, things like clicking on a link to an external site or downloading an asset were also counted as a page view, resulting in skewed analytics data. Event tracking was something completely separate from that. It also had to be manually set up, which was done by writing and changing on-site code.

Data streams

In Google Analytics 4, Google introduced an entirely new concept called a data stream. It represents the flow of data from a specific data source, such as an application or a website, to your Google Analytics account. The introduction of such a concept makes it easier for you to track user traffic across multiple domains. On the other hand, in Universal Analytics, no such thing existed, which made it more difficult for website owners to track user traffic across different domains.

Connection to BigQuery

Unlike Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 comes with a free connection to BigQuery, an enterprise-level data warehouse made by Google. To put it simply, it is a tool for processing large sets of data, such as spreadsheets. It could be beneficial if you are, for instance, managing a big online store and need to analyze the behavior of thousands of users in a timely manner. As a consequence, Google Analytics 4 can help you analyze and manage data more effectively in comparison to Universal Analytics. 

Data retention

In Universal Analytics, data could be stored for 26 months. Meanwhile, in Google Analytics 4, retention of data can be set to a maximum of 14 months. However, with BigQuery, you can bypass that retention period and retain data for an indefinite amount of time. The only thing you need to do is to remember to move that data from Google Analytics to BigQuery on a regular basis.

Better integration with Google Ads

If you are an avid user of Google Ads, Google Analytics 4 has you covered. You can link any Google Analytics 4 property to Google Ads. Then, you get the option to import Google Analytics 4 audiences to Google Ads and target each one during paid campaigns. These audiences include predictive audiences, which are based on the new predictive insights metrics. In Universal Analytics, these predictive metrics were not a thing just yet, which made introducing such a functionality impossible.

In case you would like to learn more about the features and functionalities that Google Analytics 4 has to offer, you might want to take a look at the official release notes. There, you will find short descriptions of the most important features of every new iteration of Google Analytics 4. In addition, you should check out the official deep dive into Google Analytics 4. Published on the official Google Analytics channel, it outlines everything you need to know about the latest version of this helpful tool.

Disadvantages of GA4 and things to pay attention to

The early adopters of Google Analytics 4 have identified quite a few downsides compared to the previous iterations of the analytics tool. If you intend to migrate to the new system, you should keep each of the said limitations in mind. The most crucial ones include major interface changes and a lack of migration support, as well as a limit on custom dimensions and metrics and a lack of view filters.

Lack of data migration

You cannot migrate existing data from a Universal Analytics account to a Google Analytics 4 account. The reason for that lies in differences in how the two calculate and define specific metrics. They do so in two very different ways, which makes the data they store incompatible. While it is a limitation that affects only existing users of Universal Analytics, it is a significant one.

To give an example, there is a key performance indicator that is called users. In Universal Analytics, calculating it is based on the total number of users who have visited a given website. In Google Analytics 4, it focuses on users that have visited your website at least once in the past month or so.

Limit on custom dimensions and metrics

Custom dimensions and metrics are special dimensions and metrics that you create in Google Analytics. That way, you can track any data you want, from email analytics to the number of times users clicked on a specific link. However, you cannot do so freely. Just like Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 placed a limit on the number of custom dimensions and metrics you can create for a single Google Analytics property.

Let’s take a look at the comparison between GA4 and GA4 360 (more on the point of GA4 360 later in the article).

Item Property limits (GA4 Standard) Property limits (GA4 360)
Custom metrics 50 125
Item-scoped custom dimensions 10 25
User-scoped custom dimensions 25 100
Event-scoped custom dimensions 50 125

Source: Google Analytics Help

 

Lack of view filters

Unfortunately, the view functionality is not present in Google Analytics 4. It makes quite a few things rather problematic. First, if you want to isolate developer traffic from the rest of website traffic, it does not always work as intended. Developer traffic is the traffic generated from your own device while you are debugging your website. 

Second, the reporting interface within GA4 no longer uses view filters. It features data filters, which are not the same. Each one applies to the entirety of a Google Analytics property, not a subset of data, which used to be the case in Universal Analytics.

Best ways to use Google Analytics 4 reports

Understand user behavior

The user flow report in Google Analytics 4 can help you understand how users interact with the entire website. You can see at a glance which pages are the most popular and which pages have the most exits or drop-offs. Such data can help you identify areas of the website that may need improvement, such as slow loading times or confusing navigation.

Track conversions

The conversions report in Google Analytics 4 shows you how well the marketing efforts you are undertaking are translating into actual sales and leads. You can see which campaigns are driving the most conversions, as well as which channels are performing the best. As a result, you should find it easier to get the best ROI on any marketing campaign.

Analyze landing page traffic

Analyzing traffic coming to a landing page allows you to identify the most effective ways to attract new customers. For instance, it could help you figure out which pieces of content you publish drive conversions. With Google Analytics 4, you can do it quickly and easily using the landing page report.

A screenshot showcasing where the landing pages report can be found.
Source: Google

Differences between GA4 Standard and GA4 360

Google Analytics 4 comes in two variants, namely Google Analytics Standard and Google Analytics 360. While both look largely the same, Google Analytics 360 comes with many additional features.

Billing

To begin with, it is worth noting that GA4 360 is meant for big enterprises. For that reason, it is not cheap. Its retail price starts at $50,000 per year, and you are billed based on the hit volume for all the GA4 360 properties you own. So, the more people visit the website or application you are tracking with Google Analytics, the more you will have to pay. On the other hand, GA4 Standard is free to use. 

Enterprise-grade service

As GA4 360 is meant to be used by large enterprises, it has to meet enterprise standards. It does so by providing its users with a dedicated account manager and support staff. Apart from that, you are required to sign a 360 contract for all the GA4 properties you own before you start using it. On the flip side, you do not need to sign any contracts to use GA4 Standard. It also does not come with an account manager or support staff.

Accessibility

If you want to start using GA4 Standard, you can do it instantly, no contracts or fees required. The same cannot be said for GA4 360, though. First, you have to set up a call with an enterprise sales representative and sign a contract. Then, you have to deal with the hefty monthly fee. As a result, GA4 360 remains rather inaccessible to most individuals and businesses.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, Google Analytics 4 is a powerful tool that provides marketers with valuable insights into user behavior, while also being privacy-focused and compliant with relevant data regulations. 

It has plenty of advantages, such as predictive insights, better integration with Google Ads, and improved cross-platform tracking. That being said, it also has certain limitations, such as a lack of solid data migration support and a limit on custom dimensions and metrics.

If you intend to get started with Google Analytics 4, make sure to keep the things listed here in mind. Doing so will help you unlock its full potential and get the most out of it in no time!

In case you would like to learn more about Google Analytics 4, there are quite a few free Google Analytics 4 courses you could go through. You could also check out the official Google Analytics channel. It has plenty of insightful videos about the newest version of the tool.

Article by
Sara Kurczyńska
Sara Kurczyńska is an experienced content writer from Poznań, Poland. She enjoys writing about digital marketing, as well as playing video games and petting her fancy rats. In her spare time, you can find her birdwatching and taking long walks around the local parks and forests.
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