Millions of digital marketers have adopted Google Analytics 4 since the company announced its next-generation analytics property in October 2020.
Google Analytics 4 is the measurement tool of the future, and you need to get acquainted with this innovative, cross-platform solution so you can create better experiences for your users.
Universal Analytics stopped processing new hits on July 1, 2023. A few months earlier, Google started automatically creating GA4 properties for Universal Analytics users who had not yet made the switch. That means now is the time to become familiar with GA4 so you can use it to take your digital marketing efforts to the next level.
Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know as you get started with Google Analytics 4.
Let’s begin by examining how your new GA4 property will support your marketing efforts by helping you get more out of your data.
Despite the initial skepticism from a number of digital marketers, Google Analytics 4 has proven to be everything we were promised.
Upon first learning that Universal Analytics is going away, some users were frustrated. Anyone would be frustrated to discover that they’d need to get acquainted with a new tool, especially if they felt like the previous version was retired without justification.
But GA4 is far more than a reskinned version of Universal Analytics. As you may have already discovered, Google Analytics 4 features massive advantages over its predecessor. GA4 is also positioned to scale with your business and evolve in accordance with fundamental changes in how people use the internet.
Here are just a few of the next-level benefits of Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics.
Arguably the most significant difference for marketers is GA4’s use of multiple identity spaces to deliver a more detailed view of how customers discover and interact with your brand online.
While Universal Analytics didn’t support cross-platform measurement, this customer-centric approach to analytics has finally become a reality in GA4. Now, if a user finds your business from a paid ad and later installs your app, you can see the connection.
GA4 also gives you better visibility of your customer’s behavior across their lifecycle, helping you recognize the channels that contribute most to user acquisition.
The simple, tidy reporting marks a thoughtful improvement over Universal Analytics to help you pinpoint insights at any stage of the customer journey.
If you keep up with emerging digital trends, you may have noticed more robust discussions around privacy in recent years.
Concerns about data collection have been simmering for quite a while. They’ve come to the forefront with new regulations such as the European Union’s GDPR and the CCPA in California.
Now, widespread efforts are underway to enhance user privacy, including Google’s decision to end support for third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2024.
The bottom line is this: Users are unwilling to compromise their online privacy any longer, and the industry must adapt.
That’s why Google built GA4 for the long term.
As technology and priorities continue to evolve, you can count on a flexible measurement approach, enhanced data controls, and machine learning to meet customer needs in real-time—even in a future without cookies or other identifiers.
GA4 is adaptable and ready to scale with your business. Whatever comes next, you can rely on precision measurement and insights that surface automatically to help you understand your customers better than ever before.
The advanced machine learning models at the heart of Google Analytics 4 deliver alerts about your data trends, allowing you to pivot and capitalize on new developments thanks to richer insights.
In GA4, you’ll also find predictive metrics powered by AI to improve results. Using the predictive metrics in the audience builder and the Explorations tool, you can work to understand why some customers are more likely to spend than others or reach higher-value customers by creating custom audiences.
With a new GA4 property to inform your decision-making, you can lead your business into each new stage with unrivaled awareness, all thanks to the AI and computer science behind Google’s advanced machine learning.
Google Analytics 4 isn’t just more data—it’s more power to leverage that data toward better ROI.
GA4 is more deeply integrated across Google’s suite of marketing products, meaning you can get more mileage out of your data. With more options to define and segment audiences, you can deliver more relevant experiences to your customers on the channel of their choice.
And because GA4 measures web and app events together, you no longer need to slog through fragmented data to piece together customer journeys. You’ll see your conversions from Google and non-Google paid channels alongside conversions from YouTube views and other channels to get a complete understanding of your marketing impact.
With so many tangible advantages in GA4, you should expect some stark differences when comparing Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics.
Fortunately, these changes come in the form of informative, useful upgrades, so it’s worthwhile to learn about them to leverage them in your marketing efforts.
While there are dozens of upgrades and changes, these are a few of the most important differences between GA4 vs Universal Analytics.
Perhaps the most significant change in GA4 is the customer-centric approach to measurement. Finally, instead of stitching together piecemeal data from different properties, Google Analytics 4 delivers user data in one place, regardless of platform or device.
Seeing app and web data in a single analytics property will be a game-changer for many marketers.
At first glance, some may see only added convenience and a streamlined dashboard. However, this union of cross-platform analytics offers so much more: a holistic view of how users engage with your brand, plus the insights you need to make nimble adjustments in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
Because GA4 tracks web and app data together, certain metrics—for instance, pageviews and screenviews—may seem off when you compare new GA4 data to previous data from Universal Analytics.
Note: Don’t forget, you’ll only have access to your historical data in Universal Analytics until July 1, 2024. On that date, Universal Analytics, along with your data, will be gone for good, so don’t wait to export any Universal Analytics data you’d like to retain.
Additionally, to ensure you’re accurately comparing data from the two different properties, you’ll want to apply identical filter settings.
What is a metric in Google Analytics? More on that in a minute.
In another departure from Universal Analytics, GA4 uses a data model based on events instead of sessions. If you’ve used Google Analytics for Firebase, you may be familiar with the origins of this new GA4 model.
Marketers already tracking apps with Firebase can simply sync them with a new GA4 property—no configuration required. For websites, most of the GA4 migration will involve recreating Universal Analytics tracking in the new property.
The new schema gives GA4 users greater versatility to describe data with up to 25 event parameters while using a single taxonomy for tracking events in cross-platform data streams.
Overall, the shift to an event-based model means marketers can get more utility out of their data.
Because this is such a crucial difference between the two properties, you’ll be better off reorienting your data collection around the GA4 model than trying to port your Universal Analytics event structure.
To deliver clearer, more accurate data, Google Analytics 4 revised many of the metrics found in Universal Analytics. It’s important to understand these changes and how they could affect your data going forward.
For starters, GA4 adds a new user metric, dubbed Active Users, and highlights it in most reports. But it’s a different calculation from what you saw in Universal Analytics. The Active Users metric in GA4 is the number of individual users who visit your site or app for the first time or have what’s called an “engaged session.”
An engaged session lasts no less than 10 seconds, involves at least one conversion event, or includes at least two page or screen views. Any session that does not meet the criteria for an engaged session is counted as a bounce.
Conversions have also changed in GA4. Instead of the five goal types found in Universal Analytics, GA4 requires you to establish a conversion event for each action you’d like tallied as a conversion.
While Universal Analytics counted only one conversion per session, GA4 counts every instance of each conversion event. GA4 also processes conversion data for up to a week after the conversion occurs, which could affect your data.
Because GA4 is based on cross-platform measurement, screenviews and pageviews have been combined into one metric, dubbed simply “views” in GA4. However, be careful comparing this data to previous Universal Analytics numbers because Universal Analytics tracked web and app data in separate properties.
You’ll also find differences in how GA4 counts sessions and purchases, with the latter having an outsized impact on eCommerce businesses. With purchases in GA4, it’s important to use all required parameters and set up your filters identically to ensure quality, consistent data collection and useful comparisons.
These are just a few of the biggest metrics to understand in the revamped GA4. To get the most out of your Analytics property, view Google’s list comparing metrics between Universal Analytics and GA4.
Millions of Analytics account holders use the standard reports in Universal Analytics to make smarter decisions and adapt to the shifting landscape. As useful as those reports were, GA4 kicks things into overdrive, allowing marketers to dive deeper and uncover vital insights.
While the GA4 default reports are terrific ways to keep an eye on your KPIs, Explorations offer a new, deeper level of understanding, helping you answer complicated questions about your users and how they interact with your business.
Use Explorations to investigate performance and activity based on cohort, segment, and individual user activities. You can also visualize paths and discover user journeys with multi-step funnels. While GA4’s default reports are incredibly useful, you’ll love this new Explorations feature if you want to answer complex questions about your users and how they interact with your business.
If you haven’t created your new GA4 property—or find Google hasn’t automatically created one for you—switching over is as easy as using the GA4 Setup Assistant Wizard in your existing property. As long as you have an editor role within your property, you can follow Google’s instructions to add a Google Analytics 4 property to your site.
The setup wizard will create your new property and copy over Universal Analytics settings, including name, URL, time zone, and currency. The wizard will also activate enhanced measurement in your GA4 property, allowing you to see how users are interacting with your content.
In addition, the wizard will connect your GA4 and Universal Analytics properties. That way, you can migrate configurations over to GA4. And, if you want to reuse your existing site tag, the wizard will set your GA4 property to receive that tag’s data.
Some Analytics account holders will find they already have a new GA4 property courtesy of Google, which on March 1, 2023, started automatically creating GA4 properties for Universal Analytics users who haven’t already switched.
Users who created their Analytics properties after October 14, 2020, are probably already using GA4 and may not need to do anything. If you’re unsure, Google offers a helpful tool to check if your site has Universal Analytics or GA4.
If you’re new to Analytics, use Google’s first-time setup process to learn how to set up Google Analytics. You’ll create your account and GA4 property, add data streams, then set up data collection for your sites.
Here’s how Firebase users can add a GA4 property to an existing Firebase project.
Marketers using a CMS site built with WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and the like, will want to follow these instructions to set up GA4 for a CMS-hosted website. Google has provided step-by-step details for over a dozen platforms.
Familiarizing yourself with a new Google Analytics 4 property will take some time, but here are a few things you can focus on immediately to start realizing the benefits of GA4.
Realtime reports show you who your users are, where they come from, the content with which they engage, the events they trigger, and the conversions they complete.
You can use comparisons to analyze data subsets, including comparing different campaigns or a particular cohort against your overall user base.
Under reports on the left rail, you can use Realtime to monitor user activity as it occurs. Cards are arranged to show you how users enter your funnel and measure their actions as they proceed.
At the upper-right corner of the Realtime page, you’ll see a “view user snapshot” option that gives you a point-in-time view of a random user’s data stream. You can switch between users and see information about device, app version, location, and other factors.
User lifetime is a particularly useful exploration technique that helps you analyze user value and behavior over the entire customer lifecycle. The lifetime technique is easy to use since it’s one of several techniques with an existing template.
You can access lifetime data for users active on your app or site after August 15, 2020. Discover each user’s initial interaction with your business, their most recent interactions, lifetime engagement or revenue, and churn probability.
Google Analytics 4 leverages machine learning models to give you predictive analytics. In the context of a lifetime exploration, this will show you which of your active campaigns are acquiring high-value users that are likely to convert.
To begin a user lifetime exploration, click on the “Explorations” section in the menu at the left of your screen. Then, under “Start a new exploration” at the top of the page, use the arrow at the right to bring the “user lifetime” template into view, and click on it to begin your new exploration.
Anyone comparing Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics will find it’s much easier to navigate GA4 compared to the old property. This is due in part to a robust search tool that makes it virtually effortless to find the information you need.
No matter where you navigate within your GA4 property, the search bar will remain centered at the top of your screen, so you always have easy access to this tool. Using natural language, you can ask all kinds of questions about your data and discover quick answers in GA4.
Of course, the more specific your search, the better the responses will be. You can immediately find different reports, admin functions, and insights. You can even search property and account configurations directly from the search bar.
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This article was originally published on March 22, 2023. It was last updated on July 13, 2023.