Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – All You Need to Know
Google has finally begun rolling out its latest version of Google Analytics, called GA4, which is set to completely replace Universal Analytics (UA) by July 2023.
This announcement has everyone hurrying to get familiar with the new console, and if you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, that’s what this blog will address.
What is GA4 (Google Analytics 4)?
Google Analytics 4 is the most recent version of Google Analytics. The big change from UA is that it allows you to measure metrics from both your website and any apps you might need to track. These analytics can be used to make decisions on both web and app properties, which is significant as more and more businesses today run operations through both interfaces.
So what happens to Universal Analytics?
The previous version of GA, called Universal Analytics will no longer be supported. This means that if you want to make use of user data post July 2023, you’ll have to migrate. It also means that any new websites and/or apps that you create or onboard, those will be GA4 properties by default.
The things that Universal Analytics were good for are becoming less and less relevant today – especially independent sessions and cookies. GA4 has instead introduced user-centric measurement and multi-platform functionality.
It’s also important to note that, as per the Google announcement linked earlier, data will no longer flow into Universal Analytics after July 2023.
What’s new in GA4?
Here are some key features we thought it relevant to call out:
Combined view of App & Web
Like we said earlier, the main change in GA4 is that you can now see both app and web data. Now the GA4 dashboard will display the performance of both properties in one place.
Having all your data in one dashboard will drastically simplify the decision making process. Earlier, you’d have to pull these reports from multiple places. By consolidating them, you will be able to view your data, create and deliver reports easier and quicker than ever before.
Admittedly, this is going to take some getting used to. Event-based tracking provides a consistent data structure across web and app reports.
What this means is, rather than relying on metrics such as page views, sessions and users (as is the case with UA), we now have to learn to deal with events and parameters. While it’s more complicated, it allows a much higher degree of granularity and freedom when it comes to customisation – you’ll have access to more nuanced data than ever before.
This is a great new feature. Using GA4’s ML capabilities, you can now quickly get estimates on revenues, churn rates and conversion probability, all from user data. This allows you new freedom to forecast more accurately than possible before.
Another powerful add-on to this is that you can then export these custom audiences to Google Ads and the Google Marketing Platform, enabling much more accurate audience targeting.
Up to 300 events
This is something anyone who’s handled an eCommerce account, or needed to track a website with a whole lot of events can relate to. You aren’t going to need developers every time you need something tracked! Most of the basic (“standard”) events are tracked by default in GA4, and it’s easy to create new events directly in the platform. Also, the limit is 300 events per property, which should be plenty for most GA4 setups.
Improved privacy controls
Given the way the privacy landscape has been changing, GA4 has been built with user privacy firmly in mind. While you’ll have in-depth control of all the data you collect on users, which users you collect said data from and how you use it in your ads, you’ll also remain GDPR compliant.
Free BigQuery export
This is a big one for devs – you can now export unsampled data from GA4 into BigQuery, even as a free user! This provides unique reporting opportunities with a much lower barrier to entry, and allows fully customization of your data analysis process.
Google has upped the ante ML-wise with GA4, An inbuilt anomaly detection feature automatically identifies unusual or irregular events on your website or app, and will deliver reports on any and all statistically significant findings.
Anomaly detection works by learning from specific periods of historic data, and this takes about 3 months assuming there is a steady stream of daata flowing into the platform. GA4 uses this historical data as a control group of sorts, thus giving the anomaly detection program something to compare against.
The great thing is, you can couple this with Explorations, which helps to create simple charts that can make it a lot easier to understand user patterns and act on them.
The main benefits of GA4
Understanding the customer journey across all touchpoints
GA4 has incorporated features that keep all of your user data collected in one convenient place.
This means that you can measure all of the events that matter to you from across your website and app properties, and also have all of this in one place in the form of a dashboard for simple decision-making.
Use DDA to improve your ROI
Data-driven attribution (DDA) helps to identify all of the touchpoints that contributed to a page visit, lead form fill, purchase or other events that matter to you. GA4 will analyze all searches, clicks and other events to help identify a complete customer journey. This is a significant difference from standard last-click attribution models, and could help paint a more holistic picture of which channels are working and which aren’t.
Again, as with other features, this data can be exported to Google Ads and GMP where it can be used to optimize campaigns.
Better privacy compliance
GA4 was designed to help minimize the risk of breaching data protection laws, helping you monitor user data in a safe way, without taking away too much of the metadata needed to make informed marketing decisions.
Regardless of the scale of your marketing campaigns, GA4 makes it a lot easier to meet increasing demand. There are various components that you can use to solve for scale. Analytics 360 helps you implement 400 audiences, 125 custom dimensions and 50 conversion types per property, which is enterprise-grade scale.
The downsides to GA4
You might have to begin with day-zero data
The moment you set up GA4 for your new website or app, Google will begin collecting GA4 data. However, the problem with this is that your historical data will likely not show up in the GA4 view, which means that you won’t be able to compare new data with historical data.
It’s important to note that historical data isn’t deleted; it’s just archived in your UA account, but this may not be around forever. Google hasn’t mentioned a sunset date for this data yet, but it’s safe to assume there will be one. Given this, we recommend running both properties (GA and GA4) in parallel, which will allow you access to your historical data as you start collecting new data in GA4.
GA4 takes some getting used to
There are a whole lot of changes to get used to with Google Analytics 4.
For everyone who has been using UA obsessively (like us) and is very used to the older console, making the switch to GA4 and getting it running smoothly is likely to be time consuming.
All in all, GA4 has a lot to offer, but it might have a bit of a learning curve. The sooner you get started with it, the better.