Google Analytics 4, referred to simply as GA4, has entered the scene leading many to ponder why and whether it’s worth upgrading from Universal Analytics (UA). Even though GA4 looks identical in many ways to UA, it has key fundamental differences like solving privacy issues with tracking cookies, combining mobile app and web tracking into one platform, and using artificial intelligence to simplify reports. In this article, we’ll address common questions on GA4, note differences, explain why it’s important to run GA4 along with your existing Universal Analytics.
What’s New in Google Analytics 4
Google breaks the mold of previous analytics versions with smart features built on machine learning and artificial intelligence. As a result, GA4 creates a tracking platform that doesn’t need to rely on cookies and dynamically produces reports based on your needs. Combine these features with the ability to follow users online between apps and websites, and you have a powerful new update! Below is a list of key improvements found in GA4 and how these changes differ from Universal Analytics.
GA4’s Best Features
- Active Enhanced Measurement – GA4 tracking and reporting is based on “events” instead of “hits” like in Universal Analytics. Events are interactions like scrolling, clicks, video plays and downloads. Each event shows automatically in reporting without the need of Google Tag Manager implementation.
- Smart Insights – GA4 offers “Insights” which alert you to spikes in activity and important traffic trends. Powered by artificial intelligence, Insights makes pulling custom reports easy. It dynamically provides helpful templates around points of interest on your data. If desired, you can adjust settings for improved suggestions from Insights to gain more precise feedback.
- Web and Apps Integrations – Universal Analytics can’t track user behavior between a mobile app property and a website within itself. Interactions are counted separately when a user changes devices, duplicating the data of that user. To fix this, GA4 continuously follows the user between both mobile apps and websites. This is part of GA4 “de-duplicating” users. This ensures the same user is not tracked multiple times between devices and visits. In addition, cross-domain tracking (tracking between two or more websites you own) in GA4 is done automatically through the user interface without code adjustments.
- Customer-centric Measurement – Instead of fragmenting data by device or platform, GA4 combines information from various identity spaces (like marketer-proved User IDs and unique Google signals from opted in users) to create a more complete view of how customers interact with your business.
- Data Control – Decide when to collect and use data to optimize and remarket your ads, or only use collected data for internal A/B testing. These settings can be enabled or disabled by region depending on the privacy policies of each country.
- Expanded Funnel Features – GA4 allows 10 steps in your conversion funnel compared to only 5 in Universal Analytics. In addition, GA4 can analyze both closed funnels (where user must enter at the beginning of the funnel) and open funnels (where the user can enter the funnel at any point).
- Improved Search Tool – The search tool in GA4 also speeds up navigation throughout the platform. Instead of having to navigate through multiple menus, you can directly access account IDs or insights on your data by just typing it in the search box. Furthermore, the search box configures reports dynamically based on your search text. For example, by searching a broad term like “conversions last week” and GA4 will pull a report related to your last week’s conversions for you!
Google Analytics Features GA4 Discontinued
There are some features that are not going to carry over into GA4 from Universal Analytics. While some may be missed by users, GA4 has offered other solutions to combat the missing information.
- No Transitioning of Legacy Data – Reports, custom metrics, settings, or past data will not be carried over into GA4. If there is custom functionality that is not provided in GA4, you will have to manually adjust settings to replicate specific dimension, metrics, or reports.
- No Views – There is no option for setting up “views” in GA4. GA4 replaced views with “data streams” and there is one data stream per platform being tracked. GA4 pre-filters and converts data to commonly used reports. These reports can be expanded to focus in on actions that interest you most.
- Limited Attribution – GA4 will only give first click OR last click attribution. That means if a customer visits your website more than once before converting, you will lose the ability to see what digital avenues (Organic, Display, Facebook Ad, Search Ad, etc.) contributed to a conversion. GA4 only credits the first OR the last referring method that contributes to the conversion. This means you do not know how much (or how little) each marketing avenue contributes to a customer converting.
- No Annotations by Default – Universal Analytics has the ability to mark spikes in traffic from reports with a label called an annotation to note what caused that event (like the start and/or end of a campaign, server downtime, etc.), to recall what happened in the future. GA4 doesn’t support this feature without installing a Chrome extension.
- No Landing Pages. Landing Page reports are not a default report in GA4, however it can be replicated through “Pages” under “Engagement” in the Reports dropdown.
Why GA4 Surpasses Universal Analytics
Users can speculate Google’s reasoning behind the creation of Google Analytics 4, but the benefits would still be the same. Facts are facts, in this case. We all know the internet and its privacy tracking best practices are changing. Also, interpreting data across multiple areas is challenging for even the most skilled “computer nerd.” The need for simplified reporting so the information tracked in Google Analytics can be useful to businesses is long over due.
Adaptable to Online Privacy Changes
Streamlined Data Across Properties
GA4 focuses on tracking events based on the visitor’s journey across all devices. This creates more cohesive reports and de-duplicates data automatically. Universal Analytics bases its tracking around “sessions” or interactions within a timeframe. Sessions do not cross over between devices which can create gaps connecting user behavior with multiple platforms. Eliminating the boundaries between website, apps, and devices, de-duplicates data and gives an uninterrupted view of how users convert from start to finish.
GA4 is built on machine learning which automatically groups all tracking data in simple reports that are helpful for most businesses. There is no need to spend extra time figuring out what kind of report works best for your measurements. GA4 does that for you and is able to bring further insights from detailed page interactions like user clicks, downloads, video plays, and more without the need of implementing them through Google Tag Manager.
Tips Before Switching to Google Analytics 4
Trying new things can be intimidating. Luckily, Google made switching to GA4 an easy transition. The decision to start using GA4 doesn’t mean you have to give up Universal Analytics immediately. Start recording data through GA4 now to use when you’re ready to switch or are no longer seeing the information you want due to internet privacy changes. When you’re ready to make the permanent change to GA4, there are a few things we recommend prior to switching.
Run Universal Analytics with GA4
At this time, Google has made no announcement to phase out Universal Analytics. Until you completely get comfortable with GA4, do not abandon your Universal Analytics account. Even though support has shifted to GA4 moving forward, both GA4 and Universal Analytics can be active without any conflict.
Determine What Is Needed From Universal Analytics
Make a list of goals, metrics, and reports you would like to have set up in GA4. The newer reports in GA4 may sufficiently cover the details from your former reports in Universal Analytics. However, if that’s not the case, determine how to accommodate changes to get the desired reporting. For instance, GA4 reports will not display Category, Action, and Label. These are attributes associated with hits in Universal Analytics. If this is something your measurement plan relies on, then you will not be able to migrate fully over to GA4 just yet. You may need to reconfigure your event tracking to work well with GA4.
Backup Historical Data
When you decide to exclusively use GA4, you may want to back up some past data. If you do, make sure you export any data, reports, or activity that is helpful. Google Analytics doesn’t backfill your new GA4 account with historical data in the setup process.
Should I Be Using Google Analytics 4?
We say absolutely! There is no reason to delay setting up GA4 for your business! Even if you don’t use it right away, you can set it up GA4 to start collecting data now to help your business later. For questions about how to set up GA4 and how we can help, contact our team to discuss your needs and get help from a Google specialists today!