If you use Google Analytics for your business, you’ve probably heard about Google Analytics 4 since its introduction in 2020. GA4 is Google’s new, powerful tool that makes it easier to measure events like clicks, pageviews, and app opens to better understand how your customers engage with your brand across platforms. If you still haven’t made the switch to Google Analytics 4, we’re here to tackle the who, what, where, when, and why questions that you may be wondering about.
With online behavior constantly evolving, Google realized that the Universal Analytics property wasn’t keeping up with the multi-platform journey of customers that emerged over the last several years. They needed a better way to track these more complex journeys than what Universal Analytics offered, and this led them to create Google Analytics 4.
According to Google:
Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, Google Analytics 4 operates across platforms, does not rely exclusively on cookies and uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.
And though Universal Analytics offers a variety of privacy controls, Google Analytics 4 is designed with privacy at its core to provide a better experience for both our customers and their users. It helps businesses meet evolving needs and user expectations, with more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage. Importantly, Google Analytics 4 will also no longer store IP addresses. These solutions and controls are especially necessary in today’s international data privacy landscape, where users are increasingly expecting more privacy protections and control over their data.
Unlike Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 was designed for the future. Its flexibility allows businesses to track customer journeys across platforms, such as websites and apps, and it uses Google’s machine learning technology to predict insights to better help businesses understand their customers.
Google has announced that they will be sunsetting standard Universal Analytics properties on July 1, 2023, and 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new data on October 1, 2023. With the deadline a year away, the big question you might be asking yourself is: Should you make the switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 right now?
In short, yes, we highly suggest setting up a GA4 property right away that will run in parallel with Universal Analytics. Even if you’d rather continue using the Universal Analytics property for now, the GA4 property will be working over the next months to collect data that will help make future analysis more robust and impactful for your business.
When viewing the Reporting interfaces in Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, you’ll notice they look different since some metrics and reports have either been moved or replaced. This is because GA4 is based on a different measurement model than UA.
GA4 is set up a bit differently from Universal Analytics. Unlike UA, which gathers data based on pageviews and sessions, GA4 collects data based on individually tracked activities made by the user, which are called “events.” GA4 automatically tracks the following events through gtag.js: pageviews, scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement, and file downloads. You can also set up custom events to suit your needs.
User and event data retention is also different between UA and GA4. As a reminder, this is data associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers. In UA, you can retain data indefinitely, but in GA4, you can only retain data for either 2 months or 14 months. Year-to-year comparisons are available in GA4, but accessing the historic data will not be possible.
Sessions in GA4 won’t match the sessions in UA either. In UA, a session is a period of time a user is actively engaged with your website and ends after 30 minutes of inactivity. Sessions are measured differently in GA4, though. In GA4, a session begins at the ‘session_start’ event and has no time limit.
For a deeper understanding of sessions in GA4, here is Google’s explanation:
— To determine the session that each event comes from, the ‘session_start’ event generates a session ID and Analytics associates the session ID with each subsequent event in the session.
— A session will end when there has been more than a 30-minute period of inactivity (depending on the session timeout settings).
— Sessions are not restarted at midnight or when new campaign parameters are encountered.
— If a user comes back after a session timeout, it will start a new session.
Bounce and Engagement Rates
Another difference between UA and GA4 is the concept of bounce rates and engagement rates. GA4 doesn’t provide metrics for bounce rates. Instead, it focuses on measuring engaged sessions, where engaged sessions is the number of sessions that last longer than 10 seconds, experience a conversion event, or have a minimum of 2 pageviews.
As explained by Google:
In Google Analytics 4, Bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions. In other words, Bounce rate is the inverse of Engagement rate. In Universal Analytics, Bounce rate is the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only one page and triggered only one request to the Analytics server.
Additionally, Bounce rate, as it’s calculated in Google Analytics 4, provides a more useful way of measuring the level at which customers engage with your site or app. For example, if you operate a blog, you might not mind if customers visit your site to read an article and then leave. You probably care more about the number of customers who visit your site, don’t find what they were looking for, and then quickly leave.
There are some differences in conversion tracking between UA and GA4, too. In UA, a conversion is only counted once per session, whereas a conversion can be counted multiple times per session in GA4. Here is what Google has to say about it:
You specify a conversion event for each action that you want to count as a conversion. For example, if you specify that the “Form Submit” event is a conversion event, a conversion will be registered each time a user submits the form.
GA4 counts every instance of the conversion event, even if the same conversion event is recorded multiple times during the same session. So, if a user submits the form twice during the same session, two conversions will be counted.
Web purchase counts are pretty similar whether you’re viewing them in UA or GA4. Though this is possible only if you’re tracking the unique ‘transaction_id’ value and have the required parameters set up in GA4.
Under GDPR, IP addresses are labeled as personal data, and they are automatically anonymized in GA4, unlike in Universal Analytics.
Landing Page Reports
You’ll notice that landing page reports are missing from GA4. Don’t worry, though, because there is a workaround. You can track how many times the ‘session_start’ event was triggered on a specific page. This is what GA4 uses to trigger new sessions and can be used to create your own landing page report.
You can now track cross-platform data between your sites and apps in GA4. This means that you no longer need to track your apps separately from your websites, which was necessary for UA.
When it comes to knowing how to set up Google Analytics 4 for your site, we found this helpful article from Google. Below are the steps to create a Google Analytics 4 data stream in Google Analytics:
— 1. In Google Analytics, click Settings Admin (lower left).
— 2. In the Account column, make sure that your desired account is selected. (If you only have one Google Analytics account, it will already be selected.)
— 3. In the Property column, select the Universal Analytics property that currently collects data for your website.
— 4. In the Property column, click GA4 Setup Assistant. It is the first option in the Property column.
— 5. Click Get started under I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.
— 6. If your site uses the gtag.js tag, you have the option to Enable data collection using your existing tags.
If you use a website builder/CMS that already supports the gtag.js tag (e.g., WordPress, Shopify, Wix, etc.), you may have the option to Enable data collection using your existing tags.
If your website builder/CMS does not yet support the gtag.js tag, if you use Google Tag Manager, or your website is tagged with analytics.js, the wizard can’t reuse your existing tagging and you’ll need to add the tag yourself (instructions).
— 7. Click Create Property.
That’s it! If you selected the Enable data collection using your existing tags option in the GA4 Setup Wizard, your new GA4 property should now be collecting data, although it may take about 30 minutes for data to begin showing up in the GA4 property.
If you’ve tagged your site with analytics.js instead of gtag.js, though, the GA4 Setup Wizard is not able to reuse your existing tagging. You can leave the analytics.js tag in place on your site, but you’ll want to add the GA4 gtag.js tag to your site as well to begin gathering data in your GA4 property.
As mentioned, Google will phase out standard Universal Analytics properties on July 1, 2023, and 360 Universal Analytics properties will end on October 1, 2023. After these dates, you’ll have access to your Universal Analytics properties for about six months, so setting up Google Analytics 4 now will give it more time to build up a solid foundation of data for future analysis once Universal Analytics is no longer available.
If you’re wondering whether or not your business needs to make the switch to GA4 in Google Analytics, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re happy to answer your questions or assist with the setup.