Google Analytics 4: Why it's important and what you need to know

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Google Analytics 4: Why it's important and what you need to know

by Brett Patterson


Google recently announced  that Google Analytics 4 (GA 4) will formally replace the long-standing Universal Google Analytics (UA). It also announced that Universal Analytics properties will no longer collect any data starting on July 1st, 2023. GA 4, which was formerly known as “App + Web”, has been around for a little while now — but many Google Analytics users had been still relying on UA for its analysis and reporting.  
These announcements signal the time to focus on migrating to GA 4, and for the first time ever with Google Analytics, to continue collecting data for your site!

What is Google Analytics 4?

GA 4 was originally introduced to the world as “Google Analytics App + Web” with the intent of unifying and combining data from your native app and your website. It was the first attempt at using consistent metrics and dimensions for your website and any apps your organization had. Previously, these were seen as completely different platforms and even had different metrics (like “screen views”). Eventually, Google announced that “App + Web” was being redeveloped into Google Analytics 4 and started adding additional features. One of the key reasons for the move to GA 4 is the unification of website and app data. Some other reasons per Google include
  • Privacy-focused and durable for the future
  •  Intelligent, using machine learning to unearth insights about the customer journey across platforms and devices
  • Enhanced, seamless integrations with Google's advertising platforms to optimize campaign performance and drive greater marketing ROI

The focus on privacy and the future here are key. GA 4 is better prepared for a future that doesn’t rely on cookies and is more secure and private for the user. GA 4 is entirely based on events — a pageview or session start are events, for example. GA 4 is also focused on capturing custom events much easier and many common events are collected by default, such as page scroll and link clicks. 

Some common complaints about Universal Analytics will also be improved with GA 4. Data sampling will not be an issue in standard reports when using a secondary dimension, which happened often in Universal Analytics. Another common complaint was around cross-domain tracking. Previously, this had to be completed at the code level or in Google Tag Manager. In GA 4, cross-domain tracking has been simplified — now you can simply configure your domain settings in the Admin Settings and not have to alter the code for this setup. 

Metrics you might be used to in UA might also be slightly different in collection or in title. For example, you will not be able to compare the metric of “page views” between UA and GA 4 as the way that metric is collected is completely different. Some metrics will have changed dramatically or might disappear as standard metrics. One example of this is “bounce rate”. Things might change, but, as of right now, “bounce rate” is not a standard metric in GA 4. There are also new metrics, like “user_engagement”, which is a time and focus based metric. 

Which version do I have now?

In case you aren’t sure what version of Google Analytics you currently have on your site, Google provides a quick and easy way for you to check.

What should I do now?

First, it’s okay to be overwhelmed by this change and to ask for help. There will be a sizable amount of work in making this migration to GA 4 for most existing Google Analytics implementations. If you haven’t already, the first and most important step is to create a GA 4 property to start collecting data. For now, this property will collect data in parallel with your current UA property. To create that new GA 4 property, you can use Google’s “GA 4 Setup Assistant Wizard”. It will guide you through the process. This will not influence any current UA Properties you have collecting data right now. If you need more information or help, Google’s documentation on this topic might also be useful.

Migration and Measurement Strategy

One of the key efforts that will have to happen for migrating from UA to GA 4 will be translating your current custom events into a GA 4 schema. This will also provide a good opportunity for you to consider re-evaluating your website measurement strategy as you complete this process. Do you have a documented measurement strategy for your side that aligns the business objectives of your organization to the various goals, KPIs and tactics of your site? If not, this is the best possible time to go through that process.

Once you feel confident with your measurement strategy, it’s time to start migrating events. For events you want to migrate to GA 4, you’ll want to evaluate how it fits into the new GA 4 schema of:

Enhanced measurement event

  • Some example events are page scrolls, page views, link clicks, file downloads and video engagement.

Automatically collected event

  • Some example events are error collection, session start, user engagement and notification send. Some enhanced measurement events are also automatically collected events.

Recommended event

  • Some example events are login, purchase, refund and sign up.

Custom event

  • Any event that is not in any of the above groups will be a custom event, similar to all events created before GA 4.

Training and communication

This is going to be a big transition for everyone. What made up the structure of UA and past versions of Google Analytics have been in place for well over a decade. Users of Google Analytics are used to the interface, metrics and reporting of UA.

One part of this migration that simply cannot be overlooked is the training and education for you and anyone who is using Google Analytics on a regular basis. It would be wise to name a subject matter expert on your marketing or analytics team or to utilize a consultant or agency to help with the migration and the education and training. Also, GA 4 is going to change a lot over the next few months and years. New features will be added, some things will change, and some things might even be removed. It will be important for your expert or partner to stay on top of the constantly moving landscape. 

As an experience-forward consultancy, we understand the importance of having the right data that leads to actionable insights that drive results. Things are moving fast with Google Analytics 4 and by the time you read this, there may have been more changes. Let us know how we can leverage our data and analytics expertise to help as you embark on your new journey with GA 4.

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