Jan 12, 2021 - Rob Browning

What the Hell is Google Analytics 4?

I’m sure you’ve heard that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is now available, but what exactly is it? And should you implement it on your site?

The latest version of the Google Analytics platform features an array of new tools such as predictive insights, better cross-device measurement, and enhanced data privacy controls.

Google Analytics 4 is a branded version of the App + Web system that was released back in 2019. The App + Web version mainly focused on cross-channel data, meaning that it gave users tracking capabilities across multiple channels, including mobile applications and websites.

GA4’s primary goal is to shift the way data is shown to focus on users — mainly the user journey from the first visit to final conversion. Plus, GA4 is all about “events.” These events are the primary way data is presented in the new Google Analytics.

What We Love About Google Analytics 4

Now that we know what GA4 is, let's explore some new features. We highlighted some of our favorite things, like new metrics, in an earlier post, but now that we have had more time to experience GA4, here are some more insights.

Noticeable differences between UA and GA4:

  • GA4 is designed to work in a world that is less dependent on tracking cookies or personal identifying data (PII).
  • It uses data streams instead of the views and segments used by old Universal Analytics properties.
  • There is no view-level section of GA4. GA4 only has account and property levels.
  •  GA4 comes with out-of-the-box events that don’t require users to edit website code or create specific event tags in Google Tag Manager.
  • It streamlines data from multiple properties or even apps, all within one property.
  • Cross-domain tracking can be implemented easily within the UI.

Its clear GA4 differs from UA significantly, so let's expand on some of our favorite features.

Enhanced Event Tracking

Expanded codeless features make it much easier to track and measure on-site and in-app actions that typically would need to be set up in Google Tag Manager. Innate events include page scroll or video play.

While not every custom event you would like to track may be available out-of-the-box, custom event tracking is still possible through Google Tag Manager.

When they create new event tags to send to GA4, users are not limited to sending parameters as just Event Category, Event Action, or Event Label. Now, users can send multiple parameters with each event, which opens up the ability to include more data.

Suppose you are someone who pulls a lot of elements from the dataLayer on your site. GA4 events will open up the possibility of including a greater variety of data and expand traditional custom event tracking capabilities.

Data Privacy Controls

Analytics 4 also includes options to help users comply with data regulations like GDPR and CCPA. Consent controls can be customized to allow users to obtain end-user consent to collect analytics data. Data restriction tools allow for user customizations in certain regions, like EU countries — or even California.

Data-Driven Insights and Measure

New machine learning-driven insights are much more robust than with Universal Analytics. Tracking insights utilize ML as a primary form of data measurement, using models that can interpret past data and make assumptions about website traffic and user experience behavior.

Additionally, insights available in the GA4 UI automatically highlight critical information for users, such as identifying problem points or trends with KPIs.

Better Customer Journey Analytics

The user flow report in Google Analytics has been a pain point for many Universal Analytics users. With GA4, reports work similarly to what you would find in Google Data Studio and bring a much more robust reporting capability for user flows and journeys.

GA4 reporting allows for a complete view of how customers engage with the website or app across devices and channels. It’s more focused on measuring an end-to-end user journey and not just individual metrics across devices, pages, or channels.

Implementing Google Analytics 4 On Your Site

For existing properties, Google suggests creating a Google Analytics 4 property that concurrently uses the Universal Analytics property. If you have an existing UA property, you can make a new Google Analytics 4 property in the same account.

To install Google Analytics 4 with your existing Universal Analytics property, you’ll need to:

  • Log in to Google Analytics and navigate to your existing UA property.
  • In Admin, under the Property column, click Upgrade to GA4.
  • Click "I need to create a new Google Analytics 4 property."
  • If your site uses GTM, you have the option to enable data collection using your existing tags.
  • Click “Create Property.”

The new Google Analytics 4 property will be created based on your existing UA property, including basic data like your Universal Analytics account. The Setup Assistant in GA4 will walk you through finishing it, depending on your implementation method.

If the upgrade to GA4 wizard provided the option to enable data collection using your existing tagging, your new Google Analytics 4 property should now be collecting data.

If you are not using GTM or are using an older version of GA using analytics.js, implementing GA4 on your site will require more work.  Follow the developer documentation provided by Google for more help.

Note: If you've implemented any custom tags for your Universal Analytics property, this option won’t replicate your Google Analytics 4 property functionality. You will need to recreate event tags in GA4’s new model. You’ll notice new event tag options for GA4 in Google Tag Manager.

Google Analytics 4 and Lead Generation

One big question for GA4 is how it changes form submission tracking. While not an automatically tracked event, importing your existing form tracking into GA4 is extremely easy.

You are no longer bound to sending values for only Event Category, Event Action, or Event Label. Instead, you can create multiple, additional custom parameters to include additional information to inform your lead generation process.

This opens the door to create parameters such as User Persona, Lead Qualification or Score, or even pass along Form Details (that do not include personally identifiable data) as a value into GA4.

Because Google Analytics 4 is more focused on the user than the session, adding custom parameters to audience data can refine your lead generation reporting. You can even use the more robust User ID tracking component, which can add cross-device tracking using existing user tracking you may have built into your site.   

User properties are attributes that can be used to describe segments of your user base, such as language preference or geographic location. Analytics automatically logs some user properties. If you want to collect additional data, you can set up other user properties as well.

Google Analytics 4 and eCommerce

The GA4-based model for e-commerce tracking follows a new event-based model. Purchase event data can send multiple layers of product, transactions, user journey, and other relevant details to GA4 for reporting. New metrics also center around customer retention and the customer lifecycle value. GA4 reports also allow you to predict users’ future actions, analyzing the data related to their behavior.

Sending a full set of eCommerce events paints the entire conversion cycle in GA4 reports. The list of supported events includes events such as View Item, Add To Cart, or Begin Checkout — and comes with a list of suggested parameters to enable in-depth and robust product analysis. Purchase events are considered conversions automatically. You can also mark Add To Cart events or other eCommerce events, like conversions.

Using the new reporting tool in GA4, you can create customer funnels, goal flows, and user journey maps that are much more manageable in an eCommerce sense because you are not limited to predefining what you want to track.

User flow reports allow you to examine the customer journey at any stage of the buying cycle. They are not static reports generated by a destination goal funnel or predetermined checkout flow.

Get Started With GA4 Today

If you are ready to make the leap and implement GA4 on your site, go for it! We’re always here to help guide you through setup or add it to your existing UA property. Reach out to the team at Third and Grove to get started.

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