Google Analytics has changed! GA4 stands for “Google Analytics 4,” Google’s latest analytics offering, and is very different from existing “Universal Analytics,” also known as UA or GA3. GA4 was first announced towards the end of 2020 as Google’s all new “BETA” analytics platform, and Google has been providing more support information through this year, as their new analytics platform evolves.
GA4 offers some key benefits, which I have outlined below. I’ll also discuss who should be using GA4, and why you need a dual GA4 & UA implementation. In the next article, I’ll provide you with a more detailed overview of differences between the two very different models.
With GA4, Google has added some new and advanced features to better support your business across multiple platforms. Google’s new analytics tool includes built-in machine learning for deeper insights and consumer-focused tracking, improved event tracking, re-imagined reporting, easier cross-domain setup, and free integration with Google BigQuery. While these changes are beneficial, there is still some room for development as the tool evolves, and cons are called out as well:
GA4 offers a more user-focused approach to measurement.For example, consumer-centric tracking across devices available for those who have turned on ads personalization. Google’s new platform leverages built-in machine learning to support this approach.
GA4 uses an event-based measurement model, and represents a huge shift in the way Google Analytics captures event data. Pageviews are now considered event hits. There is greater automation, ability to edit events directly in the GA4 user interface, and a greater number of tracking parameters that can be applied per event. This allows businesses to more easily track user activity in more meaningful and specific ways.
Google is promising greater visibility of user pathways, and has provided a new “pivot-style” report analysis option as well. The platform continues to evolve. This will take some getting used to, and I recommend spending some time to become accustomed with the different reporting format before the more familiar Universal Analytics goes away.
Although GA4’s new reporting is touted by Google as a benefit, for now it’s a good idea to continue to use UA for master reporting until GA4 reporting becomes more robust and evolved. This is one of the reasons a dual implementation of GA4 and UA is a good idea for now. This is particularly true if you currently rely on deep focus e-commerce reports (GA4 e-commerce reporting is less detailed), multi-touch channel attribution models (not yet available in GA4), deep UTM context (term and content not viewable in GA4 yet), or if you have a rollup GA property with multiple views for different properties (GA views have gone away in GA4, and admin filters are limited for specifying pages or domains).
Cross-domain tracking can now be set up directly within the GA4 user interface, instead of in Google Tag Manager. The change in account structure allows multiple domains to sit within the umbrella of one GA property (whether web or app). This requires less effort on the implementation side, and supports a cross-platform view in one place. However, as mentioned above, GA4 does not currently support rollup properties like it does in GA360, nor multiple filtered views like in UA, so this is an area that is still evolving.
GA4 now integrates with Google BigQuery, Google’s multi cloud data warehouse. BigQuery itself is not free, but the ability to link it to GA was previously only available in the paid enterprise version of Google Analytics, GA360. This gives ALL marketers the opportunity to leverage much greater analytics power and flexibility than they previously had before, not just those using an enterprise version.
In short, EVERYONE! Whether you already have a UA property, or are just getting started with Google Analytics, whether you have a website, or an app, or both, GA4 is waiting for you, and it’s a good idea to get started. However, as GA4 is still evolving, also keep your Universal Analytics properties for your main reporting and analysis for now.
The time is…NOW!
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
It’s important to get started early. The sooner you add GA4 and start collecting baseline data the better. However, I recommend running a DUAL IMPLEMENTATION of both GA4 and Universal Analytics initially. While this may seem cumbersome, it is important for the following reasons:
Looking to understand what differences to expect as you implement Google Analytics 4 alongside Universal Analytics? That’s broken down for you here.
Coming soon: I’ll also be following up soon with information about browser/app privacy changes, how that will affect data collection in Google Analytics, and what you can do about it.