Guide to Google Analytics 4
Did you know that Universal Analytics properties will no longer work after 1 July 2023?
If you have not already, now is the time to start contingency planning for your website’s Google Analytics 4 (GA4) upgrade.
GA4 accommodates the increased focus on consumer privacy and plans to phase out third-party cookies which brands all over the world have relied on for years to deliver targeted ads to the right audience.
Many companies delay implementing it because it requires a different platform to the Universal Analytics platform we have come to rely on. Soon this will no longer be optional and brands should prepare now.
Will GA4 replace Universal Analytics?
Yes. From July 2023, Universal Analytics properties will no longer process new hits. You’ll still be able to access previous data for at least six months longer. During this time, you should export all historical reports that you may need in the future.
Timeline of the war on third-party cookies
Here’s a quick recap of key events that have impacted this shift:
- Back in 2018, GDPR reshaped the way consumer data was handled and gave end-users more control over the data that was being held about them.
- In 2019, Europe’s highest court ruled that websites can no longer drop cookies to track consumers in the EU or collect their data unless they actively opt in.
- In 2020, Google announced its two-year plan to phase out third-party cookies, following Safari and Firefox. The aim was to meet the growing demand for greater privacy and control without damaging its £125 billion online advertising revenue.
- In October 2020, Google Analytics 4 was released to provide better predictive insights, deeper integration with Google Ads and cross-device measurement that doesn’t rely on third-party cookies.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4), previously known as “App + Web”, is an update to Universal Analytics that aims to be more future-proof and privacy-focused.
GA4 is important because it concentrates on measurements that are more focused on customers than events to build a fuller picture of the customer journey across platforms and devices.
What version of Google Analytics do I have?
If you are unsure about which version of Google Analytics you are on, you can check yourself by checking your property ID.
Universal Analytics IDs start with UA and end with a number (UA-XXXXXXXXX-1).
Google Analytics 4 IDs have a G- prefix followed by numbers (G-XXXXXXX).
Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
How is Google Analytics 4 different from Universal Analytics? The biggest difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is the user interface.
“Data streams” are used instead of views and segments. Each web data stream has its own ID and each app data stream has its own SDK setup instructions.
Data can be imported from a wide range of non-website sources (like apps for example) all within one property.
You can configure and fine-tune events or cross-domain tracking within the UI. Previously, this required modifying the Analytics code or gtag.js script.
A new “Life Cycle Report” focuses on user journey. There are also “templated reports for eCommerce funnels” for easier data visualisation. In Universal Analytics, this was only available for Analytics 360 accounts.
Benefits of Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 has 3 key benefits over Universal Analytics:
Privacy-focused and durable for the future
GA4 is centred around privacy to ensure that it remains reliable even as external changes, e.g. restrictions on cookies, create gaps in your data.
Machine learning for customer journey insights
Machine learning finds useful insights to provide a more comprehensive understanding of customers. This is facilitated by using customer-centric data instead of data fragmented by device or by platform.
Seamless integration with Google’s advertising platform
Thanks to multiple identity spaces, including User IDs and Google signals, GA4 is able to provide a fuller picture of how customers interact with your business.
Disadvantages of Google Analytics 4
Learning to navigate the new layout
Most noticeably, Audience, Behaviour, Conversions have been removed. Only the Real-Time and Acquisition tabs are present in Google Analytics 4 although these both still have reduced subpages.
It is harder to drill down into the data as the user has to work out how to reproduce this within GA4. The individual views for Organic, Referral and Direct Traffic have been removed.
Loss of historical data
Google Analytics 4 starts with a blank slate. It will not automatically import historical data for Year-On-Year comparisons even if you have a Universal Analytics account set up.
Even though there are ways to import data from your old account, Google also warns that data will not perfectly align across both versions because “hits” now measure events and parameters differently across platforms and devices.
How to navigate through Google Analytics 4
The navigation pane in Google Analytics 4 is split into 4 sections:
Find real-time snapshots and reports sorted by collection or topics. The “User” collection shows demographic and tech data while the “Life Cycle” collection shows Acquisition, Engagement, Monetisation and Retention metrics.
The “Games” collection replaces the Life Cycle collection if your industry is set to Games or at least 50% of app streams are apps categorised as Gaming.
A set of advanced techniques revealing deeper insights about customer behaviour. You can perform ad hoc queries, sort data, apply filters or create segments and audiences. Exploration data can be exported for use in other tools.
The Advertising snapshot highlights business metrics while summary cards address a single question such as “What touchpoint do customers take to convert?”
There are 4 summary cards in this snapshot:
- Conversions — Sorted by Default channel grouping
- Conversions Path — Find top conversion paths
- Model comparison — How credit shifts under different attribution models
- Insights — alerts you to significant changes/emerging trends in advertising data
In this tab you can access:
Events — Create or edit events based on existing events without changing code
Conversions — Select the events most important to you to mark as conversions
Audiences — Segment users by dimensions, metrics and events
Custom Definition — Set custom dimensions/metrics based on event parameters
DebugView — Monitor events from device or browser as they are triggered
Why switch to Google Analytics 4 now?
Until July 2023, you can still use Universal Analytics. However, creating a GA4 property now to use side-by-side will accumulate data ready for when you switch over. You can also get familiar with the new user interface and how data is displayed.
Brands putting off migrating to GA4 risk losing all of their Year-over-Year data which will make it difficult to evaluate and build your marketing strategy. Get in touch with Verse’s experts to start your GA4 journey on the right foot.