Google Analytics 4 is a new kind of analytics property, and the newest incarnation of the Google Analytics platform. Previously known as Google Analytics App + Web, Google Analytics 4 can be used to track, compile, and visualize data from apps, websites, or a website and app together, versus web-only tracking from Universal Analytics, for example.
Google Analytics 4 was built on the bones of the App + Web property, utilizing machine learning to compensate for privacy changes in the industry that may make it harder to track a user’s journey through the web.
Furthermore, Google’s implementation of machine learning advancements in its analytics properties will extrapolate data into actionable information, to the point that Google feels it may help you: “anticipate future actions your customers may take.”
Ultimately, any analytics tool acts as a flashlight into the dark and unknown future of any given marketing campaign or major SEO change. Google Analytics 4 is the latest in a line of products designed to improve your ROI – provided you know how to use it.
How has Google Analytics 4 Changed?
There are a few major changes in the way Google Analytics 4 presents actionable data. Perhaps the biggest conceptual change is a shift towards a consumer-centric measurement.
GA4’s analytics are no longer built around user sessions. Moving forward, Google plans to change the way data is collected and examined to provide greater cross-platform benefits to marketers, and better predict user behavior by tracking each user interaction. Data collection terms central to GA4 include:
Events – any trackable user interaction (a click, a purchase, login events, page views, etc.). GA4 does not register hit types the same way Universal Analytics does.
Parameters – similar to “dimensions” in Universal Analytics data collection. Describes useful information relevant to the event.
User ID – user-specific identification for cross-platform tracking.
In other words, the data being provided and visualized through both web and app properties on GA4 utilizes marketer-provided User IDs and Google signals from opt-in users to give you cross-platform user-specific snapshots and measurements, rather than per-device measurements or per-platform measurements.
GA4 also provides a comprehensive reporting of any given user’s life cycle on your website or app, specifically on acquisition, engagement, monetization, and overall retention.
Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics
There are a few fundamental differences, beginning with how events work. Universal Analytics property hit types translate into a GA4 property event, and these GA4 events have no concepts of Category, Action, or Label, unlike UA.
When porting over into UA, you need to be aware of events that GA4 will not automatically track, requiring you to add specific code to implement them properly. These include:
- Ad impressions
- Virtual currency
- When a user joins a group
- When a user completes a purchase
- When a user logs in
- When a user has shared content
- When a user searches for content
- And more.
Google provides a tutorial on how to map UA events to GA4, and help with the transition into the new data collection system.
Should You Set Up Google Analytics 4?
Even if you are only tentatively planning on integrating GA4 in the near future, consider jumping in now to see how it will develop over time, via increased data aggregation and machine learning.
Setting Up Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 practically sets itself up, on the most basic level. If you have a property that already has analytics, there’s very little for you to do – just head on into your Google Analytics account, and pay a visit to the Google Analytics 4 Setup Assistant.
If you are setting up a new site, you can use the Create Property action in your Google Analytics account to add your site, set up data collection for it, and begin tracking your data.
Additionally, Google has a tutorial to help users set up both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 as parallel properties.
A reminder that there are different ways of setting up data collection for websites, and Google Analytics 4 utilizes the global site tag API (gtag.js). If you are using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you are going to have to add the Analytics tag to your CMS or website builder backend. Refer to the Tagging Instructions under your Data Stream info in the Property column. There should be a snippet of code that begins with:
<!– Global Site Tag (gtag.js) – Google Analytics –>
And ends with:
You will need to copy and paste this into your website’s code, via your website builder or CMS. Each website builder or CMD typically has its own instructions for doing so.
Why Bother with Google Analytics 4?
Aside from the factors we’ve mentioned earlier, one of the overarching benefits of Google Analytics 4 is its machine learning integration allowing marketers to fill in the gaps created by increased user privacy protections, while featuring a simplified reporting interface.
This way, you can focus on spotting trends and tweaking campaigns, while GA4 does its best to create a consistent and accurate user journey based on as much data as it can accumulate.
Some of the other cool features you can use with Google Analytics 4 include:
- Realtime Data Tracking
- User Snapshots
- Life Cycle Reports (User Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, Retention)
And, perhaps most impressively: a custom analysis report maker, in the form of the Analysis Hub. The hub lets you determine what data points and variables you’re looking to visualize and explore, giving you an unprecedented tool to compare the effectiveness of campaigns and techniques, review how changes have impacted your traffic and user experience, and better communicate the effects of even the most minute changes to other team members, clients, and managers.
Analysis tools are the bread and butter of modern marketing. Data is essential for effective decision making, and the more actionable user data you have access to, the more you can tailor your website experience to improve user retention and monetization, turning traffic into leads, leads into sales, and sales into more users.
Google Analytics 4 is a better analysis tool for most marketers, especially with its forward-thinking machine learning feature. As an increasing number of users are looking for ways to limit how they’re being tracked, a demand that Google has responded to with renewed commitment. We will need ways to fill the gaps.