Google Analytics 4: What marketers need to know

Category: Data and analytics

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics, and it’s a big departure from Universal Analytics (UA).

At its core, GA4 is different. It’s a complete rebuild with the addition of machine learning, a new data model, and support for apps and web (along with cross-platform measurement). There’s also a new user interface, metrics, reports, and customisation tools. All of this means that marketers need to relearn how to use Google Analytics if they want to take advantage of all the new features.

In this blog, we’ll take you through what you need to know today about GA4, and why it’s important to create your GA4 properties as soon as possible.

What is Google Analytics 4?

GA4 is the fourth version of Google Analytics and offers an expansive range of powerful analytical tools that are designed for the future. It operates across platforms (apps and websites), doesn’t rely on only cookies, and uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric metrics.

GA4 allows users to see unified journeys across their website or app, view predictions from Google’s machine learning feature, and even customise it to best suit their needs. Perhaps most notably, however, it is built so that it can keep up with today’s constantly changing technology ecosystem.

What’s different between UA and GA4?

Data models

UA and GA4 collect and process data differently. UA was built around sessions and pageviews. GA4 uses events and parameters instead to track user engagement, which provides a more accurate picture of how users interact with your site.

Website and app reporting

Instead of reporting on website traffic and app usage separately, GA4 combines app and website usage into a single report. This give you a complete understanding of the customer journeys across devices, from acquisition to retention.

Interface and navigation

GA4 has a completely new user interface and navigation. This will be a learning curve for marketers so it’s important to start using GA4 and getting comfortable with the new reports.
GA4 also has fewer standard reports than UA – 16 to be precise in comparison to UA’s 107.

Metrics

As GA4 and UA use different data models it’s understandable that metrics will also differ between the two versions. We have new metrics in GA4 for: active users, engaged sessions, engagement rate, and scroll depth but we have also lost metrics: average session duration, pages per sessions.

Previously the bounce rate metric was also missing but it was added to GA4 in July 2022.

Here’s a handy list from Google about comparing metrics in GA4 to UA.

Event tracking

Events are handled differently in GA4. You no longer need to use Category, Action or Label. Instead, there are four new events, some of which are automatically created

  • Automatically collected events: these events are triggered by basic interaction with your website or app (e.g., page title, language, click)
  • Enhanced measurement events: measure interactions with your content these can be turned on within GA4 (e.g., pageviews, scrolls, outbound clicks, site search)
  • Recommended events: a list of events that are available to be used if needed (e.g., login, purchase, generate lead)
  • Custom events: create custom events that are not covered by the above.

What’s new in GA4

Machine learning

GA4 is built on a foundation of machine learning to bridge the gap in your understanding of customer behaviour when cookies or other identifiers are unavailable. It can use vast amounts of historical data, identify patterns and correlations between key data points, and make logical projections as to what will happen during the customer journey based on its knowledge so far.

This means that marketers can spend less time sifting through data and more time taking action on the insights that matter.

Gain deeper insights about your user behaviour

There are many ways to analyse the data in Google Analytics reports. However, there are some questions you cannot ask without an exploratory analysis. This can be done through a tool called Explorations which will allow users to deepen their understanding of what is going on with their website traffic, and explore your data in more detail.

Cookies, data and privacy

One of the biggest changes in GA4 is the way data is collected and privacy is handled. Instead of relying on cookies, GA4 uses a device-based identifier to track users across devices and platforms. This means that data can be collected even if users don’t have cookies enabled, which provides a more accurate picture of your audience.

“Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. It uses a flexible approach to measurement, and in the future, will include modelling to fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete. This means that you can rely on Google Analytics to help you measure your marketing results and meet customer needs now as you navigate the recovery and as you face uncertainty in the future.” (via Google)

Why do we need to move on from UA?

UA was released in 2012. It’s now a decade-old product that was designed for a world of web metrics defined by the desktop browser and observing data easier to find through cookies. But this has become old-fashioned; Universal Analytics is no longer equipped to effectively measure the ever-changing digital world.

Why should I upgrade to GA4 today?

GA4 is set to replace UA on 1 July 2023, and all UA properties will stop processing new hits. While you’ll still be able to view historical data in your UA properties, you’ll only have this access for at least six months after.

To avoid any data loss, we recommend you set up your GA4 properties as soon as possible. This is so that when we come to July 2023 you have the necessary historical data already populated.

This blog was reviewed and updated on 1 March 2023.

About the author - Hayley Thomas

Digital Marketing Manager at Mediahawk, with 13 years experience in digital marketing throughout a variety of industries.

Man and woman using laptops.
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