Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is Google’s fourth iteration of its website analytics platform. This is no ordinary upgrade! Leveraging the power of big data and machine learning, GA4 offers entirely new ways to collect and analyze user activity data across websites and apps.
While GA4 provides access to robust new tools and features for data-driven decision making, it also sheds many of the metrics and reports we’re used to in Google Analytics 3 (a.k.a. Universal Analytics, or UA).
Google will be sunsetting UA properties in July 2023. Here’s what you need to know about GA4’s capabilities — and why you should start the transition sooner rather than later.
Key Benefits of Google Analytics 4
We’re living in a more privacy-centric world, and GA4 is Google’s answer to stricter data laws and browser regulations. GA4 is designed to function without third-party cookies, using machine learning and statistical modeling instead to collect data.
This change comes with a range of benefits, from more actionable user insights to enhanced reporting capabilities.
Unlike UA, GA4 has the ability to track users across devices and platforms, combining all the data into a single property with a unified set of metrics and dimensions. This gives you a more complete picture of how users interact with your brand, whether they’re on your website, your mobile app, or both.
Another major advantage is that you can more effectively track conversions — particularly for users that might visit on their mobile, come back on desktop, and then download/purchase/register through your app. Because GA4 attributes actions to users across devices and platforms, you can see the entire journey a user takes from start to finish.
Using machine learning, GA4 offers powerful new metrics to predict user actions and includes new data buckets like Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. These predictive metrics can help you better understand your audience and make more informed decisions, so you can do things like tailoring your website experience for different users or creating targeted marketing campaigns.
UA offers a set of standard reports with some customization options. By contrast, GA4 enables and encourages users to create custom reports with only the data they need.
With greater freedom to create reports, you can declutter your dashboard and make decisions more quickly by drilling down to the data that’s most important to you. You can even create a separate “Audiences” report with custom user definitions, further tailoring the data to support your business needs.
Key Features of Google Analytics 4
With comprehensive user tracking, predictive metrics, customizable reports, and more, GA4 promises to be much more powerful than any previous version of Google Analytics. Here are the core capabilities driving all of those benefits.
One of the biggest changes in GA4 is how user data is collected. In UA, data is collected via tags placed on each page of a website. Users are tracked via sessions, or set periods that begin and end when a user enters and exits a site.
Instead of relying on pageviews and sessions, GA4 tracks user interactions, known as “events,” as users complete them. This focus on individual user interactions provides a more complete picture of each user’s journey across your website or app.
This event-based model also makes it possible to track interactions that don’t happen on web pages but can be influenced by digital marketing, such as in-store visits or in-app purchases. And, it allows Google to more accurately deduplicate users.
Cross-Platform Data Consolidation
In UA, “properties” are where Analytics data is collected for individual websites and apps. You can then use views to see and report on the data in various ways.
GA4 uses individual data streams to combine data from different platforms into a single property. You can add multiple data streams into a property and create different views based on certain criteria.
For example, you could create a stream for all web traffic, a stream for all app traffic, or a stream for traffic from both that covers a given geographic area. By placing the same tracking code across different digital platforms, you can consolidate data to track users who move between the streams.
Maybe the most exciting feature for data geeks like us, GA4’s Explorations Hub offers a suite of advanced data and analytical techniques that go well beyond standard reports. The Explore section lets you create custom analyses to uncover deeper insights about your website and app performance, with filters and segments so you can drill down even further.
GA4 also integrates with BigQuery, Google’s cloud-based data warehouse, where you can run complex analyses of very large datasets. Bonus: BigQuery offers near-unlimited data storage.
In an increasingly cookie-less world, Google is attempting to balance privacy limitations with usable insights. Using machine learning, GA4 fills in data gaps and provides predictive insights about user behavior and trends.
Machine learning combines artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science to fill in gaps and make predictions. It essentially looks for patterns of activity that can be fed into an algorithm to understand and predict how users behave online.
As an example, GA4’s AI-powered insights can help identify user actions that are most likely to lead to conversions. Using metrics like purchase probability, churn probability, and revenue prediction, you can customize marketing campaigns or target specific audiences to achieve your conversion goals.
Why You Should Switch to GA4 ASAP
You’ll be able to collect and use platform data in your existing UA property until July 1, 2023. After that, you’ll be able to access historical data for only six months. That’s why we strongly recommend you implement GA4 as soon as possible.
Transitioning now will allow you to:
Feed The Machine
Many of GA4’s core features rely on machine learning, and in order for machine learning to be effective, the algorithm needs time to learn. The sooner you set up and start collecting data in GA4, the more time your models will have to analyze and learn, shaping the insights you’ll need down the road.
Train Your People
Those using GA4 will need time to learn the new terminology, user interface, and capabilities. Switching early gives your team time to get used to the new platform and work out new processes and reporting while you still have UA to fall back on.
Get Year-Over-Year Data
GA4 is forward-facing only, which means your new GA4 property will only collect data from the time of creation; it won’t import past data from UA. Once UA sunsets next year, you’ll be relying solely on GA4 for year-over-year data.
Why does that matter? Here at Oomph, when we launch client projects, we use Google Analytics data to analyze digital platform performance so we can develop the best possible user experience. By examining user flows, page visits, common search terms, engagement metrics, and more, we can very quickly get a picture of where a platform has strengths and weak points. And we need your historical data to do it.
Ready to switch to Google Analytics 4? It’s a relatively simple process. Just follow the steps Google provides, whether you want to switch from UA to GA4 or set up a GA4 property alongside an existing UA property.
If you’re not feeling confident about handling the transition alone, we’d love to help. Get in touch with us today.