When the news came to switch to Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics, some users were not too keen on the changes. While change isn’t easy, this switch is worth the effort.
As of July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics stopped collecting new data from websites. So, if you still haven’t switched to GA4, the data you currently see in your analytics is outdated, with no further insight into your audience.
You must switch as soon as possible because you are already missing out on your user data between July 1 and the current date.
What is GA4?
GA4 (Google Analytics 4) is the latest version of Google Analytics, and it is designed to be more privacy-focused and future-proof than the previous version, Universal Analytics.
It also focuses on collecting data from websites and apps, using event-based data instead of session-based data.
Here are some of the key features of Google Analytics 4:
Although all privacy features in Universal Analytics are available in GA4, Google Analytics 4 also uses a unique default IP anonymization feature that does not register a user’s IP address.
It also uses other privacy features, such as the consent mode, which allows users to control how their data is collected and used, and ad personalization features.
GA4 is designed to be future-proof. It uses a new measurement model that is more flexible and scalable than the one used by Universal Analytics. This means that GA4 can adapt to the latest privacy regulations and technological changes.
The machine learning model integrated into Google Analytics 4 combines artificial intelligence with computer science, which shows that GA4 is ready to stand up to the technological advancements in the world today. Data Driven states, “GA4 fills in data gaps and provides sophisticated insights about user behavior, trends, and anomalies.”
GA4 can collect data from both websites and apps. This makes it a more comprehensive analytics tool for businesses with a presence on both platforms. It also collects information across devices using a unique user measurement ID for each user.
For example, if a user logs on to your website or app via two different devices, GA4 tracks the user through these devices and maps out the user funnel, identifying the two devices as a single user. It lets you get accurate information on how users interact with your platforms, even using different devices.
GA4 collects data based on events rather than sessions. It means it can track a user’s journey across multiple devices and platforms by taking note of the specific actions taken by each user. These actions can include video views, form submissions, file downloads, site searches, and button clicks.
According to Google support, any interaction by a user can be captured as an event.
e. Predictive analytics:
GA4 uses machine learning to provide predictive analytics. This is the use of artificial intelligence to predict the future behavior of your users.
German online retailer baur used GA4’s predictive insight to build a predictive audience for its Google Ads campaign.
The company increased its conversion rate by using an audience of likely purchasers to 87%. The company also calculated that 70% of those customers could only be reached using the predictive audience in Google Ads.
This feature can help businesses understand their users better and make more informed decisions.
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How GA4 is different from Universal Analytics
Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics are web analytics tools that help you track website traffic and user behavior. However, there are some key differences between the two platforms.
Here are some major differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics:
1. New Report Dashboard
The new report dashboard for GA4 is designed to be more user-friendly and to provide more insights into your users. It is a more flexible and customizable way to view your data.
You can change the colors, fonts, and layout of your reports. You can also customize the data you see.
The new dashboard is divided into four sections:
This section provides a high-level view of your data. It includes charts and graphs that show your most important metrics, such as sessions, users, and engagement.
This section is where you can create custom reports. You can add and remove cards, change the order of the cards, and customize the colors and fonts.
This section allows you to explore your data in more detail. You can use filters and segments to drill down into your data and find patterns.
This section has to do with everything involving your Ad campaigns. It gives you an advertising snapshot of your most relevant data, model comparisons, and conversion paths for each user.
2. Data Collection
GA4 can collect data from both websites and apps. However, Universal Analytics only collects data from websites. This makes GA4 a more comprehensive analytics tool for businesses with a website and an app.
Google Analytics 4 collects data using a variety of methods, including:
- Web tracking:
GA4 can track website traffic using the Google Analytics tag. The tag is a small piece of code you add to your website’s code. The tag collects data about the pages users visit, their time on each page, and the links they click.
To set up your GA4 for website tracking, you must create a Google Analytics 4 property, add a data stream, and add your Google Analytics code.
- App tracking:
GA4 can track app usage using Google Analytics for Firebase SDK. The SDK is a code you add to your app’s code before you can access and collect app usage data.
The SDK collects data about the events that users perform in your app, such as opening the app, updating the app, viewing a screen, or making a purchase.
- Event tracking:
GA4 also allows you to track custom events if you need more than the automatically collected and enhanced measurement events. Custom events are events that are specific to your website or app. You can use custom events to track anything, such as a user signing up for your newsletter or purchasing.
You can also track your app or website for system errors so that you know when a system crashes.
You can set up recommended and custom events using the Google Tag Manager in your Google Analytics 4 account.
However, before you can do this, you need to:
- Create a Google Analytics 4 account and property
- Create a web data stream for your website
- Place the Tag Manager snippets on your website
- Create a Google Analytics 4 Configuration tag
You also need to have access to the Tag Manager container for your website and at least an Editor role in the GA4 account.
- Cross-Platform tracking:
GA4 uses a unique identifier called a User-ID to track users across multiple devices and platforms. This feature is generated when a user signs in to your platform.
For example, if a user signs in to your website using their email address, you can generate a unique user ID that you can reference throughout your website or app.
It allows you to see how users interact with your website or app over time, regardless of their device.
GA4 also collects data about the user’s device, such as the type of device, the operating system, and the browser. You can use this data to understand how users access your website or app.
However, it is up to you to ensure that a third party cannot use the data collected to discover the user’s identity. You also have to make sure that your use of the user ID follows the Google Analytics Terms of Service.
GA4 also collects data from other Google products, such as Google Ads and Google Search. This data can be used to improve your marketing campaigns and better understand your users.
Here are some of the key things to keep in mind about GA4 data collection:
- Data collection is opt-in: Users must consent to data collection before their data is collected.
- Data is collected anonymously: GA4 does not collect personally identifiable information (PII) by default.
- Data is collected in real-time: GA4 collects data in real-time, so you can see the latest data as soon as it is collected. Data can change between 24-48 hours.
- Data is used to improve your website or app: GA4 data can enhance your website or app by understanding your users and their behavior.
If you are concerned about privacy, you can use the Google Analytics Privacy Control Center to control how your data is collected and used.
3. Real-Time Report
The real-time report in GA4 is a report that shows you the latest data about your website or app traffic as it happens. It is updated every minute to see how your traffic changes in real-time.
The real-time report can show you data up to 700 rows, according to Google Support.
Here are some things you can track in the real-time report:
- The number of users per minute for the past 30 minutes
- User source or device: where your users are coming from
- New users
- Returning users
- Engaged content
- Triggered events
You can also use the real-time report to track custom events.
4. User Snapshot
The user snapshot feature in Google Analytics 4 is a report showing a snapshot of data for a single user.
According to Google, “It includes information about the user’s device, app version, and location, along with the top events the user triggered, and the relevant user properties.”
The user snapshot feature can be used to:
- Understand individual user behavior:
The user snapshot feature can help you understand how an individual interacts with your website or app. You can see what pages they visit, what events they are triggering, and what devices they use.
- Identify trends:
You can identify specific trends in user behavior. For example, you can see if certain pages are more popular with certain types of users or if certain events are more likely to be triggered by users from specific locations.
Here are some things you can see in a user snapshot report:
- User ID: The user ID is a unique identifier assigned to each user. This ID can be used to track users across multiple sessions and devices.
- Device: The device the user uses to access your website or app
- App version: The version of the app that the user is using
- Location: The location of the user
- Top events: The top events that the user has triggered
- User properties: The user properties that have been set for the user
5. Measurement Model
GA4 uses a new measurement model that is based on events and parameters. Events are actions that users take on your website or app. Parameters are additional information about an event.
This contrasts with Universal Analytics, which uses a session-based measurement model.
Here are some key concepts in the GA4 measurement model:
Events are actions users take on your website or app. Events can be anything from clicking a button to making a purchase.
Parameters are additional information about an event. Parameters can be used to track the time it takes a user to complete a task.
- User ID:
The user ID is a unique identifier assigned to each user. This ID can be used to track users across multiple sessions and devices.
A session is a group of events the same user triggers within a certain period.
- Measurement ID:
The measurement ID is a unique identifier assigned to each property in GA4. This ID is used to track data across multiple properties.
6. New Engagement Metrics
Google Analytics 4 has several new engagement metrics that can measure how users interact with your website or app.
Some of the Google Analytics 4 metrics include:
- Engaged Sessions:
An engaged session has one or more events. This metric measures how often users interact with your website or app.
- Average Engagement Time:
The average engagement time is the total time spent in engaged sessions divided by the number of engaged sessions. This metric measures how long users spend interacting with your website or app.
- Engagement Rate:
The engagement rate is the number of engaged sessions divided by the total number of sessions. This metric measures the percentage of sessions that are engaged.
- Session Depth:
Session depth is the number of events in a session. This metric can measure how many pages or screens users view in a single session.
- Pages per Session:
Pages per session are the pages or screens viewed in a single session. This metric can measure how much content users consume in a single session.
7. Predictive Analytics
GA4 uses machine learning to provide predictive analytics. This can help businesses make more informed decisions by predicting users’ future behavior through artificial intelligence.
This is a new feature that Universal Analytics does not offer.
You can use predictive analytics to identify users likely to churn, target users with specific marketing campaigns, and make more informed decisions about your website or app.
GA4 uses a variety of factors to make predictions, including:
- User behavior:
GA4 looks at user behavior on your website or app to make predictions. It includes the pages they visit, the events they trigger, and their time on each page.
GA4 also looks at user demographics. This includes their age, gender, and location.
GA4 looks at user intent as well. It includes what they seek on your website or app and what they try to achieve.
Here are some benefits of using the predictive analytics feature in GA4:
- Identify users who are likely to churn:
The predictive analytics feature can be used to identify users who are likely to stop using your website or app, and the user snapshot can allow you to identify the problems and then devise effective strategies to keep the users on your platforms.
- Target users with specific marketing campaigns:
From the predictive analysis, you can create specific marketing campaigns that target users who are likely to be interested in your product or service or who are likely to convert, like the German online retailer baur, who used predictive analysis to create its Ad campaigns.
- Make more informed decisions about your website or app:
For example, you can use the predictive analytics feature to decide which pages to prioritize or which features to add to your website or app.
The predictive analytics feature in GA4 can be a valuable tool for understanding user behavior and making more informed decisions about your website or app.
However, it is essential to note that predictive analytics is not a perfect science. The predictions generated by GA4 are based on historical data and may not be accurate for all users.
Google Analytics 4 is a customizable platform, meaning you can tailor it to your needs. Here are some ways you can customize GA4:
- Custom dimensions and metrics:
GA4 allows you to create custom dimensions and metrics. You can track data specific to your website or app.
For example, you can create a custom dimension to track the number of times a user views a specific page or a custom metric to track the amount of time a user spends on a specific page.
- Custom audiences:
GA4 allows you to create custom audiences. It means you can group users based on their behavior or demographics.
For example, you can create a custom audience of users who have visited your website more than once or from a specific country.
- Custom reports:
GA4 allows you to create custom reports. It means you can view data in a way specific to your needs.
For example, you can create a custom report to track your marketing campaigns’ performance or your users’ engagement.
- Custom integrations:
Google Analytics 4 allows you to integrate with other Google products, such as Google Ads and Google Analytics 360.
You can use GA4 data to improve your marketing campaigns and get more user data.
Google Analytics 4, unlike Universal Analytics, gives you a lot of control over how you use the platform. It means you can tailor GA4 to your specific needs and get the most out of the data it collects.
Here are some benefits of customizing GA4:
- Track data that is specific to your website or app:
Custom dimensions and metrics allow you to track data specific to your website or app. It can help understand user behavior and make more informed decisions about your website or app.
- Target specific audiences with your marketing campaigns:
Custom audiences allow you to target specific audiences with your marketing campaigns. It can help you improve the ROI of your marketing campaigns.
You should customize the platform to your needs to get the most out of GA4.
9. Cross-Platform Tracking
Cross-platform tracking, or cross-device tracking, is a feature in GA4 that allows you to track users across multiple devices and platforms.
Google Analytics 4 uses user ID to track users across multiple devices and platforms. This ID is assigned to users when they first interact with your website or app.
The user ID is then used to track the user’s activity across all their devices, so long as they are signed in to their Google account and their Ad Personalization feature is enabled (usually enabled by default).
You should enable cross-platform tracking because nowadays, people access the internet through several devices, including voice assistants and multiple devices.
The fantastic thing about cross-platform tracking in GA4 is that it recognizes the user as an individual even if they use multiple devices, and it also integrates the engagements of that user across all the devices used.
This gives you accurate information when tracking the conversion funnel of your users.
Here are some benefits of cross-platform tracking in GA4:
- Track users across multiple devices and platforms:
Cross-platform tracking lets you track how users interact with your website or app on their phone, tablet, and computer.
- Identify lost customers:
Cross-platform tracking can help you identify lost customers. You can use this information to target these customers with specific marketing campaigns to win them back.
- Personalize the user experience:
Cross-platform tracking can be used to personalize the user experience. For example, you can show different content to users based on the device they are using.
- Improve the ROI of your marketing campaigns:
Cross-platform tracking can help you improve the ROI of your marketing campaigns. You can target your campaigns more effectively and measure their effectiveness more accurately.
GA4 is designed to be more privacy-focused than Universal Analytics. It allows users to control how their data is collected and used.
GA4 has several privacy features that are designed to protect user privacy.
These features include:
- Consent management:
GA4 allows you to manage consent for data collection. You can ask users for their consent before collecting their data.
- Data minimization:
GA4 minimizes the amount of data that it collects. GA4 only collects the data that is necessary for it to function. It does not log in or store IP addresses.
- Data pseudonymization:
Google Analytics 4 pseudonymizes data. It means GA4 replaces personally identifiable information (PII) with a unique identifier. This helps protect user privacy.
- Data portability:
GA4 allows you to export your data if you switch to a different analytics platform.
The privacy features of GA4 are designed to protect user privacy while still allowing you to collect the data you need to track your website or app traffic.
Here are some benefits of using the privacy features in GA4:
- Protect user privacy:
The privacy features help to protect user privacy by minimizing the amount of data that is collected and by pseudonymizing data.
- Meet compliance requirements:
The privacy features also help you meet compliance requirements with privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Build trust with users:
The privacy features can help you build trust with users by demonstrating your commitment to protecting their privacy.
- Improve the user experience:
The privacy features in GA4 help you improve the user experience by reducing the collected data and making it easier for users to opt out of data collection.
Google Support offers a detailed guide for GA4 Privacy Control.
GA4 offers a different set of reports than Universal Analytics. The reports in GA4 are more focused on user behavior and engagement, making it easier to understand how users interact with your website or app.
You can also customize your GA4 reports to focus on the user data that is most important to you.
Here is a table summarizing the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics:
|Websites and apps
|Cross Platform Tracking
How to Switch from Universal Analytics to GA4
Switching from Universal Analytics to GA4 can be daunting, but it is crucial to do so to take advantage of the new features and capabilities of GA4.
Here are the steps to switch from Universal Analytics to GA4:
- Create a new GA4 property: Go to your Google Analytics account and click the Admin tab.
- Select the account you want to switch (if you have only one Universal Analytics account, it’s automatically selected).
- In the Property column, select the Universal Property you use for your UA account.
- In the Property column, click the GA4 Setup Assistant.
- Click the Get Started button under this prompt: “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.”
- If your website already uses a gtag.js tag, you can select the option that shows: “This Wizard can also enable data collection using your existing tags.”
- Click on Create Property.
- Give your property a name: Enter a name for your new GA4 property.
- Select your website or app: Select the website or app you want to track with GA4.
- Enable data collection: Click on the Enable button to enable data collection for your new GA4 property.
- Install the GA4 tracking code: You must install the GA4 tracking code on your website or app to track your traffic. You can find the tracking code in the Tracking Code section of your GA4 property.
- Migrate your data from Universal Analytics using the Data Transfer Tool. You can find the Data Transfer Tool in the Tools section of your GA4 property.
- Start using GA4: Once you have completed the steps above, you can start using GA4 to track your website or app traffic. You can find the GA4 reports in the Reports section of your GA4 property.
You can also watch this video to migrate from Universal Analytics to GA4.
Here are some additional things to remember when switching from Universal Analytics to GA4:
- GA4 is a new product, still under development.
- GA4 uses a different data model than Universal Analytics.
- You must migrate your data from Universal Analytics to GA4 to keep historical data.
- You will need to adjust your reporting and analysis methods.
Recent GA4 Updates
Since the announcement that Google Analytics will replace Universal Analytics, Google has kept updating GA4 to ensure you get all the important data, export it, and track user interactions with your website or app.
Here are some updates to GA4 in the last few months that I think are crucial to SEO Analysis:
i. Behavioral modeling in path and funnel explorations
This is the latest update to Google Analytics 4, added on August 17, 2023.
Behavioral modeling data is now available in path and funnel explorations in Google Analytics 4. This has to do with declining consent for analytics cookies on your website.
This update lets you get data from users who decline your consent banner so you don’t miss out on valuable insights.
When a website visitor or app user declines analytics cookies or equivalent app identifiers, your reports are missing data about them.
Behavioral modeling fills in the data gaps by modeling the behavior of users who decline analytics cookies based on the behavior of similar users who accept analytics cookies.
ii. E-commerce dimensions and metrics available in the custom report builder
Google added this feature on July 20, 2023; it enables you to create your e-commerce reports from scratch or edit standard e-commerce reports.
These are the e-commerce dimensions that are now available in the custom report builder:
- Item affiliation
- Item brand
- Item category
- Item category 2
- Item category 3
- Item category 4
- Item category 5
- Item ID
- Item list ID
- Item list name
- Item list position
- Item location ID
- Item name
- Item promotion creative name
- Item promotion creative slot
- Item promotion name
- Item variant
- Shipping tier
These are the e-commerce metrics that are now available in the custom report builder:
- Gross item revenue
- Gross purchase revenue
- Item refund amount
- Item revenue
- Items added to cart
- Items checked out
- Items clicked in promotion
- Items purchased
- Items viewed
- Items viewed in list
- Items viewed in promotion
- Purchase revenue
- Refund amount
- Shipping amount
- Tax amount
iii. Six new dimensions and metrics in the Google Analytics 4 audience builder
On June 5, 2023, Google added five new dimensions to the Google Analytics 4 audience builder, namely:
- Manual term (UTM Term)
- Mobile device information
- New vs. Returning
They also added a new metric, session duration, to give more insight into users’ interactions with your platforms.
iv. Funnel reports
This update was introduced on May 2, 2023; it allows you to create customized sales funnel reports to see users’ exact steps to complete a task.
It also lets you see how many users drop off between each step and the specific step where they drop off.
This update allows you to create relevant funnels for your specific business goals and reference the information in your purchase journey reports.
Here are the other Google Analytics 4 updates so far.
Google Analytics 4 is a far cry from Universal Analytics. It is better and more scalable, and I love that it offers several customization options.
If you still need to switch to GA4, you must do so NOW! Also, you need to export your data from Universal Analytics to GA4 because Google announced that Universal Analytics would stop processing data starting July 1, 2023. It means you cannot access previously processed data from your Universal Analytics account.
If you have switched to GA4 already, you should keep up with the new changes.
Are you encountering any issues switching from Universal Analytics to GA4? If you have switched, how has the new experience been so far?