As a business owner, it’s important to leverage data to your advantage. Using tools such as Google Analytics can help you better understand your customers and maximize the value of your marketing efforts. However, to get the most complete picture possible, you might want to consider upgrading from the traditional Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.
Formerly known as App + Web, Google Analytics 4 is a new property you can use for both websites and apps. It utilizes advanced machine learning models to measure and understand data, ultimately providing you with more detailed and comprehensive insight into your entire customer base and campaigns.
In this article, we’ll explain what Google Analytics 4 is, how it’s different from Universal Analytics, and some of the benefits of using it. Then we’ll walk you through how to set it up in four simple steps. Let’s get started!
In This Article 🧐
What Is Google Analytics 4? 📈
In simple terms, Google Analytics 4, also referred to as GA4, is a new Google Analytics property. As a bit of background, Google Analytics first began around 2005. The most popular and commonly used version, Universal Analytics, was released in 2012. Last year, Google introduced App + Web in beta, which is now Google Analytics 4.
GA4 is the latest generation of tracking and measuring data. As explained in the Google Analytics 4 launch blog (which was released in October 2020) its main goal is to provide marketers with “smarter insights to improve your marketing decisions” and help you achieve a better Return On Investment (ROI).
A primary purpose of Google Analytics 4 is to prioritize “privacy-first” tracking and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for predictive tracking and cross-channel data measurement. If you’re familiar with Universal Analytics, you might also be aware that some data is absent from reports due to cookie consent options required by privacy protection laws, such as those set by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
In a nutshell, the Google Analytics 4 release includes machine-learning processes to help businesses gain more complete pictures of their audiences and customer bases. Previously, this wasn’t always possible because some site visitors choose to opt out of cookie usage and data sharing.
This system is built on the same platform as App + Web, which was initially released in 2019. The main goal and focus are on cross-channel data and ‘events,’ which makes it easier to follow the user journey across devices from beginning to end (or first visit or acquisition to final conversion and retention).
What’s New in Google Analytics 4 and What Are Its Benefits? 🏆
There are many advantages to using Google Analytics 4 for your company, as it introduces a wide range of new features. One of the biggest benefits is that you can use a Google Analytics 4 property for a website, an app, or both at the same time.
Rather than relying on ‘hits’ from every page, the new Google Analytics 4 leverages machine learning to measure data, as well as predictive tracking and conversion modeling to make assumptions about site traffic and visitor behavior based on current data. This is available as the new Insights feature that highlights key information for marketers.
Google Analytics 4 provides you with more data controls, including more options for ad personalization and optimization. It also helps you anticipate some of the future actions your customers may take. It uses predictive metrics and automatically alerts you of rising demands and emerging trends within your data, which makes it easier to uncover new audiences and pinpoint ways to improve your site’s customer journey and experience.
Another major benefit of Google Analytics 4 is that it can operate without cookies or identifying data. As we mentioned, this is becoming increasingly important as privacy protection laws grow stricter.
To fully appreciate the many benefits of Google Analytics 4, it’s important to understand the new capabilities and features that it introduces. More specifically, it helps to consider how it stacks up against the Universal Analytics property, since this is the one that you’re most likely to be familiar with.
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Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: Key Differences📏
There are a wide variety of differences between these Google Analytics properties that are worth considering before you make the Google Analytics 4 upgrade. Understanding the main ways in which they differ can better position you to leverage the new version of Analytics to your advantage.
Among the most important differences is what you can use each property for. You can only use Universal Analytics for websites. However, with Google Analytics 4, you can gather data for a website, an app, or both platforms simultaneously.
Ultimately, this means that you can develop a more complete picture of customer behavior throughout their experience with your brand because Google Analytics 4 can help you understand and predict cross-device and channel behavior.
However, this is far from the only change. Let’s take a closer look at some of the other key differences.
Reports and User Interface (UI)
One of the biggest differences between Universal Analytics versus Google Analytics 4 data collection and presentation is the types of reports you gain access to. With Traditional Analytics, data is organized into three tiers: Account, Property, and View. However, with GA4, data is organized into just two: Account and Property.
In Google Analytics 4, Views are replaced by what the platform calls ‘data streams.’ There can be up to 50 data streams for each property. If you have both websites and apps, you can stream data to a single property.
Another major change is the introduction of the Life Cycle Report and templated reports for Google Analytics 4 e-commerce properties, as well as ad-hoc funnels and pathing that provide you with new ways of displaying data. Until now, this feature was only available if you had an Analytics 360 account.
Naturally, between the different reports and data collection methods, you can expect to see a slightly different User Interface (UI) with Google Analytics 4 than you would with Universal Analytics:
Overall, there isn’t too much of a difference between the two interfaces. However, familiarizing yourself with some of the new key terms will make navigating GA4 significantly easier.
For example, in addition to events and parameters, you’ll also come across ‘User ID’ and ‘User property’. The former is used for cross-platform user tracking and the latter refers to user attributes and demographic information.
Events and Parameters
As you might recall, Google Analytics 4 presents data as ‘events.’ These events refer to the interactions your customers have with your website or app. These may include, but are not limited to, button clicks, user actions, page views, and more.
The event-based data model of Google Analytics 4 is also more flexible than Universal Analytics. For example, you will no longer be required to use elements such as ‘event category,’ ‘action,’ or ‘label.’ With Universal Analytics, each ‘hit’ was an event and each event had a type. With Google Analytics 4, that’s no longer the case.
You can also use ‘parameters’ (similar to the ‘dimensions’ used in the traditional Analytics) to further define each event and give it context. An example of this would be a page title or article ID.
Rather than prominently displayed URLs or URIs like those you would see in traditional Analytics, GA4 displays these parameters as ‘page_location’ or ‘page_view’. The reason for this may be to make it easier to identify these attributes across various devices.
There’s also a difference in how each property handles delayed data. With Universal Analytics, hits are processed if they come in within a few hours before the end of the day. However, Google Analytics 4 processes events that arrive up to three days later.
Note that this is why, as you might notice, sessions are lower in GA4 than traditional Analytics. Since there’s a change in the time frame of how hits are processed, the sessions may display as lower.
It’s also worth noting that you might see lower session counts in your Google Analytics 4 reports because starting a new campaign doesn’t start a new session. This is different than what you might be used to with Universal Analytics, which begins a new session with each new campaign.
Another notable aspect of these Google Analytics 4 events, in comparison to Universal Analytics, is how they’re implemented. They don’t require you to add customized Analytics code or Google Tag scripts, and some are measured by default.
Essentially, this means that you will be able to edit, track, and modify your analytics events directly from within the Google Analytics 4 UI, and without having to edit your site’s code. Also, you can implement cross-domain tracking from within the UI, rather than editing your code.
New Integrations and Interactions
Another of the Google Analytics 4 benefits you can expect is easier integrations with other marketing tools and products, such as Google Ads. You can also integrate Google Analytics 4 with YouTube and non-Google channels such as other email and social platforms.
For example, because GA4 lets you measure both app and web interactions at the same time, you can incorporate data such as conversions from YouTube views in your reports. This means you will have a more holistic and all-encompassing view of your entire marketing strategy.
Another difference is that, with Universal Analytics, direct and free BigQuery integration is only available to premium users. However, GA4 lets you stream data to BigQuery even if you have a free account.
That said, there are also some platforms that have not fully adopted GA4 integration yet. Notably, Shopify does not currently provide integration with Google Analytics 4 by default.
If you want to use Google Analytics 4 for Shopify, you can upgrade your plan to edit your code and configure it manually. There is also a new GA4 app you might consider trying, but it is not in widespread use yet, so we can’t vouch for its effectiveness.
Of course, landing pages play a critical role in digital marketing. If you currently use Google Analytics, it probably plays a major part in your ability to optimize and track these pages.
However, the primary goal of Google Analytics 4 centers on tracking users, which means you won’t find a Landing Pages report like you would with traditional Analytics. Don’t worry, though; the information and data is still there, it’s just in a different place. For example, you can use the Life Cycle report and filter it by different dimensions.
How to Set Up Google Analytics 4 (In 4 Steps)
Now that we’ve covered our Google Analytics 4 review and the benefits of using it, it’s time to dive into actually using it. It’s worth mentioning that, as of the time of this writing, it’s possible to use both Universal Analytics and GA4 – you don’t necessarily need to pick one or the other.
If you currently use Universal Analytics, there’s no need to abandon it completely. However, if you’re creating a new account, Google Analytics 4 will be the new default. Also, considering it will likely replace Universal Analytics eventually, familiarizing yourself with GA4 now is a smart idea.
Let’s take a look at how to set up Google Analytics 4 in four steps:
Step 1: Create a Google Analytics Account
The first step you’ll need to take is to create a Google Analytics account if you don’t already have one. In the event you do have an active account, you can jump right to Step 2.
On the other hand, you may want to create a new account for your GA4 property for a website or app that is separate from your existing Universal Analytics account. If so, sign in to your Google Analytics admin account and navigate to Admin > Accounts, then click on the Create account button:
You’ll need to add a name for your new account, then configure the data-sharing settings. Click on Next when you’re ready, and then you can follow the remaining steps below.
Follow the prompts to set up your account. Under the Property setup section, you’ll need to create a property name for your website. Keep in mind that Google Analytics 4 is the default for new accounts.
Step 2: Set Up a New Google Analytics 4 Property
Once you have your Google Analytics account set up, the next step is to create a Google Analytics 4 property. There are a couple of different ways of going about this.
If you already use Google Analytics and have an existing Universal Analytics account, you can perform a Google Analytics 4 upgrade by navigating to the Admin section of your website’s current property. Under the Account column, click on the account for which you want to create the GA4 property.
Next, under the Property column, select the Universal Analytics property for your website. There should be an option to Upgrade to GA4. Click on that button, then follow the prompts to complete the set up. We recommend using the GA4 Setup Assistant to make this process as simple as possible.
In the event that this option is not available on your account, don’t worry. If that’s the case, you can click on the Create Property button instead:
It will take you through a series of quick prompts to collect key information, such as a name for your property, as well as details about your business such as your industry category, company size and location, and your Google Analytics 4 goals:
When you’re done, click on Create. You’ll then be asked to agree to the terms and conditions and privacy statement. Once you do, click on the Next button at the bottom of the screen.
Step 3: Add a Data Stream
The next step in setting up Google Analytics 4 is to add a data stream. The process for doing so will depend on whether you’re adding the property to an existing Analytics account or not. If you’re already in your existing Analytics account, you can navigate to the Admin screen.
Under the Account column, select your desired account. Then, look at the Property column to verify that you have the property you want to add selected. If both are correct, click on Data Streams:
Note that if you are setting up a new Google Analytics account and following the prompts, it will automatically bring you to this screen once you agree to the terms and conditions.
From this page, you can choose the platform that you want to use to start collecting data. As you will see, the three options are iOS app, Android app, or Web. Keep in mind that you can create multiple data streams for this one property, all of which will come from one platform.
Hover over the platform you want to add the data stream to and click on the Set up link. If you select an app, Google Analytics will create a Firebase project to correspond with it. It also automatically links the two, if they aren’t already. You can read more about that in the Google Analytics documentation.
If you choose the Web platform, you’ll be asked to enter your website URL and a stream name. You can also enable enhanced measurement, if you wish, and choose which metrics to measure:
When you’re done, click on the Create stream button.
Step 4: Configure Your Website for Data Collection (If Necessary)
The last step will only be necessary if you’re using your website as a data stream platform. If so, you’ll need to add the Google Analytics tag to your website to begin seeing data for your new Google Analytics 4 property.
There are a few different ways to go about this:
You can either add a new on-page tag or use an existing one. With either, your options are to either add a global site tag, add code to the existing tag of each web page you want to collect data from, or use Google Tag Manager. Click on each option to expand it, then follow the instructions listed underneath your preferred solution.
That’s it! You’ve now set up a Google Analytics 4 property.
Of course, it will take some time for data to populate and for you to be able to use the dashboard and reporting features to their full extent. However, when you’re ready to start creating and modifying events, you can refer to the Google Analytics documentation for guidance. You can also find some helpful tips and tricks in popular Google Analytics 4 Reddit threads.
Frequently Asked Questions❓
Google Analytics are designed to help you, as a website owner, better understand your site traffic and user behavior by making it easier to track, collect, measure, and analyze data. Many consumers today use multiple devices to browse the internet, including desktop computers and mobile phones. Analytics provide a solution for keeping track of cross-device behavior throughout the user or customer journey, so you can make data-driven marketing decisions.
Yes, Google Analytics is free to use – at least the standard version. There is a premium option, Analytics 360, that provides advanced features and services. If you’re an individual or small business, the free Google Analytics will likely suffice.
However, if you’re looking to make the most of the platform or run a large, enterprise-level website, upgrading is definitely worth considering. You can learn more about each solution on the Google Analytics website.
When it comes to Google Analytics, a ‘property’ refers to the reports and data for a website or app. However, a Universal Analytics property and a Google Analytics 4 property will present different reports. A Google Analytics 4 property can be either a website, an app, or both, and each property can have up to 50 data streams.
Yes, it’s possible to use Universal Analytics and GA4 side by side. As of right now, there’s no sign that the traditional version will be deprecated in the immediate future. However, assuming it eventually will be, we recommend setting up a new Google Analytics 4 property, if for no other reason than to familiarize yourself with the new interface, features, and data settings.
Wrapping Up 🎁
Popular tools such as Google Analytics offer a way for you to learn more about your visitors and enhance the experience of their customer journey. However, there are some limitations to the Universal Analytics property that make seeing the whole picture of your brand’s online presence across multiple devices a bit challenging.
Fortunately, the new Google Analytics 4 property aims to help alleviate some of those issues. In this post, we discussed how you can set up Google Analytics 4 in four steps:
- Create a Google Analytics account (if you don’t already have one).
- Set up a new Google Analytics 4 property.
- Add a data stream.
- Configure your website or app for data collection.