December 10th 2020

                                                                       

Recently, Google announced a new version for its free tool, Google Analytics. It is described as the new default version on data collection and web traffic analysis.

Google Analytics is used by millions of businesses and websites to track their user interaction across their web domains and/or mobile apps. This free platform gives businesses the necessary insights to answer basic questions such as: What amount of traffic we get? What impact did our marketing campaign have? What sales did we have last month? and so on.

Is the new version of Google Analytics (GA4) going to answer these questions in any more details or not? What improvements has Google brought in with this new version of Analytics? Can we have both versions running? Or we need just GA4 moving forward? Let’s find out in the next couple of paragraphs.

What is the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

When it was announced, Google described GA4 as having the next-generation approach to “privacy-first” tracking, x-channel measurement and an AI-based predictive model. By applying Google’s advanced machine learning model, the new Analytics can fill out data for website traffic and user behaviour without relying on having “hits” come from every page.

This version GA4 is built on the same platform for “Web+Apps” system that was released in 2019. The App+Web version was focused on cross-channel tracking, meaning that it would have shown the user behaviour across apps, software and your website.

The new GA4 is mainly focused on events. You can see this from the way data is presented in the new Google Analytics. GA4 is Google’s response to the new privacy protection laws, such as GDPR or CCPA. By using machine learning it is filling the gaps for businesses so they can better understand their complete customer base. Normally, using the traditional Universal Google Analytics, you could encounter issues with the accuracy or/and missing data due to cookie consent options required by these laws.

What are the highlights of the new GA4?

The new Analytics platform brings a series of capabilities and features, such as:

  • Using machine learning, it can model and extrapolate from existing data assumptions regarding site traffic/user behaviours – the new AI-powered “insights” feature is meant to automatically highlight useful information for the account owner
  • It’s more focused on measuring an end-to-end customer journey, across different devices for a “complete understanding of customer experience”
  • It’s designed to work in a world without cookies
  • Google Analytics brings in the “data stream” feature instead of Views or Segments used by Universal Analytics Properties
  • The view level is not present in GA4, whereas the traditional UA famously has 3 levels – Account, Property and View
  • Compared to classic Analytics, where “event tracking” requires the modification of the Analytics code or gtag.js script, the GA4 claims to enable editing, tracking and fine-tuning of events within the UI. (Example of events: clicks, page-scroll, etc.)
  • The new Data Import now includes a wide range of non-website data sources within the property
  • Cross-domain tracking  doesn’t require code adjustments and can be done within the UI
  • A brand new report is integrated into the new GA4 platform – “Life Cycle Report” which focuses on user journey.
  • Also, a feature available only in Analytics 360 (for now) is the “templated reports for ecommerce funnels” which is aimed at marketers to display and visualize  ecommerce data

Difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

Probably, the biggest difference noticed by the users when comes to the GA4 is the new user interface which brings new categories and types of reports. Also, you will find out that the View Level is gone.

UA homepage
Universal Analytics Home Dashboard
Google Analytics 4  Home Dashboard
Google Analytics 4 Home Dashboard

In terms of data collection, are many differences between the old and new platforms, particularly in how the data is defined and what the elements are called.

In GA4, the page views are now translated as “page_view” events. In the old platform, each event would have a Category, Action, Label and its hit type. Now, in GA4, every “hit” is an event and there are no longer distinctions between hit types – all hits are treated equally.

Adopting the new Google Analytics platform will require a rethink of concepts and data collection rather than carry over the old structures and models.

Another difference between the old and new is the processing time for hits. For example, there will be a difference in campaign sessions. In Universal Analytics, a new campaign will start a new session regardless of activity, while in Google Analytics 4,  a new campaign does not begin a new session which will lead to a lower number of session count in GA4.

Differences in the way delayed data is handled also can cause a difference in your data between UA and GA4. In traditional Analytics, hits are processed within 4 hours, while  Google Analytics 4 processes events which arrive up to 72 hours later.

Another important difference is related to parameters. Page URLs or URIs are not displayed as dimensions as they were in old GA. These are now treated as parameters like “page_location”. In my opinions,  Google’s intent is to get marketers and businesses rethinking their way of interpreting their data moving forward.

The new platform is based on an event + parameter model, to promote the thinking of these events in terms of “screens” or “page titles” – easier cross over between mobile sites, desktop sites, apps, etc – instead of “web site” page or “URL” So, now, you will see any interaction for your content under Engagement > Pages and Screens (also the default view is Page Title Screen Class) and Screen compared to Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages or Landing Pages.

What are the advantages of using Google Analytics 4?

1. Free connection to Big Query

GA4 comes with a free connection to Google Big Query enabling you to access the raw GA data and run SQL queries on it.

2.  A robust cross-device and cross-platform tracking & accurate reporting on unique users across multiple platforms

You can combine website and mobile app usage data into one GA property and this is more powerful than the roll-up approach that you may have used in the past to combine web and app data.

3. Availability for Advanced Analysis reports

This type of report was available only for GA 360 users, while now is available to anyone which upgrades or setups a Google Analytics 4 property. Comes under Explore > Analysis tab and you have some preset templates or you can create your own.

GA 4 Analysis Tab
GA4 Advanced Analysis Hub

4. No limits on the volume of data you can send

There are no limits on the volume of data you can send to a GA4 property; however, are certain limits on the number of unique events you can use.

5. Automatic tracking for most common events

The new Google Analytics 4 has an automatic tracking feature which enables you to track events such as scroll, video, exits, site search without additional coding or any adjustments to your tag.

GA4  Enhanced Measurement
GA4 Enhanced Measurement

6. Debugging available within the reporting interface

The GA4 reporting view will have a debug view report through which you can validate your analytics configuration for your apps.

7. New set of engagement metrics for a better tracking

When Google announced the new Google Analytics platform, they mentioned that new metrics will be brought in to help users understand their customers by having more accurate tracking for their apps/website.

In the new GA4 reports, the bounce rate is dropped and replaced with Engagement Rate and is calculated as follows:

Engagement Rate = engaged sessions / sessions,

where engaged sessions is a session in which a user has actively interacted with your website/app for at least 10 seconds or a conversion event is fired or two/more pageviews/screen views are fired.

The good news is that the Engagement Rate does not rely only on pageviews as Bounce Rate does. Also, Bounce Rate failed to measure user engagement on a single page app or any mobile app and would report inaccuracy where single-page sessions are common (such as niche news, blogs).

Should we move to Google Analytics 4?

In my opinion, The GA4 property is not ready for commercial consumption yet due to a limited collection of ecommerce data. Also, are many reports which are missing or have been replaced in the new Analytics.

The best course of action, for now, is to use both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 side-by-side. There’s no indication of/when the old-style GA will be deprecated, so you can still rely on it. You are not forced to move to the new version if you don’t want, but any new property or any new account will default to GA4.

It is important to remember that the data would not look the same across both versions because these two platforms are very different conceptually and because “hits” now measure things like events and parameters differently.

How to setup GA4?

If you are a business and want to set up a property of this new version (formerly known as an App + Web property) here’s how you can get started:

  • Sign in to the Analytics account with your website’s existing property.
  • Navigate to the Admin section.
  • In the Account column, select the account in which you want to create the property.
  • In the Property column, select the desired Universal Analytics property for your site.
  • If the option is available users can select “Upgrade to GA4” and follow the prompts. But in some cases, this button may not be available.
  • In this case select “Create property” and then follow the steps to create a new property for “Web + App,” by default this will lead to a new Google Analytics 4 property.
Upgrade to GA4
Upgrade to GA4

After you completed the property setup, you need to enable data collection. To do this you can even connect the existing tracking data from your traditional Analytics, or you can start with new tags that you can add much the same way it is added to the older versions of Analytics. If you are using the gtag.js tag (latest implementation of Universal Analytics), you’ll have the option to enable data collection using your existing tags.

Within your GA4 property, you need to add “Data streams” and selecting what type of data you want to track – most business will use “Web” for their site.

GA4 data stream
GA4 Data Stream

On Data Stream setup you will need to enter your correct domain and give it a name. Once is created, you will need to opt on how the data will flow into this stream, known as Tagging Instructions.  As we mentioned before, you can use the tags which are currently implemented on your site or you can create ran new ones.

GA4 Tagging Instruction
GA4 Tagging Instruction

Conclusion

Google Analytics 4 brings new features, such as tracking unique users across platforms and devices without code adjustments, and a brand new concept on measurement model. Nevertheless, GA4 won’t become a 100% replacement for Universal Analytics (know as GA3 – using gtag.js) anytime soon. It is still not ready for commercial consumption mainly because it lacks robust ecommerce reporting and attribution modelling. However, we would recommend using both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 side-by-side and getting yourself familiar with the new UI and the new event+parameter measurement model.