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What is GA4 and what do you need to do about it now?

A change in Google Analytics is on the horizon, and with it comes plenty of questions. Read on to find out what GA4 (Google Analytics 4) is, how (and why) it’s different from Universal Analytics, and what this means for you and your marketing team.
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What is GA4?

GA4, or Google Analytics 4, is Google’s new analytics property. It’s newly updated and will take different measurements to improve users’ analytical experiences. Beyond improved analytical experiences, GA4 is how Google is creating future-facing tech that allows tracking without overstepping the privacy boundaries that are either already in place or are expected to come down from the EU or through other government laws and privacy restrictions.

How is GA4 different from Google Analytics Universal?

Pitting GA4 vs. Google Analytics, you’ll find a couple of big differences. Appearance-wise, GA4 was created to be simpler. The first thing you may notice is that the dashboard looks different. However, the data looks different too. More than that, the collection and modeling methods (and priorities) have shifted for Google Analytics in the new property GA4:

Data Collection Method

GA4 collects both app and website data and uses events instead of session-based data.
This means you’ll want to rethink your data in terms of page views rather than what happens within the session. Additionally, Google asserts that you’ll be able to see better distribution of data because it’s being reliably collected across devices and platforms.

Focus on Privacy and First-Party Data

With the rise of consumer data privacy requirements, Google has begun implementing its method of data collection. GA4 has a refreshed focus on privacy and the use of first-party data rather than third-party data that was acquired through tracking and web cookies. (It can work with or without cookies.) Google is preparing for the ever-changing consumer data privacy laws that are expected, both in the U.S. and internationally. Security terms frequently change, and Google is subject to the same compliance requirements under GDPR and CCPA as the rest of us.

Modeling and Behavioral Conversions

Now Google asserts, you can set up your specific type of conversion and track the way you want. For example, if you want to see whether your web visitor is going to their shopping cart and then checking out, or if they watch a video and then call you, you can track those visitor pathways.

Additionally, two more big changes come with GA4: 

  1. There is no limit to the number of sessions you can track (GA Universal had an upper limit of 500k web visits)
  2. The bounce rate tracking is being replaced with engagement rate tracking, which can be more valuable when determining what users are engaging with (rather than what they’re not).

It’s important to note: the results from Google Analytics Universal vs. GA4 will not look the same. Because of the differences (particularly in measurement/tracking) mentioned above, the results will definitely be different—so don’t panic when your page views don’t line up. For example, you might see a higher user count (active user data) for GA4 vs. Google Analytics Universal. Or, session counts may look lower because they’re being counted differently. You simply can’t compare your reports in Google Analytics Universal against your GA4 reports because they’re not apples to apples—Google is measuring things differently.

Will my website data transfer over?

Your website data will not transfer over, but it will still be able to be viewed in the meantime. You can run both GA4 and GA Universal concurrently and the data will be accurate for both (but they will not have the same results, as discussed above). Google will alert users when the old GA Universal data will no longer be available for viewing.

What do I need to do now about GA4?

Google Analytics Universal will stop collecting data in July of 2023 (and be sunsetted by the end of the year), at which point GA4 will be the only analytics property available through Google. Our recommendation? Set up your GA4 account now so you can have more data to work from when making digital marketing decisions. You’ll become more familiar with the interface, and you’ll have much more data to work from.

How do I set up a GA4 account?

If you’re an editor or administrator of your Google Analytics, here’s how to get started:

  1. If you’re new to analytics, set up analytics data collection for the first time.
  2. If you have Universal Analytics on a site already, add GA4 to it.

Along with implementing Google Analytics 4, make sure your Google Tag Manager is included in the process—set it up for GA4 and use the tag(s) that you want. The two that work together in the new GA4 properties are the GA4 Configuration and the GA4 Event. 

The Configuration tag sets up GA for your GA4 property on the page that you specify (like setting GA cookies, for example). You’ll want to use the Configuration tag on any page that you want to collect data for GA4. Set it up first before anything else.

GA4 Event allows users to collect particular information on events you customize. The data is sent to Analytics either automatically or through enhanced measurement, which works well if you are hoping to collect scroll depth data, for example—you’d need to set up the Event to fire while using the Tag Manager’s scroll depth trigger. This Event tag gives users greater control over the sequencing when using multiple triggers.

GA4 DataStream

Next Steps

Google Help also offers training online, including videos that give more direction along with tips and tricks for how to best use your GA4 data. Until its full launch in July 2023, Google will continue to make improvements for users of the new property. Even if you don’t use it now, it’s best to set it up and become familiar, so you know what to do when it’s the only option later in 2023.

More important – the best argument for setting up GA4 now: You’ll have a full years’ worth of data to make your best possible marketing decisions.

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