What is Google Analytics 4? A Beginner’s Guide

October 26, 2021

It’s the new generation of Google Analytics – Google Analytics 4 (GA4). With machine learning at its core, GA4 is meant to surface helpful insights from customer data and fill in the gaps that privacy-based restrictions and cookie-less tracking may no longer pick up. 

Google Analytics 4

Why is Google Analytics 4 Important?

In October 2020, Google announced the launch of Google Analytics 4, formerly known as the App + Web property. This new type of Google Analytics property offers different reports than what is already shown in Universal Analytics, which will be phased out in the future.

Key features of this include:

  • Smarter insights that use machine learning for trends
  • Deeper integrations with Google Ads
  • Cross-browser, customer-centric data measurement
  • Granular data controls and event tracking

One of the key out-of-the-box features GA4 offers is the ability to automatically capture certain key website events without needing to set up tracking in Google Tag Manager. Default interactions such as pageview, scroll, outbound link click, site search, file download, and YouTube video engagement are automatically collected from your website AND iOS and Android apps.

Which Version of Google Analytics are We Using Right Now?

As of Q4 2021, Google’s current default analytics property is called Universal Analytics. Though a powerful free tool, Universal Analytics’ reliance on pageview-driven dimensions and metrics means that businesses will eventually lose that tracking when browser-level tracking is removed.

One of UA’s big limitations that Google Analytics 4 will address are instances where the same user might be counted twice.

Google says, “The new Analytics gives you customer-centric measurement, instead of measurement fragmented by device or by platform.” Since Google Analytics 4 can track the same user from app to web, it can deduplicate users and track their entire customer journey with the same set of event signals.

As of October 2021, we still don’t know when exactly Universal Analytics will sunset, but in preparation for the future, we are embracing setting up Google Analytics 4 properties to start tracking web traffic, events, and conversions.

UNIVERSAL ANALYTICS

Focused on Sessions
Pageview-driven dimensions and metrics
Track conversions as GOALS
Views allowed up to 20 Goals per view
Limited machine learning
Cookie-driven tracking at the browser level
Google Ads Audience creation via user actions
Multi-Channel Funnel reporting

 

GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4

Focused on Users
Events-driven metrics
No more Goals; replaced by Conversion Events
No Views. Property can have up to 30 Conversion Events
Machine-learning-driven predictive analytics
Cookieless tracking available at the server level
Deeper Audiences integrations with Google Ads + real-time updates
Customer lifecycle-framed reporting, machine AI to fill in the gaps in tracking

 

5 Benefits of Google Analytics 4 for a Cookie-less Future

Third Party Cookie Changes | What To Do

Related Reading: Cookie-Geddon! The Death of the Third-Party Cookie

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1. Compliance with Online Privacy Laws

GA4 offers data controls that help advertisers comply with data regulations like The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Built-in consent modes provide separate consent opt-ins for analytics and ads. IP addresses are also automatically made anonymous, data retention options only last for up to 14 months, individual data isn’t tracked back to a specific user – only their activities on your website.

2. Predictive AI and Insights

GA4 will offer three data-driven predictive metrics:

  • Purchase probability
  • Churn probability
  • Revenue prediction

Google explains, “With predictive metrics, you learn more about your customers just by collecting structured event data.” The caveat of this benefit is the prerequisite minimum data required over a sustainable period of time to establish benchmarks.

3. Machine Learning to Fill in the Gaps for a Cookie-less Future

A cookie-less future will inevitably lead to some loss of direct browser tracking, but all is not lost. Google Analytics 4 is powered by Google’s machine-learning powered AI. This emerging trend in analytics provides powerful, data-driven insights that help fill in the gaps lost from browser-level tracking.

Google explains, “Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. It uses a flexible approach to measurement, and in the future, will include modeling to fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete.”

4. Granular Event Tracking

GA4 measures conversions and data via a series of events that happen on your website as users interact with the site or app. With events, you can track any action or piece of information your visitors can take on your website. For example:

  • Transaction and product details
  • Top page loads on your website
  • Actions people perform within a page
  • Views on embedded YouTube Videos
  • Content interactions

5. Cross-Browser and App Customer Journey Tracking

Set up “data streams” to feed data from your website, iOS app, and/or Android app into GA4. GA4 serves as an endpoint for that data, deduplicating users and tracking them as they move from app to your website. 

How Do You Measure Events in GA4?

Google explains, “Events are triggered as users interact with your site or app.

Users familiar with Universal Analytics know the value of tracking GOALS in your account – measurable actions that happen on your website that show how your web visitors are interacting with it. Goals is a dimension that will NOT be part of GA4, and it will be a fairly high learning curve for many UA veterans.

Instead of using Goals, GA4 measures Conversion Events.

Conversion Events are simply events that happen on your website as users interact with the site or app that you designate to track as a conversion via settings.

Events can be broken down into 4 types:

  • Automatically Collected Events: Pre-built events to track basic interactions on the website automatically without additional set up required.
  • Enhanced Measurement: Interactions with content measured by enabling specific built-in (but dormant) events. (ex: page views, outbound clicks). These events do not default “on” to allow businesses to control what might be sensitive information tracking.
  • Recommended Events: Advanced data collection to track more advanced interactions, curated by Google based on your industry. You must manually set these up. (ex: ad impression, login, purchase, view item)
  • Custom Events: events that you name and implement yourself outside of the scope of automatic, enhanced, and recommended events. (ex: home searches, specific purchases, specific page views, form completions)

What is the Timeline for Google Analytics 4?

Short answer: we don't know! It hasn't been announced. 😃 👍

However, you can (and should) prepare now by setting up a free GA4 account to start gathering data. You should also get events set up to start tracking custom conversions that are valuable to your business.

Why? Google Analytics 4 is where Google is investing in future improvements. To avoid the disadvantage of starting fresh when the current tracking is phased out and missing out on invaluable data, we are advising all clients to set up a GA4 property now to collect historic data and be ready to go when UA ends.

Not sure where to start? Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on LinkedIn - we're keeping track of Google Analytics 4 and pivoting for a cookie-less future, and we’ll be sure to share our findings.

You can also contact us to start a conversation about deeper analytic tracking to prove your digital marketing ROI. Let’s talk  »

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