*Updated on 9/6/2023
As of July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) was replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Since this change, businesses that used UA to track their website or app performance metrics have now switched over to GA4 and are learning the features that come with the new platform. If you’re looking for help with the transition to Google Analytics 4, we’re confident this guide will be useful.
Differences Between UA and GA4
While UA and GA4 both track your data, there are clear differences between the two that you should be aware of. The first is that UA is a session-based model, meaning it primarily tracks user interactions within a session to your website and relies on page views and events to track user behavior. On the other hand, GA4 is event-based, meaning events are the primary unit of measurement, focusing on tracking individual events and user interactions across multiple sessions.
In terms of reporting interfaces and dashboards in GA4, the interface has a more modern and streamlined design that’s user-friendly, intuitive, and focuses on customization and flexibility. The home screen on GA4 provides a quick overview comprised of key metrics, events, and user engagement in a way that’s designed to give you a snapshot of your metrics and performance at a glance. The event analytics tools in GA4 are much more sophisticated and advanced than they were in UA, and allow you to explore events and parameters in greater detail.
GA4 also allows users to create custom reports and dashboards more easily, as well as provides more flexibility in organizing and visualizing your data. The platform also leverages machine learning in order to offer predictive metrics, which can help you forecast future trends based on historical data.
Setting Up GA4 Tracking
When setting up GA4 Tracking, it’s important to first understand that the data in UA cannot simply “roll-over” to GA4. This is because the underlying structure changed and some metrics were replaced. As a result, you must have separate mechanisms to collect new data from GA4. Websites have different structures for capturing UA data, and many also have customizations within each UA property. This means that the process of setting up GA4 for some websites can be very simple, whereas it may be more complex for others. The nature of your setup drives what you need to do and how much effort needs to be implemented.
There are a variety of factors that could make setting up GA4 more difficult, ranging from the complexity of your website or app to the type of website you have. For example, if your website or app is ecommerce, configuring ecommerce tracking or enhanced ecommerce tracking can be more complex due to the variety of interactions and data points involved. If your website is built on a complex framework, integrating a data layer to provide structured data to GA4 may be more complex.
GA4 Reporting Features
Reporting on Google Analytics 4 is designed to be more event-centric and user-focused, aimed at providing insights into user behavior, engagement, and conversation paths. GA4’s primary reporting revolves around events in user interactions with reports that display data related to specific events such as clicks, downloads, video views, and more. The platform also provides real-time reporting that lets you monitor user activity on your website or app as it happens, giving you the ability to see the current number of active users, their interactions, and other real-time metrics.
GA4 offers advanced segmentation capabilities that enable you to create custom audiences and segments based on user attributes, events, and more. The user-centric nature of GA4’s reporting allows you to explore user-related metrics, giving you the opportunity to gain insights into user engagement, acquisition channels, demographics, and technology usage. GA4 offers engagement reports that show how users engage with your content and events to see engagement rate, engagement per session, and more. The platforms also offers a tool called User Explorer where you can view individual user journeys and interactions, giving you an in-depth understanding of how specific users navigate through your content.
GA4 Event Tracking
GA4’s introduced a more comprehensive and flexible event tracking system compared with UA, and it revolves around user interactions and actions on your website or app. This system offers more granularity, flexibility, and depth of analysis, enabling you to better understand user behavior and optimize your app or website accordingly. There are a wide range of user interactions that you can track as events, including clicks, downloads, video views, form submissions, and custom interactions. GA4 introduced the concept of creating event parameters, which are additional pieces of information you can attach to events in order to provide context and allow for a more detailed analysis.
The platform also allows you to implement automatic event tracking for certain common interactions like page views, scrolls, outbound clicks, and site search. Automatic event tracking can help you capture data without requiring manual event implementation. GA4 also allows you to define custom events that are tailored to your specific business needs, which can be helpful to track interactions that are unique to your website or app.
GA4 Audience Building
Google Analytics 4 offers robust audience-building capabilities that enable you to create targeted segments of users based on their behaviors, interactions, and attributes. Building audiences in GA4 can help you better understand your users, tailor your marketing efforts, and optimize your website or app.
GA4’s event-centric tracking capabilities empower you to build audiences based on specific user interactions or events based on what actions they have performed. These actions can include clicking a specific button, viewing a certain page, or completing a particular event secret. The platform has also introduced user properties, which are attributes associated with specific users, and these can be used to create audiences based on technology usage, user type, demographics, or any other custom attributes that you define.
You can create custom audiences on GA4 by using a combination of events, parameters, and user properties. This flexibility allows you to create highly specific audiences that align with your marketing goals. GA4 also offers predictive metrics that can help you identify users who are likely to make a conversion or be more inactive, and this tool can be especially helpful in creating tailored messaging based on the user.
GA4 Conversion Tracking
Google Analytics 4 tracks conversions by capturing user interactions and events that represent specific goals or actions you want your users to take on your website or app. When you’re configuring your conversion goals in GA4, you first need to define the events that represent conversions or goals, and this can include actions such as submitting a form, making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, and more. Then you need to implement event tracking in order to capture these user interactions, and this involves adding code snippets to your site’s HTML or integrating GA4’s tracking SDK in your app. In GA4, you need to configure the specific events that you’ve decided will be conversion events, and you can also choose to give these events additional parameters such as values to represent the value of the conversion.
Once the conversion events are tracked and configured, GA4 will collect the data every time a user completes those events, and this data can be analyzed through the various tools and reports on the platform. GA4 also offers specific reports to analyze conversion events that provide insights into the number of conversions, conversion rates, user paths leading to conversions, and more. You can use a funnel analysis to visualize the steps that users take before they complete a conversion, which provides insight into how different interactions influence users to convert.
GA4 Ecommerce Tracking
If you have an ecommerce website, you can implement Google Analytics 4 to utilize their event-based tracking system in order to capture and analyze a wide range of ecommerce interactions and transactions on your website or app. To track ecommerce activities in GA4, you need to enable ecommerce tracking in your GA4 property settings, which sets up the infrastructure for tracking events and related data. GA4 uses events to track ecommerce interactions, meaning that you need to implement event tracking for various actions, including product views, adds to cart, purchases, and more.
The platform will also allow you to track various metrics, including product impressions, product clicks, adds to cart, removes from cart, checkout steps, purchases, and refunds/cancellations. By keeping track of these metrics, you can gather data that will give you a big picture view of the way users interact with your website or app. GA4 provides specific ecommerce reports that enable you to analyze your data, and these reports include sales and product performance, and a shopping behavior analysis. The User Explorer tool allows you to view individual user journeys, including ecommerce interactions, and you can create audiences based on ecommerce actions for targeted marketing campaigns. GA4’s predictive metrics can help you identify users who are likely to make purchases so you can focus your marketing efforts on high-potential customers.
GA4 Data Retention
Google Analytics 4 allows you to configure your data retention settings for your property, and these setting determine how long your user and event data is retained before being automatically deleted. GA4 offers different retentions to choose from, including two months, 14 months, 26months, 38 months, and 50 months. Once the data reaches the end of the selected retention period, it will be automatically deleted, and this applies to both user and event data. Data that is older than the chosen retention period will be purged from GA4, and this will impact historical data as the data that’s no longer available isn’t included in historical analysis or comparisons.
GA4 Privacy Features
Google Analytics 4 has introduced several privacy-focused features and enhancements designed to align with evolving data privacy regulations and provide users with greater control over their data. GA4 anonymizes the IP address of users by default, which helps to protect user privacy and reduce the potential for personally identifiable information (PII) exposure. They also have a tool called Consent Mode, which allows you to adjust your tracking based on user consent preferences. This help you comply with privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) by adjusting tracking behavior depending on whether users have given consent.
GA4 also provides user controls, which allows users to exercise their rights under data protection regulations more effectively, such as opting out of tracking or requesting data deletion. These privacy features demonstrate GA4’s commitment to enhancing user privacy, complying with data regulations, and offering businesses different tools to track user interactions in a more ethical and privacy-conscious manner.
GA4 Integration with Other Tools
Google Analytics 4 has the ability to easily be integrated with Google Ads, Looker Studio, and Google Tag Manager. This gives you the opportunity to implement a variety of tools that work with your tracking data to gain deeper insight into your business.
GA4 can integrate with Google Ads to provide more comprehensive campaign tracking and optimization insights, which allows you to bridge the gap between your analytics data and your advertising efforts. Through auto-tagging, Google Ads data import, attribution insights, cross-platform tracking, and more, you can enhance your understanding of how your advertising efforts contribute to user behavior and conversions. This integration allows you to optimize your ad campaigns more effectively based on real user insights and data-driven decisions.
Looker Studio, formerly known as Google Data Studio, can be integrated with GA4 to create interactive and customizable reports based on the data in GA4. Once you’ve configured your data, you can use Looker Studio’s drag-and-drop interface to design your report and include various visualizations such as charts, tables, and other components to represent your GA4 data in meaningful ways. The integration between these tools enables you to create visually appealing and informative reports that help you to analyze your data and communicate insights in a more effective manner.
You can also integrate GA4 with Google Tag Manager to simplify the process of implementing and managing event tracking and other data collection on your website or app. Once you’ve configured your GA4 configuration tag in Google Tag Manager, you select the trigger type that corresponds to the event that you want to track. From here, you can make customizations, preview the tag, and even create custom triggers and tags. Through integrating GA4 and Google Tag Manager, you can streamline the implementation of event tracking and data collection on your website or app, making it easier to manage and maintain your tracking setup over time without needing direct code edits.
GA4 Best Practices
With Google Analytics 4’s new, event-based system, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the best practices in order to fully utilize the enhanced features. Before setting up GA4, make sure to carefully plan your implementation strategy by determining the key events you want to track, define event parameters, and align your tracking with your business goals. When you’re creating your events, be sure to use specific and descriptive event names that clearly represent the actions users take on your website or app in order for the data to be more understandable and useful for analysis.
When you’re creating your event parameters, it’s important to utilize them to provide additional context and details for events in order to help you analyze user behavior more accurately. If you have a website, it may be worth considering implementing a data layer to provide structured data to GA4, which can enhance your tracking and reporting capabilities. It’s important to remember that every business is unique, meaning that your goals for your business are also unique and everything should be tailored to your specific needs.
While Google Analytics 4 offers many advanced features compared to Universal Analytics (UA), there are some featured that are missing or different due to the updated architecture and focus on user privacy and data protection.
One of the defining features of UA was being able to split your data into different subsets, which could then be filtered and segmented in order to give you in-depth control of your reporting. In GA4, there are no views, and instead, it relies on users to manage their data via comparison reports or building exploration reports to suit their needs.
A feature in UA that isn’t included in GA4 is annotations, which allowed you to create custom notes to your analytics. These notes could be assigned to specific dates and with different user permissions, making them an invaluable tool for recording specific events that can’t be captured within the data itself, but can help explain changes in the data that is recorded.
While GA4 does have an extensive reporting library, as well as the ability to create in-depth exploration reports, these can often be too simple or difficult to set up for users. Some features in UA that are no longer available in GA4 include plotting rows on charts, selecting specific goals in charts, or changing how the data is presented. Even though there are similar options in GA4, it lacks the option to easily segment your reports as well.
Compared to UA, GA4 Data API is missing some of the functionality of UA’s Reporting API, such as some standards and metrics that are available in GA4’s interface but not in the Data API, making it difficult to create dashboards and reports using the Data API.
How Americaneagle.com is Addressing the Transition
Americaneagle.com is offering the opportunity to begin becoming data driven, or to advance your capabilities. We have three offerings:
1. Installing your GA4 tracking codes. This begins with a two-hour analysis to determine the total number of hours needed for this effort. If you approve, you will receive:
- Installation of necessary code for GA4 data gathering
- Event/goal analysis for focused transfer
- Customization of data gathering to match existing views
- Compliance audit
- GA implementation review for data quality
- Our custom dashboard connection and review
3. Analytics overview. This can be either an on-going retainer or a one-time analysis of your data. You will receive:
- A session with a data and analytics strategist, with a complete review of your site, highlighting things that work as well as finding opportunities for improvement.
The data game is changing and it’s paramount that your website be set up for success. If you are interested in learning more about the transition to GA4, what to do after you’ve transitioned, or Americaneagle.com’s general data and analytics services, please contact us today.