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10 min read

What is the new Google Analytics 4, and should I be using it already?

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Google has just enhanced and renamed the (beta) Web + App analytics property type to “Google Analytics 4”. 

The property type captures data in a slightly different way to Universal Analytics, its predecessor and still the most popular web analytics platform on the market. Some elements of the analytics platform may seem familiar but under the hood a lot has changed. 

Why is there a new Google Analytics? 

Many industry and societal changes are underway which are all contributing factors to the landscape that GA4 will sit within. Big Tech is under increasing pressure to better respect individual consumers’ privacy whilst browsing online, with regulators passing laws such as the GDPR in the EU, and CCPA in California, among others. 

Browsers (see ITP) and app platforms (see IDFA) are making technological changes to enable more user privacy, and browsers such as Brave have cemented their place as browser-of-choice for privacy advocates. 

Finally, ordinary web users are becoming more privacy conscious as a result of this work by regulators, browser vendors, and even the media. As a result they demand more control over how their data is being used, and may be able to opt out of or disable some website measurement mechanisms.

As a result of this rapidly changing landscape, a web analytics platform which is reliant upon cookies (the current version: Universal Analytics) can only realistically foresee a short shelf life in front of it. 

As Google describes on their product launch “the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers” by using modelling to fill in the blank, which is driven by machine learning predictions from the “signals” Google Analytics 4 consumes from any connected websites and apps. 

Discussing modelled data rather than actual data makes us as marketers feel uncomfortable, however this will be the new reality in the short term future. If you have a particular interest in learning more about this, I’d recommend reading Why conversion measurement will be crucial on the Think With Google blog. 

What’s the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics? 

Fully event-driven architecture

Although this is really only a slight difference in explanation, GA4 is billed as “entirely event-driven”.  This is broadly the same as Universal Analytics, but the language is modified to accommodate both applications and websites and there is additional information shown in the dashboard to accommodate this overlap – for example “session_start” events are now visible and measurable. 

New design in Google Analytics 4

Regular Google Analytics users will of course notice the design overhaul of GA4, which includes a full menu overhaul which is also now much more user-centric and includes a large number of new reporting views. 

Property structure and settings 

GA4 also brings with it a new account structure, which no longer includes the View structure underneath Accounts and Properties. This streamlined approach sees some old view settings now at the property level and filters moved within Data Settings, and some settings no longer exist in GA4, such as content and channel groupings. Segments, as they were found at the top of Universal Analytics, are located in a different position, it’s now under the “customise report” feature within the report detail pages. 

Measurement practices in Google Analytics 4 versus Universal Analytics

There is a fairly significant difference in the measurement terminology and practices used in GA4 when compared to Universal. You can read the official list of differences here but in short GA could be considered more like a Floodlight tag — an event with a large number of custom parameters which can be loaded up onto it. Most hit types translate directly to events in GA4 language, and all additional custom and ecommerce dimensions translate directly into their equivalent parameters (ecommerce parameters are still separated, though). The principle is that all interactions are an ‘event’. 

An increased total of 25 parameters can be attached to each event. User property allowances seem to have increased, too. 

The following concepts and methods also have no equivalents in GA4

  • control over IP anonymisation – as IP anonymisation is enabled by default on GA4 properties
  • cross-domain measurement
  • get client ID – often used to capture and store the browser/client’s user ID for later usage 
  • custom task (analytics.js only) 
  • timing measurement hits 

Measurement difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 

Due to the differences in session recording, the number of sessions recorded in a UA and a GA4 property may differ slightly. This is because in Universal Analytics, when a new campaign is detected, a new session is started. In Google Analytics 4, however, a new campaign does not start a new session. In GA4 reports therefore, session counts may be lower. 

Additionally, the tolerance for late hits between the platforms will change when you switch from one protocol to another. In Universal Analytics hits received up to 4 hours from the end of a day are processed, whereas this tolerance level increases to 72 hours in the new version — presumably to account for offline app events to be allowed to catch up. 

Active user counts are also likely to be higher in google Analytics 4 as active users are automatically detected, whereas regular interaction events are required for Universal Analytics to continue to treat users as such. 

Google measurement ‘Signals’ 

Google Signals refers to the additional telemetry captured by Google when users enable ads personalisation. For most users, this is on by default. You can read more in depth detail on Google Signals here, however in short the benefit to you as an analyst having enabled Signals is that whether or not a user-ID property is available for the website user in question, Google will use the Signals data to infer better cross device and cross platform reporting based on wider advertiser data, and it will capture additional data for the purposes of advertising and remarketing, too.

New metrics in Google Analytics 4

GA4 surfaces new metrics that weren’t previously available in Universal Analytics, but also still allows for custom metrics as before. GA4 makes much more of the user-centric metrics, such as customer lifetime value, and engagement metrics such as “engaged sessions”, “engaged sessions per user”, and more. 

Improved data controls 

Google has been clear that this step forward into Google Analytics 4 is a step forward into the future, privacy-first world. And so it should come as no surprise that there is further advice and innovation available on data collection and cleaning

Google Analytics now provides a new data deletion interface, improved from the previous iteration. With GA4, data collection for personalisation for ads can be controlled per data stream (apps or websites, etc), per event type, user property, per geography and more.  

Modify events via UI

Some features are just entirely new in GA4, and one of these features is the event modification rules. To save on code editing, Google Analytics 4 now allows marketers and analysts to edit event definitions within the user interface. 

Analytics now allows for a concept of “event modifications” which can be stacked like rules onto all events collected in the property. See the following diagram for a preview of this event modification set up: 

Modifying events can be particularly useful if similar events are named differently between different data sources, for example multiple websites or between your apps and websites. By homogenising the event names you can pull this data in aggregated reports. 

Cross-domain tracking configuration 

Another totally new feature in Google Analytics 4 is the UI-controlled cross-domain tracking, which is accessible under (reword) Cross-domain tracking that does not require code adjustments either, can be done within the UI. Cross-domain tracking is tucked away under “More tagging settings” along with the (new) event creation dialog and the new and relocated internal IP filtering dialog.

How can I create a Google Analytics 4 property? 

As of the time of writing, Google Analytics 4 is the default property type now available in Google Analytics. Simply follow the new account or new property wizard to create a GA4 account. 

Can I still get an organic landing page report in Google Analytics 4? 

Finding your actionable usual reports is still absolutely possible, you just need to know where to look to find them. In locating this specific report for the first time, you will actually understand how the report builder works, too. (h/t Radd Interactive for these pointers).

Head to Engagement > Pages and screens > Customise Report (top right icon including pencil) to edit the new segment equivalents, and then within the reporting table below, find the events column and filter this to “session_start” events. What you will have done here is the equivalent of browsing to the all pages report, then filtering for landing pages (session starts) and then segmenting down to organic users. 

Many reports work this way, and it’s just a case of understanding the new reporting structure and then translating your old reports into the new structure to access them in the same way. 

Should I set up Google Analytics 4?

Our current recommendation is to set up a Google Analytics 4 property as soon as possible, to run in parallel with your usual Universal Analytics configuration. You can use your existing website code (gtag.js or Google Tag Manager implementations only) to cross postulate your GA4 property with your Universal Analytics property data without any code changes. 

Google Analytics 4 for 360 customers is still not yet fully ready (at the time of writing) however an initial set up for data import is advisable as like any new property, data collection only starts once the property is created, and no backdating is possible. 

We’re expecting to see further feature enhancements over the coming months and we expect Google to begin pushing upgrades over the coming months and years. Certainly new features are likely to be released on GA4 first, if Universal Analytics gets a look in at all — that’s because some of the features will no doubt rely on the missing data modelling feature, and the AI insights feature is likely to continue to be built off this new data only. 

How to set up and configure Google Analytics 4

Setting up a new Google Analytics 4 property is simple. Within your existing Account, or whilst creating a new one, you’ll be presented with the following screen where you can set the property name and configure some defaults, which will look familiar from Universal Analytics view-level settings. 

For now, ensure that you also find the Universal Analytics toggle under the Advanced Settings to make the best of both worlds whilst this is still an option.  

On your website, depending on how you have implemented your tracking, you will have the option to amend your existing gtag.js code, to add a new measurement ID, to which multiple measurement configurations can be added.

If you use Google Tag Manager then the implementation is different, two new (beta) Google Analytics 4 tags exist; one for configuration and a separate one for events. If you’re looking for full official upgrade steps, then start here

If you have any questions about the new Google Analytics 4, or if you’re looking for some support via our Analytics Agency Support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.