Understanding Google Analytics 4

As the July 1, 2023 deadline to shift from Google Analytics to Google Analytics 4 approaches, many businesses are scrambling to understand what this change means for them and how to prepare. There are a lot of questions around GA4, and it can be daunting to know where to start.

In this article, we’ll give you a high-level overview of GA4 and what it means for your business. We’ll also provide some resources to help you make the transition.

What is Google Analytics 4, and How Does it Differ From Universal Analytics?

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google Analytics, first released in October 2020. It is a completely new platform that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide better insights into your website traffic and user behavior. GA4 introduces several new features and changes, including:

  • Integrated reporting between Web and Mobile: In GA4, you can see combined data from your website and mobile app in a single property. This makes it easier to understand how users interact with your business across different platforms. This is not the case for Universal Analytics, as you’d have to look for these separately on different platforms.
  • Codeless event-based data collection: GA4 uses machine learning to automatically collect and group user data into events without requiring developers to code each one. This makes it easier to get insights into how users interact with your site or app and identify potential problems.
  • Live debugging with DebugView: DebugView is a new tool that allows you to see data being collected in real-time, which can be helpful for troubleshooting issues.
  • BigQuery exports:  GA4 allows you to export your data directly into BigQuery, Google’s cloud-based data warehouse. This makes it easier to access and analyze your data and share it with other tools and platforms. Initially, this was only available for Google Analytics 360 users.

The biggest difference with GA4 is that it collects data differently. Instead of relying on cookies and tracking codes like Universal Analytics (UA), GA4 uses first-party data collected directly from your website or app. This data is then used to build models that provide more accurate insights into your users’ behavior. 

Universal Analytics (UA) is the current version of Google Analytics and will be turned off on July 1, 2023. It does provide some insights into customer behavior but does not offer the same level of granularity or accuracy as GA4. 

How to Set up GA4 Property 

Use the GA4 Setup Assistant to create a new GA4 property that tracks data in parallel with your existing UA property. This won’t cause any changes to your UA as it will keep collecting data as always. According to Google, the GA4 setup assistant:

  • Creates your new GA4 property
  • Triggers enhanced measurement in your GA4 property
  • Copies the website URL, time zone, property name, and currency settings from your UA property
  • Connects your UA and GA4, making it possible to migrate configurations from UA to GA4 properties.
  • Allows your GA4 property to get data from your existing Google tag, if you decide to reuse an existing site tag.

To Set up GA4

  1. Sign in to your Google Analytics page
  2. Click the Admin Gear icon, in the bottom left navigation
  3. Select the desired account in the Account column (if you have more than one account)
  4. Confirm the desired property is selected.
  5. Then click GA4 Setup Assistant in the Property column
  6. Once inside the Setup Wizard, click the large blue button, Get Started
  7. Click the blue button to Create a property

How Does GA4 Help With Reporting?

GA4 includes several features that make reporting easier, including:

GA4 is a progressive solution using enhanced machine learning techniques to provide more accurate insights. It can fill data gaps and predict user behavior more accurately than UA. It can also create a single-user journey for all data linked to a user ID, regardless of the device used.

Additionally, GA4 has simplified the reporting interface and provides more options for customizing reports. These features make it easier to get the insights you need to improve your business. 

GA4 uses overview reports in summary cards that show key metrics and allow you to quickly see how your business is performing. These reports are predefined and interactive, so you can click on them to get more details.

Will My Existing Accounts Automatically Update to GA4?

No, your existing accounts will not automatically update to GA4. You will need to create a new GA4 account and migrate your data from your UA account to access the GA4 tracking code and features. If you don’t migrate to GA4, you may only be able to record data until the 2023 deadline. After that, the properties will stop processing new hits. Google recommends exporting your UA data before to avoid losing it.

What Happens to Google Analytics Historical Data

Google encourages users to export their historical data now. Although you cannot migrate historical data, you can still save it. If you’re a GA360 user, then you can export UA data to BigQuery. But the cost of GA360 makes it inaccessible to smaller businesses. 

If you’re a standard user, you can export your historical data using one of these ways: 

  • Manual export where you get the data directly from your Google Analytics account.
  • Google Analytics Dev Tools: Query Explorer – where you use GA dev tools to export data.
  • Google Analytics Sheets Add-On -connects GA directly to Sheets, so you don’t have the extra steps of uploading and downloading.

It’s also a good idea to dual-tag both properties on your site. By dual-tagging your website or app, you can continue enjoying all the benefits of UA while starting to collect data in GA4 properties. GA4 collects data in parallel with your existing UA property, allowing you to start populating it with users. As mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to migrate an audience from UA to GA4. But dual tagging allows the GA4 tracking code to collect the data gradually. So, the sooner you configure the GA4 tracking code and other basic parameters and events, the sooner your audiences can grow and become viable for advertising efforts.

Will My Filters, Configurations, and Other Settings Transfer Over to GA4?

No, your filters, configurations, and other settings will not automatically transfer over to GA4. You’ll need to manually transfer over any settings you want to keep – there’s no automatic migration process. Once you reconfigure your filters, configurations, and other settings in the new GA4 property, you can dual-tag your website or app to send data to both the UA and GA4 properties. It’s best to start early and ensure that all your settings are properly transferred. Otherwise, you may start from scratch with a new analytics platform.

How will this Affect Google Analytics Integrations With Other Software?

The shift to GA4 may affect your Google Analytics integrations with other software. If you use any third-party software that relies on UA, such as an eCommerce platform or tag manager, you’ll need to check with the vendor to see if they plan on updating their software to work with GA4. If they do, you can manually configure your integration with the software. You’ll then decide the type of data to send to GA4 – like signal events, call events, etc. 

If your software vendor does not plan on supporting GA4, you’ll need to find an alternative solution or migrate to a different platform entirely.

I’m Still Unsure about Google Analytics 4. What Should I Do?

We understand that change can be scary, particularly regarding something as important as your website’s analytics. But we assure you that GA4 is a major upgrade from UA and well worth the effort to migrate to.

If you’re still unsure about GA4, we recommend checking out our other resources on the topic. If you’re having a hard time, you might find it helpful to work with an experienced Google Analytics consultant who can guide you through the process and ensure a smooth transition.

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