Google Analytics 4 A Brief Introduction

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the new analytics offering from Google. Read our guide that outlines the basics of this powerful new analytics tool.

Google Analytics 4 – On Track for the Future

If you manage your own website you’ll no doubt be familiar with Google Analytics – the service that tracks and reports on your website traffic, so you can glean insights that enable you to optimise your site’s marketing performance.

If you use Google Analytics you will have been using what is known as Universal Analytics but – stand by – as of July 1 2023 it will be all change on the Analytics front!

Google is already introducing the next generation of analytics. GA4 (Google Analytics 4) has arrived, capable of combining data from both your apps and websites, and will reduce reliance on cookies in favour of machine learning to track website performance.

Just like it’s predecessor, Universal Analytics, the new, improved GA4 is a great digital marketing tool that comes free of charge.

GA4 is already the default for digital analytics measurement when you set up a new analytics property, and from July 1, 2023 it will become the ONLY option. Meanwhile you can run GA4 on your website or app alongside the old Universal Analytics version.

There’s no need to panic if you have not come to grips with GA4 yet. There’s plenty of help and support available online from Google itself, like this plain-speaking video that gives you an overview of what GA4 will be able to do for you:

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytic 4 is Google’s free analytics program for measuring your website traffic and the way that visitors interact with a website.

This is how Google itself explains Goggle Analytics 4:

“Google Analytics 4 is an analytics service that enables you to measure traffic and engagement across your websites and apps. This documentation provides implementation instructions and reference materials geared towards a developer audience.”

Read the full page from Google here 

Why Did Google Introduce Google Analytics G4?

Google Analytics 4 was introduced in October 2021 and Google have already signposted that they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics in July 2023.  There must have been a reason for Google to carry out such a major change to its free analytics product.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was launched to address the changing technology and online privacy landscape. The previous version, Google Universal Analytics (UA), is based on technology that is fast becoming outdated.

The major issues with UA were around the use of cookies and how these conflicted with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced in 2018. GA4 is part of a Cookieless Future that will use artificial intelligence to “fill the gaps” for users who opt out of tracking cookies.

Google have claimed that the changes in traffic should give a better picture of customers’ actions on your website or app and track the whole lifecycle from first impression to final sale/lead more effectively.

Other promised benefits of GA4 are that it will be easier and offer more accurate tracking cross-platform devices and pathing analysis. Added to his is the ability to predict user behaviour more accurately – especially when some types of data is now more difficult to collect.

A Guide to Switching to GA4

Google has urged users to “make the switch” to GA4 as soon as possible. Note, it’s not an upgrade or a migration, but an actual switch from the current Universal Analytics, which means setting up a new GA4 property.

If you are currently using Universal Analytics then you will need to run the two side by side for a year or so, because your new GA4 property will not come with the historical data you have collected. To see historical data for comparison purposes you will need to use the reports in your Universal Analytics property.

Running GA4, Universal Analytics and comparing to service log files will give you a solid data set to compare key metrics such as traffic levels, source/medium traffic, goal conversions and events.

  • To find out more, and get help with starting your GA4 journey, you can link directly to Google’s support page, Introducing Google Analytics 4.
  • If you’re a website developer that requires implementation instructions and reference materials for making the most of GA4, you’ll benefit from using Google’s special developer guide resource.

Does GA4 work with Google Tag Manager?

The simple answer to this question is yes. Google Analytic 4 and Google Tag Manager can work together.

Googles own Guidance in this is as follows:

“Google Analytics 4 properties bridge the gap between web and mobile analytics. Google Tag Manager supports Google Analytics 4 properties with two tags that work together:

Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration

Google Analytics: GA4 Event”

Read the full Google article here

Event Tracking and GA4

Tracking events and interactions on a website are key to understanding user behaviour, conversion rates and return on investment. The types of events tracked will differ depending on the website and niche. It could be an ecommerce purchase, a video view, a brochure download, a contact form submission, a phone or an email.

There are a limited number of events grouped together as “enhanced measurement” that come “out-of-the-box” in GA4. These can be turned on or off depending on how well they fit your business.

They are as follows:

  • page_view – every time a page is loaded
  • scroll – when 90% of the page is visible
  • click – when a hyperlink was clicked that is not to your own domain (i.e. an outbound link)
  • view_search_results – when the search results page is viewed
  • video_start – an embedded YouTube video starts playing
  • video_progress – an embedded YouTube video is watched to 10%, 25%, 50% and 75% completion
  • video_complete – an embedded YouTube video ends
  • file_download – when a hyperlink is clicked with a file extension (i.e. it is downloaded or opened)

Google us collects a series of “automatic” events and these cannot be turned off.

The automatic events collected in GA4 are as follows:

  • first_visit
  • session_start
  • user_engagement
  • in_app_purchase
  • app_remove
  • notification_receiveWhat is Better about GA4?

If you wish to track an event that falls outside of those tracked by Enhanced Measurement and Automatic Events then you will need to create custom events.

Custom events can be created within GA4 for simple events such as view a key page (contact us, basket, location). You can use up to 50 events per data stream.

Beyond the event types listed above you can combine Google Tag Manager and GA4 to track events such as email click, phone calls and form submissions.

What is Better about GA4?

That’s a question being asked by a lot of Google Analytics users who are au fait with the Universal Analytics version and a little wary of the change.

Of course, if you’re new to analytics and just starting out, you’ll be using GA4 on your site by default and don’t have to worry about switching.

The main difference you’ll find using GA4 is that unlike UA, which uses a session-based model to collect and report on data, GA4 uses a more flexible, event-based model which allows for more accurate reporting, and additional interaction information. In fact, GA4 allows you to send up to 25 extra event parameters (as opposed to 4 allowed in UA), so you’ll have a much wider set of data to monitor engagement with.

You’ll also find that GA4 presents data in a different way, combining everything into an overview section that allows for clicking through to gain further insight. It’s all much cleaner and clearer, so its easier to spot key trends and anomalies in the data.

There are plenty more features besides that make GA4 a step up from what we’re used to. Undoubtedly GA4 is set to make it far easier to identify a complete customer journey, giving you unique insights into the decision-making process that leads a website or app user to make that conversion.

If you are finding GA4 a bit intimidating and would like some advice on how to make the most of it, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our analytics specialists at Dentons Digital.

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About The Author

Tony Heywood

Tony Heywood

Tony manages the Search Marketing Team at Dentons Digital. He has over 15 years’ experience in SEO and is passionate about helping businesses grow online.  Tony is Google Analytics Qualified and loves website data, behavioural economics and UX. He is also part time football coach and local community radio DJ.

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