For years, Universal Analytics (UA) has been the primary platform used by marketers and business owners for understanding user behavior and measuring the results of their marketing campaigns.
The UA platform is a powerful tool that allows its users to:
• Use a single user ID for all activity
• Configure analytics in a multitude of ways
• Utilize different tracking codes to access even more valuable insights from users
• Gain access to offline data
• Create custom metrics
Despite its numerous advantages, the analytics platform still has its shortcomings. For instance, users have found that most of its functionalities were deeply anchored in the desktop web, significantly limiting what it can do in today’s multi-platform landscape. In response to today’s users’ evolving needs and measurement standards, Google launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – a more powerful tool built to keep up with the changing ecosystem.
In this blog, we delve into the specifics behind the GA4 upgrade as we aim to answer the questions, “What is GA4?” and “Should you be upgrading to Google Analytics 4?”. To do that, we’ll discuss what changed in Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics and why you should make the transition.
What Is GA4?
GA4 is a cross-platform analytics solution that enables you to measure and track website and app data. It is the latest version of Google’s wildly popular analytics platform, which provides enhanced analytics capabilities to allow you to take control of your digital marketing campaigns.
GA4 was designed to be a significant upgrade over UA because of the latter’s perceived deficiencies in today’s digital landscape as a platform deeply anchored in the desktop web. With today’s users enjoying multi-platform experiences, marketers need a more robust solution to measure those experiences and provide better insights into user behavior.
As the next-generation measurement solution, GA4 provides unified app and website management measure capabilities within a single Google Analytics integration. The way data is stored and processed completely differs from previous versions of the platform, providing new ways to measure and analyze traffic usage. It also comes with new reporting features, providing more detailed insights into how people interact with your website and app.
Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
When looking at what makes Google Analytics 4 different vs Universal Analytics, it’s also important to understand that it isn’t just a rebrand of the old platform but a complete rebuilding of the software. This rebuild introduces an array of new features designed to provide an even better analytics experience.
Here is a look at what changed in Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics:
Event-Based Tracking Offers More Useful Information
With the GA4 upgrade, the analytics platform no longer tracks sessions or pageviews. Instead, it tracks events, allowing you to follow a wide range of user actions and provide context on what a user does while interacting with your website or app.
For instance, you can only see in UA when a user visits a specific page. In GA4, you can now see if the user finished reading a blog (by triggering a scroll event) or checked out a product (by triggering a click event).
Although a limited number of tracked events are readily available within this new Google Analytics account setup, you can create your own events to track additional interactions.
Search Bar GA4 Upgrade Provides Fast, Detailed Insights
The search bar now also has additional functionalities beyond showing you where to find pre-generated reports. It is more powerful than ever, allowing you to gain the information you need based on various search queries.
For instance, if you want to know the net difference of page visits you’ve received over the past, you can search for “how many more visits this week than last.” The answer will then be given to you in the search results without needing a single click to access the data.
Access to Google Support documentation will also be available via the search bar when you complete the GA4 setup. Although this might seem like a minor addition, it is actually quite useful in times when you need guidance in completing a task.
Wide Range of Customization Options
Under the Universal Analytics platform, certain elements can be customized to give you more control over what you see. For instance, you can create custom dimensions, metrics and events when tracking user interactions. You can also create custom reports to access the information you need easier.
GA4 takes this level of customization even further by allowing you to create complex events that track incredibly specific actions for a single Google Analytics 4 property. For instance, if you have a Google Ads integration in place, you can keep track of the number of users that bought a specific item after reading a blog following a click on your ad.
Aside from these events, you can also customize a dashboard containing up to 50 custom insights that offer crucial information that defines user behavior. These reports can be as comprehensive or as empty as you want.
Google Analytics Integration Available With Other Apps
GA4’s powerful event-based tracking functionalities allow you to track all the metrics that matter to your business for a single Google Analytics 4 property. Within the platform, you can use predefined events, edit them or create an entirely new event, which can be as straightforward or as complex as you want them to be.
For optimized usage, you can integrate GA4 with a wide variety of apps to help you get the most out of your data. For instance, Google Ads integration can help you improve campaign performance by providing data on impressions, ad clicks and conversions. You can also export data to Google BigQuery, combine it with other data sets, and use Structured Query Language (SQL) queries to extract even more insights.
Machine Learning Analytics Offers Predictive Insights
One good feature of Universal Analytics is that it gives you access to historical campaign data, which allows you to glean insights that can inform your future campaigns. But GA4 takes this a step further by integrating machine learning analytics to provide predictive insights on user behavior.
Instead of just supplying you with historical data, GA4 machine learning analytics pull data from user behavior, device, location, demographics and other sources in order to train its models and generate predictive insights about future behavior. Through these models, GA4 can then predict how likely a customer is to complete a purchase or abandon a cart.
In its early stages, GA4 is only able to predict a few things. But as time progresses, these capabilities will expand further.
Note: you may have access to a limited amount of historical data if you have only recently completed Google Analytics 4 set-up. For those that haven’t done so yet, you may be unable to utilize predictive analytics until you’ve completed the GA4 setup.
Upgrading to Google Analytics 4: Should You Do It?
By now, you may be wondering whether you should proceed with the GA4 setup or stay with universal analytics. Unfortunately, upgrading to Google Analytics 4 is somewhat mandatory as the sun will soon set on Universal Analytics.
So, the question of whether to upgrade to GA4 over your existing Google Analytics integration is not an “if” but a “when.” Google strongly recommends you make the switch as soon as possible before you lose all support from UA and you lose all your data on July 1, 2023 (July 1, 2024, for Analytics 360).
Other users may also ask the following questions: “What is GA4 migration all about? Won’t you just lose all your data anyway?” Unfortunately, that is true. You won’t be able to transfer your data with the Google Analytics 4 set-up. This is why Google Analytics Experts recommend completing the Google Analytics 4 set-up as soon as possible to start building historical data for your new property.
How To Get Started With GA4
To get started with GA4, you will first need to ensure you have editor or administrator privileges. You can then choose from among these three options to start using GA4:
Set Up Data Collection for the First Time
If you’re new to Analytics and want to start collecting data for your website or app, follow these steps below:
1. Log in to your Google account. If you don’t already have one, create a Google account first.
2. Next, go to the Google Analytics home page and click the Start measuring button to proceed to account creation.
3. Fill up the form to start creating your Analytics account.
4. Click Next to create your first Google Analytics 4 property.
5. Enter a name for the property and choose a reporting time zone and currency and click Next.
Note: All traffic data will be recorded under the selected reporting time zone and currency. Visits that occur on a Tuesday in the visitor’s time zone but on a Monday in your selected time zone will be recorded as a Monday.
6. Select an industry category and size for your business then click Next.
7. Choose a purpose for how you intend to use Google Analytics.
Note: Default report collections are shown based on the information you provide. To learn more about these reports, please see the section on Custom Reporting below.
8 Accept the Analytics Terms of Service and the Data Processing Amendment and click Create to finish property creation.
You have now just created your first property. But before you can start collecting data, you must first specify the source of the data by adding a data stream. To add a data stream:
1. In Admin, choose the account and property on which you want to add the data stream.
2. Under Property, click Data Streams then Add stream.
3. Select iOS app, Android app or Web as the source.
• For iOS and Android:
🡲Enter all the app details: name of the app, Android package name, iOS bundle ID and App Store ID (for iOS).
🡲Click Register app then Next.
🡲Follow the on-screen instructions for downloading your app’s config file then click Next.
🡲Follow the on-screen instructions for adding the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK to your app then click Next.
🡲Run the app to verify the SDK is installed and the app is communicating with Google servers.
• For Web:
🡲Add the name of your website and the name of your data stream.
🡲Click Create stream.
Add Google Analytics 4 to a Website With Existing Universal Analytics
Follow these steps below to transition from an existing Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4:
1. Log in to your Google Analytics account.
2. Click the Admin button on the lower left portion of the screen.
3. If you have multiple Analytics accounts, make sure your desired account is selected.
4. Under the Property column, Select the UA property that collects traffic data for your current website.
5. Click GA4 Setup Assistant.
Note: You must be an Editor or Administrator to make changes to your Analytics account. If you don’t see the Setup Assistant option, then you likely don’t have permission. Please contact the administrator of the account.
6. Under the statement I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property, click Get started.
7. Choose Create and continue.
8. At this point you will be presented with one of two options, depending how your site is tagged:
• Choose Create and continue if you want to continue to the Set up a Google tag page.
• If you see the Create property option, then Analytics can reuse your existing UA tagging for your GA4 property. A connected site tag between your UA and GA4 properties will then be created.
9. If you have chosen Create and continue, you will proceed with the setup by setting up a Google tag on your website. Follow the on-screen instructions to install your Google tag manually or a different option based on your situation.
10. After following the instructions, you will see the message “You have successfully connected your properties” to signify that you’ve finished setting up GA4.
11. To finish setting up your new GA4 property (now appears as [UA Property Name] – GA4), open the Setup Assistant to guide you through recommended features.
Add Google Analytics 4 to a Website Builder Platform or CMS
There are a number of options available for setting up Analytics if your website is hosted on a CMS like Wix, SquareSpace, Shopify, Magento etc. Each platform has specific instructions for installation, which you can find on this Google Help page.
Supported platforms include the following:
• Google Sites
• MonsterInsights & ExactMetrics (Awesome Motive)
• Salesforce (Demandware)
• Site Kit (WordPress plugin)
How To Optimize Your Digital Marketing Strategy With GA4
GA4 is not just a data-gathering and reporting tool for marketers. It can also be used to optimize your marketing strategy to maximize your results. The following are essential tips for optimizing your digital marketing strategy with GA4:
Create Triggers Based on Key Audience Milestones
Marketing teams typically segment audiences based on acquisition channels (social, paid, organic or referral). GA4 offers even more segmentation options with an extensive list of suggested audiences based on specific triggers, including those who:
• Signed up using a registered email address
• Performed different searches
• Streamed content
• Started, completed or didn’t complete a tutorial
• Added items to their wishlist
• Abandoned their carts
Through these new triggers, you can learn more about how users interact with your website and how they move through the customer journey. This gives you more useful insights for optimizing your digital marketing strategy.
Enable Enhanced Measurement
Some events are automatically created after GA4 setup is completed, which include the following:
• Form_start: User interacts with a form for the first time.
• Form_submit: User submits information through a form.
• File_download: User triggers a file download after clicking a link
• Video_start: User begins playing a video on the page
• Video_progress: User has reached certain milestones within the video
• Video_complete: User finishes watching a video
However, these are not reported automatically and cannot be used to create audiences until you enable the enhanced measurement feature. You can enable this feature by going to Admin > Data Streams > Web and toggling On under Enhanced measurement.
But first, make sure you’ve already decided on which events are worth measuring for you. You can choose from among several other predefined events or set up custom events.
Microconversions are small engagements that customers make prior to completing a conversion, like viewing a product page before making a purchase. Tracking these conversions are important as they give you even more insight into the buyer’s journey.
GA4 makes it easier to measure microconversions by giving you the option to set certain events as conversions. For instance, you can measure actions like completing a tutorial, downloading a white paper or adding items to their shopping cart. You can do so by going to Admin > Events and selecting the option to Mark as conversion for a specific event.
You can even attach a monetary value to each microconversion to showcase how valuable each event is. These values are arbitrary, so you can attach any value you like, depending on how much a step contributes to your bottom line.
To attach a value to a conversion event:
• Go to Admin > Events.
• Click on Create event and choose a custom event from the table.
• Under the Parameter configuration section, click Add modification.
• Enter currency under the Parameter field and enter a currency type in the Value field.
• Then, select Add modification.
• Enter a value under the New value field.
• Finally, click Save.
Custom Reporting for More Insight
Take advantage of even more enhanced reporting capabilities within GA4. You can choose from among several report collections tailored to the answers you supplied during setup. These include the following:
• Life Cycle Collection: Helps you understand each stage in the customer journey, from acquisition to retention.
• App Developer Collection: Summarizes data about the in-app user experience. This is added automatically when you add the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK to an app in your GA4 property.
• Business Objectives Collection: Provides a tailored set of reports based on information you provide about your business. It is available by default once you specify business information during setup. However, the Life Cycle Collection may be shown instead if:
🡲 the property was created before March 27, 2023,
🡲 no business information was specified during setup
🡲 you migrated from a UA property through the Setup Assistant
• Games Reporting Collection: Helps game developers and marketers find relevant information for app-based games. This collection appears automatically when you have Games set as your industry category or you have at least one app data stream connected.
• User Collection: Helps you understand the people who use your website or app. Everyone has access to the User collection by default on the left side of the dashboard.
You can add custom reports to each collection, as well as:
• Change the primary dimension
• Add a secondary dimension
• Apply a filter to show a data subset
• Adjust the date range
All of the report collections are accessible via the Report Library found at the bottom of the left navigation when you have Edit permission.
Improve Your Reporting Capabilities With Google Analytics Experts From Thrive
Universal Analytics is a powerful tool that has helped business owners and marketers improve their data-gathering and reporting capabilities to improve their marketing campaigns. Today, you can further enhance these capabilities with GA4 through machine learning, predictive analysis, improved Google Ads integration and more.
Suppose you haven’t already completed the Google Analytics account setup to migrate to GA4. In that case, experts recommend doing so as early as possible to start taking advantage of these new features while building historical data for your Google Analytics 4 property. Doing so is relatively straightforward. But Google Analytics service providers like Thrive can also assist you through its Google Analytics setup service.
Thrive is one of the leading digital marketing agencies and Google Analytics service providers in the U.S. We provide Google Analytics setup services, which help us build robust digital marketing campaigns that maximize your reach and conversion rates.
Take advantage of Thrive’s Google Analytics consulting services to drive growth to your business today! Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more about how our Google Analytics consulting services can help your business thrive!