A Comprehensive Guide to GA4: What You Need To Know

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Sometimes it can feel like Google is making never-ending announcements about its products and systems updates, but the changes seem barely noticeable. With the October 2020 Google Analytics update, however, these changes were impossible to miss. 

People new to the world of analytics, or even those with a lot of Universal Analytics (UA) experience, may initially find Google Analytics 4 (GA4) overwhelming. This guide is accessible and useful to analytics beginners and experts alike, explaining the reason for Google’s shift, the new features, and how to make the most of the major changes. 

Why The Change?

According to Google’s website, they introduced GA4 “​​to address the evolving measurement standards and help businesses succeed.” They explain that “it allows businesses to see unified user journeys across their websites and apps, use Google’s machine learning technology to surface and predict new insights, and most importantly, it’s built to keep up with a changing ecosystem.”

In simpler terms, Universal Analytics users needed a system that allowed them to understand the complicated ways their audience navigates their website. Think about it, how often do you search for something on a desktop, and then later again on your phone, and maybe eventually you download an app to discover even more? Our online user journey and how we consume information have undoubtedly shifted in recent years. Despite the potentially frustrating period of acclimatizing to GA4, this cross-platform analytic solution will ultimately make your life easier and your marketing more targeted. 

What’s New On GA4? (Hint: it’s a lot)

The most important difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is that the two systems use significantly different data structures and data collection logic. Because your needs as a business evolve in response to your customer’s behavior, Google developed GA4 in order to allow more specific controls for data collection and analysis. These new, more comprehensive analytical tools will help you dive deeper into your data and reach more meaningful conclusions

Unlike UA, GA4 is now an event-based measurement platform with a much stronger integration with Google Ads and Google Tag Manager. In other words, data collection is now built around users’ individual interactions as unique events rather than ongoing sessions. So this means the data we receive is based on the entire user journey rather than just the final button click or action. Leaving the old session-based model as a distant memory will allow a more accurate understanding of each interaction because Google removed the time-based element that limits data collection. 

Another benefit of GA4 is improved integrations with Google Ads and Google Tag Manager. If you’re running display or search ads through Google, you’ll be glad to hear that cross-device measurements and pathing analysis will be smoother and easier because custom events are integrated with the automatic events already sent to GA4. If you use multiple ad platforms or third-party marketing platforms, this is super useful for producing valuable insights related to these tools.

Is GA4 Really Better Than Its Predecessor?

Let’s dive deeper into more of the changes and real reasons why GA4 is better than its predecessor, Universal Analytics. 

GA4 was designed for modern business needs. Google did not decide to replace UA on a whim. It was an intentional response to changes in online user behavior. That means GA4 was designed with your key objectives at the core, such as driving app installations or web traffic, or online sales. If you own a modern business but feel left behind by constantly evolving ways to understand your customers, no need to worry! The data visualization, with automatically-generated easy-to-read charts and graphs, makes GA4 accessible and useful even to the least technologically savvy among us. 

GA4 makes a more comprehensive analysis of the customer lifecycle possible. With an event rather than a session-based model, your business can understand the customers who interact with your business on their desktop, their phones, and even through different apps. Given the complex ways in which the modern user interacts with businesses online, this is an essential change that will provide you with more detailed data and therefore more accurate solutions.

GA4 assigns attribution credit across the entire customer journey, rather than just the final action. This data-driven attribution helps you to understand more holistically how (or if) your organic marketing strategy is working and allows you to connect this data directly with Google Ads to help improve the efficacy of paid campaigns. These simple integrations help you act on your insights in a timely and intentional manner.

GA4’s machine learning gives predictive analytics. The first time you dive into your data insights on this platform, you will see the machine learning of GA4 working its magic. The predictive nature of GA4 gives you automatic data analysis that will help to predict future behavior patterns of your customers, meaning you can pre-emptively adjust your strategy to improve the user journey and increase conversions. To increase data and insights, and to make these predictive analytics as accurate as possible, we recommend setting up GA4 as soon as you can!

Time To Make The Switch to GA4

Google has introduced such sweeping changes that, maybe the easiest question would be, what’s stayed the same? The answer to that is not much. However, GA4’s new machine-learning features and event-based model create a more flexible and more accurate framework for understanding user behavior. 

Heads up, GA4 does not pull any retrospective data from UA and standard UA properties will no longer process new hits from July 1, 2023, onwards. So, to maximize historical data (which means more informed decision-making), you should install GA4 as soon as possible. To set up GA4, you can’t “convert” an existing UA to set up a GA4. Instead, create a new property using GA4 that will run in unison with UA until July 2023. This will give your GA4 property some time to collect data, allowing you more insightful reports and metrics.

There’s no time like the present to switch over to GA4. Better data collection will ultimately result in more informed marketing strategies and help you reach your next business milestone more quickly. Even if you don’t have the time to analyze the insights yet, setting up the system and allowing machine learning to start doing its thing is super worthwhile. Google’s website has great resources for how to make the switch over to GA4!

Need marketing support? 

  • If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of learning a new platform, or if you are entirely new to analytics and want a helping hand on getting started, reach out to us at First Ascent. We are professionally trained to notice trends in your data and we can work together to build a winning marketing strategy based on your goals!