Google Analytics 4: A Guide to a Successful Switch

July 1st is D-Day!

If you currently use Google Analytics UA (Universal Analytics), then you should be getting large banners that appear on your screen when you log into your UA account with an ominous countdown!

But if you have tried to set it up, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed with getting everything set up correctly and tracking your traffic from A to B! That is where this guide will come in handy as we cover the benefits of using GA4, some tips and tricks and a few steps to a successful set-up.

Differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics (UA)

    • Data Model: One of the fundamental differences between GA4 and UA is the data model. UA follows a session-based model (data is organised into sessions and pageviews), whereas GA4 follows an event-based model (data is centred around events triggered by user interactions).

    • Tracking Code: UA uses the classic analytics.js JavaScript library OR the newer gtag.js library for tracking, whereas GA4 uses the global site tag (gtag.js) for web tracking and the Firebase SDK for mobile app tracking. *The tracking code implementation in GA4 is simplified compared to UA*

    • Data Collection: In UA, data collection relies on cookies and client IDs, which are used to track individual users across sessions and devices. GA4 incorporates an updated collection method that relies on an anonymous Google Analytics ID (GAID) for mobile apps and a Google Signals ID for web tracking. This allows for more accurate cross-device and cross-platform tracking – even without the use of persistent cookies.

    • Events and Parameters: UA primarily focuses on tracking pageviews and predefined events (clicks, file downloads etc). GA4 introduces an enhanced event tracking model that allows you to define custom events based on specific user interactions and behaviours. Events in GA4 can also include event parameters, which provide additional context and details about the events, allowing for more granular analysis and segmentation.

    • Machine Learning Capabilities: GA4 incorporates advanced machine learning capabilities, providing automated insights and analysis. It includes features like predictive analytics, anomaly detection and smart insights, which help you identify trends, discover opportunities, and detect unusual behaviour without the need for manual data exploration.

    • Reporting interface: UA has a well-established reporting interface with various standard reports and customisation options. GA4 introduces the Analysis Hub, which offers a more flexible and exploratory approach to data analysis. The Analysis Hub allows you to create custom reports, used advanced segments (based on audience preferences), apply data visualisations, and perform deeper analysis using dimensions, metrics and filters.

    • Integration into Google Ads: UA provides seamless integration with Google Ads, allowing you to import cost and click data directly into your analytics report. GA4 has updated this to align with the event-based model. You can also use custom events to track conversions and optimise your Google Ad campaigns based on specific user interactions.

    • Cross-Platform Tracking: While UA focuses on tracking web data primarily, GA4 places a stronger emphasis on cross-platform tracking. GA4 enables you to track data from multiple platforms, including websites, mobile apps and offline sources, within a single property. This allows for a more comprehensive analysis of the customer journey across various touchpoints.

What are the Benefits of Switching to GA4?

    1. Enhances Event Tracking: GA4’s event-based model allows you to track and analyse specific user interactions and behaviours on your website or app in a more granular way. By capturing custom events, you can gain a deeper understanding of user engagements, conversion funnels and customer behaviour.

    2. Cross-Platform Tracking: This unified tracking allows you to analyse user behaviour and engagement across multiple touchpoints, providing a comprehensive view of how users interact with your brand across various platforms (website, mobile, offline etc)

    3. Advanced Machine Learning Capabilities: Features like predictive analytics, anomaly detection, and smart insights can help you identify trends, discover opportunities, and detect unusual user behaviour automatically. These machine learning capabilities enable you to make data-driven decisions and optimise your marketing strategy.

    4. Flexible Reporting and Analysis: GA4 introduces the Analysis Hub, which offers a more flexible and exploratory approach to data analysis. You can create custom reports, use advanced data segments, apply data visualisations, and perform deeper analysis using dimensions, metrics, and filters. This allows for more customised and tailored analysis based on your specific business needs.

    5. Simplified Data Exploration: GA4 introduces a more intuitive and user-friendly interface for data exploration. The updated interface makes it easier to navigate through reports, visualise data, and access the information you need. This enhances the overall user experience and enables you to quickly find insights and actionable data.

    6. Improved Privacy and Compliance: GA4 incorporates privacy-centric features and settings, allowing you to meet evolving data privacy regulations and user expectations. It provides options to manage data retentions, enables you to configure the overall user data deletion, and includes features like consent mode to align with privacy requirements.

How to successfully switch to GA4

Switching to GA4 can feel daunting, but the below steps will help you make the switch seamlessly and have you up and running in no time.

    • Understand the Key Differences: Before we start, scroll back up and go through the key differences between UA and GA4. This will provide a solid foundation on how to use the new reporting, tracking etc.

    • Create a New GA4 Property: Start by creating a new GA4 property in your Google Analytics Account. Navigate to your Account Settings and simply click on + Create Property and follow the steps
      Screenshot 2023-05-26 at 11.45.16

    • Configure your Data Streams: Set up data streams for your website and apps. A data stream is a source of data for GA4. You will need to add the appropriate tags and SDKs to your website and apps to collect data

        • Set Up Enhanced Measurements: These can be enabled to automatic event tracking. Review the available options and enable the ones that are relevant to your site.

          Screenshot 2023-05-30 at 09.09.52
    • Import existing data from UA (Optional): If you want to import historical data from UA into your new GA4 property, you can use the import data feature. Keep in mind, that not all UA data can be imported, and it is recommended that you keep your UA property for historical purposes.

    • Configure Custom Events: Determine the key events that you want to track in GA, that are not automatically captured by enhanced measurement. Configure custom events by defining event names, parameters, and values to suit your tracking needs.

    • Define Goals and Conversions: Goals help you track specific actions on your website, such as form submissions or purchases. Configure these based on your business objectives.

    • Set up User Properties and Audience Definitions: Utilise user properties and audience definitions to segment and analyse your data effectively. Define user properties based on user characteristics and create audiences to target specific user segments.

    • Enable Data Enhancements (Optional): GA4 provides additional data enhancements such as integrations into BigQuery and Google Ads. Explore these options and enable them if they align to your data analysis and marketing needs.

    • Test and Verify Tracking: After set up is complete, thoroughly test the tracking implementation to ensure data accuracy. Verify that events, goals and conversions are being tracked correctly by checking the real-time reports and reviewing data in the standard reports.

If you follow these steps, you should be on your way to using GA4 like a pro! However, you need not be alone in your switch over – if you need expert advice on switching and how to implement custom reports, get in touch with our team of GA experts today, by simply completing the form below, to help get you on track with GA4 today.