What Is Google Analytics 4 and How Will It Help My Reporting?

Author's avatar Analytics UPDATED Sep 7, 2021 PUBLISHED Mar 24, 2021 14 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    Should I upgrade my site to Google Analytics 4? 

    That’s the question many marketers are asking themselves right now. 

    There is no quick answer to this, and it all depends on your specific site, the primary KPIs you care about, and your technical chops. 

    So, let’s take a step back for a minute.

    Google announced Google Analytics 4 in October 2020. They are positioning it as the new, modern approach to web and app analytics. 

    There is a lot to like about this new version.

    However, this isn’t just an ordinary redesign. It’s a new product. 

    If you upgrade, it is NOT as simple as clicking a button and everything will automatically work perfectly. In fact, if you are using Universal Analytics, most of you will see some data discrepancies or have something break if you have any customizations. 

    In this post, we’re taking a much closer look at Google Analytics 4 and who should use it, including: 


    What is Google Analytics 4?

    Google Analytics 4 isn’t just a redesign of Google Universal Analytics. It is an entirely new product and a more holistic approach to how to think about website and app analytics. 

    You don’t have to look further than the navigation menu to see this difference. 

    Here is the navigation menu that you are probably familiar with in Universal Analytics. 

    google universal analytics

    And, here is the navigation menu for Google Analytics 4. 

    google analytics 4

    Just a little different, right? ?

    While it is jarring at first, it is actually easier to navigate once you spend a little time under the hood. GA4 organizes data in a way that most marketers should be familiar with. That’s by customer lifecycle – acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention. 

    In addition, in a world where third-party cookie-tracking is slowly being phased out, and privacy concerns are growing, it is also Google’s approach to adapt and hedge their bets.  

    What’s Changed in Google Analytics 4?

    In addition to a new design, the biggest change is that Google Analytics 4 is event-driven instead of pageview-driven. 

    It also relies on machine-learning to do predictive modeling instead of third-party cookies.  

    Zack Duncan of Root and Branch Group adds, “I have very mixed feelings on GA4 so far. I’m happy to share 2 ways that I see it being helpful. 

    Here’s how it makes life better:

    • It truly does simplify user measurement. For any organization that has both an app and a website, life is much easier to have a harmonized view (and de-duplicated) of those users in a single GA4 property, instead of looking at two different Universal Analytics views and wondering how much overlap there is.
    • For some organizations, reporting and analysis may be simpler because GA4 is designed to focus on the user engagement that will matter most. Gone are the Universal Analytics reports that were based on sessions and pageviews. 

    With Google Analytics 4, everything is an event. There are 4 types: automatically collected events, enhanced measurement events, recommended events, and custom events. The first two types can be set up directly in GA4 without the additional help of Google Tag Manager.

    Some enhanced measurement events, like scroll depth tracking at 90%, video view starts, and file downloads can now all be tracked in GA4 without any extra work in GTM. 

    With Universal Analytics, these all require additional tags and triggers to be configured in GTM in order to access this kind of event data.” 

    In addition, it even incorporates some of the key features of Google Analytics 360 (their premium Analytics product).

    “Google Analytics 4 offers a variety of new features for marketers, including enterprise features that were previously available only to Google Analytics 360 customers,” says Tom Zsomborgi of Kinsta.

    “You can automatically collect data on scrolling, outbound clicks, video engagement (this is big, video content is booming across SaaS companies), file downloads (think of your lead generation assets).

    Also, it combines your mobile and desktop data and you can manage it from one place. You can temporarily and permanently exclude users based a certain behavior just to mention another.

    Debugging mode, lot of UI changes and lot more comes in GA4, exciting time for marketers!” 

    How Do I Setup Google Analytics 4?

    The process for setting up Google Analytics 4 will vary depending on if you only want to use Google Analytics 4 exclusively or if you want to use it in tandem with Universal Analytics. The latter is recommended for the vast majority of businesses. 

    For new sites that only want to use Google Analytics, the process is straightforward. You just need to go through Setup Assistant. 

    setup assistant in GA4

    You’ll be prompted to create a new data stream based on if it is a web or an app. (Note: In GA4, you can track both web and app views!) 

    set up a data stream in GA4

    Then, you’ll be prompted to enter details – like your website URL – to set up the new data stream. 

    data stream setup step 2

    For example, for configuring a new website data stream, the two most common ways to set this up is through a global site tag (gtag.js) or via Google Tag Manager. 

    install script in GA4

    For sites that are already on Universal Analytics, you will most likely want to set up a new property for Google Analytics 4 (using the same process above) but that runs in tandem with your existing setup. This will allow you and your team to get used to the new UI, make sure that the new setup is capturing data correctly, fix any issues with other integrations you are using, etc. 

    Editor’s note: If you have a brand new site and want to run both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, follow the steps outlined here as there are some key differences.   

    Best Ways for Using Google Analytics 4

    Even though Google Analytics 4 has only been around for a few months, here are some of the ways that marketers are already using it. 

    1. Combine web and app analytics
    2. Get a better understanding of visitor behavior
    3. Build a path analysis
    4. Set up predictive models for conversion rate optimization
    5. Track engaged sessions instead of bounce rate
    6. Refine audience targeting
    7. Integrate with Google BigQuery
    8. Use Google Analytics 4 as a back-up

    1. Combine web and app analytics 

    This is the most common use case as it simplifies the process of getting a full funnel view of what’s happening on your site and apps. 

    Jasmine Hippe of Mindsailing says, “We are using Google Analytics 4 to combine web and app data in order to get full-funnel reporting. I see GA 4 as being beneficial in industries where the consumer journey starts online but the purchase or conversion ultimately happens in-app, because GA 4 helps you to seamlessly connect the dots between both properties.” 

    Dr. Tzur Gabi of Caligenix adds, “Google Analytics 4 isn’t exactly new. It’s just the old “App + Web” function of Google Analytics undergoing a rebrand. Yes, it’s different from the Universal Analytics many of us are used to, but it’s main advantage is that it can be used for a website and an app together, or each individually. You can set up accounts of Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics, so you don’t need to sacrifice your old ways of reporting to benefit from this new feature, and it can easily be added to sites that already use Analytics. It’s a larger summary of your business that mirrors the funnel of acquiring and retaining users while collecting reports of customer demographics and new technology releases.” 

    Editor’s note: Another way to have a better view of your web and app analytics is through Databox mobile dashboards. Track your current performance and access any dashboard you’ve built from your mobile device too!

    2. Get a better understanding of visitor behavior 

    Another common use case is to better map out the touchpoints that a customer interacts with before making a purchase. 

    “So far, we have been using Google Analytics 4 to track the customer journey and user behavior,” says Tom Mumford of Undergrads. “With behavior flow reports, we are able to create user-focused plans, instead of having to piece the data together ourselves. Not only does it save time, but it provides more accuracy, allowing us to optimize our efforts.” 

    This is largely due to the fact that it is event-driven. You used to have to rely on creating custom events in Google Tag Manager to track page scroll depth or file downloads. Now, you can do this right within Google Analytics 4. 

    Ben Heinkel of Ethical Clothing says, “I am not forced to fit my events to the old standard of category/action/label/value. Now I just send in a custom event with event name and then have free range over the custom parameters that I include with it. Although with the amount of Enhanced and Recommended events available, I don’t need to resort to as many custom events as I used to have to configure manually.” 

    Keyoka Kinzy of Truck Driving Institute agrees, “One of the most helpful aspects of Google Analytics 4 is the Event Editing and Synthesis feature. This allows users to effectively define their goals in a simplified format that can reach across multiple domains within the program. 

    GA4 has been updated with a user-friendly interface that enables users to toggle certain events into goals and certain actions into conversions. Right from the beginning of your project, this version of the program makes it easier to use in consumer behavior reporting and goal tracking.”

    3. Build a path analysis  

    You can take this a step further by building custom funnels to analyze data. 

    “GA4’s most powerful feature is the Analysis hub, which until now it was available only in Google Analytics 360, the enterprise version of Google Analytics,” says Bernadett Kovacs-Dioszegi of Creatopy. “You can easily build a Path analysis. In this case you can choose a starting point or an ending point, both can be events, page titles and screen name or page title and screen class. 

    For example you can choose the purchase event (the final step in your users’ journey) as the ending point of your analysis and can check what were the steps your users took until they decided to make a purchase. Also, you can segment your data, for example if you want to build a path analysis taking into consideration sessions coming from a certain campaign only.

    Another powerful report from Analysis hub is the Funnel analysis which can help you define steps, for example first open/visit, organic visitors, session start, screen/page view, purchase, etc. You can also choose from two types of visualization: standard and trended funnel. If you enable the show elapsed time option, you can check how much time took for a user to make from one step to the next one. If you add events to the”next action section, you can check what a user did during a specific step of the funnel.” 

    4. Set up predictive models for conversion rate optimization 

    In addition for sites that get a large volume of traffic, it will run predictive models for conversions and churn prevention. 

    “We found creative ways to leverage GA4 for Conversion Rate optimization services,” says Sasha Matviienko of growth360. “Predictive models in GA4 are particularly of interest here. The ability to predict behavior by audience allows us to find and work with specific audiences that we expect to perform well or perform poorly. Thus, taking the idea of maximizing revenue from existing website visitors to the next level. This is especially useful for eCommerce clients as we can analyze audiences by actual revenue figures.” 

    5. Track engaged sessions instead of bounce rate 

    Bounce rate was always a problematic metric for measuring traffic quality. Google Analytics 4 makes it easy to measure engaged sessions instead. 

    “The most beneficial feature that we’ve uncovered in GA4 is the replacement of “bounce rate with engaged sessions,” adds Pat Ahern of LeaseLeads

    Bounce rate has always been an important metric for our team to monitor. However, bounce rate fails to account for users who find what they’re looking for from reading an article on our site, yet fail to take any actions beyond this.

    Being able to identify engagement sessions helps us to better differentiate between blog content that provides site visitors with what they’re looking for, and blog content that is failing to give users what they’re hoping to find.” 

    6. Refine audience targeting 

    Another use case is to drill down on specific audiences for Google Ad campaigns. 

    Stacey Kane of EasyMerchant says, “Google Analytics is currently being used by our company as the catalyst for refining our audience targeting campaigns. It’s become our very own spy that allows us to identify our audience better. We now have a comprehensive insight as to which of these website activities are caused by which member/audience. GA4’s Identity spaces are highly vital pieces that enable us to see exactly who is interested in our business and how much they’re really interested.

    Google Analytics 4 institutes a fundamental shift for businesses to measure website activity. The identity spaces features empower users with a much better and holistic understanding of user behavior. This will elevate marketing in a significant way, as it will also equip users with a much more accurate perception of their business’s overall growth and a clearer idea of the demographics of their particular market. Implementation of GA4 will give rise to a better consumer ad experience and an even healthier customer relationship.” 

    7. Integrate with Google BigQuery 

    Now, this will apply mainly to Google Analytics 360 users. Google BigQuery makes it easier to perform scalable analysis on large data sets. 

    “Easy to use with Google BigQuery,” says Gautam Banerjee of Apply Digital. “We can directly query all our events (previously this was limited to Google Analytics 360 which was very expensive).”

    8. Use Google Analytics 4 as a back-up 

    If you are reading this article and you are still skeptical about upgrading, you are not alone. Many marketers are choosing to set up Google Analytics 4 as a separate property just to start populating data, and still using the Universal Analytics reports. 

    For example, Kevin Pike of Rank Fuse Digital Marketing says, “Right now, we are only installing GA 4 as a backup in case GA 3 ever goes away. The GA 4 data and insights are not congruent with our client reporting dashboards and API calls. Hopefully this can change in the future, but right now we are entrenched with the tools and legacy API data, and GA 4 has a little ways to go before it catches up.

    I see it being helpful as a means of last-resort if GA is going to block third-party cookies on the Chrome Browser (like Firefox already has). GA 4 will be more helpful in a world where we have to rely on server-side tagging and third-party analytics cookies are blocked on Google Chrome.” 


    In sum, Google Analytics 4 isn’t just a redesign of Universal Analytics. It is rethinking how to measure engagement on your website and how it relates to the customer journey. 

    Author's avatar
    Article by
    Jessica Malnik

    Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.

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