Google Analytics 4 is Coming, Are you Prepared?

In October of 2020, right in the midst of COVID, Google announced it would slowly but surely roll out a new Google Analytics version/platform called Google Analytics 4. This news sent marketers and analytic mavens into a tailspin! A new version of Google Analytics? This was big news as Universal Analytics, the version everyone currently uses, has been around in some form since 2005 with differing changes throughout its time. People in the industry were overwhelmed as most had mastered Universal Analytics over a period of years.

Why did Google feel the need to roll out a new analytics platform? Well, the world of tracking and digital targeting is changing and fast. At the time, Google announced it would be removing 3rd party cookies from Chrome in 2022, that has since been pushed back to 2024, but this move towards a cookieless, privacy-forward internet propelled Google to find a new tracking solution. And therein lies Google Analytics 4! Google touts that Google Analytics 4 is the future of website measurement and it will help companies better understand the customer journey. The big shift between the platforms is going from session-based data in Universal Analytics to now event-based data in Google Analytics 4. This provides a whole new set of data points and machine learning algorithms Google will now use to help provide insights on your website.

In July of 2023, Google will officially “offline” all Universal Analytics properties and only new Google Analytics 4 properties will populate new website data and tracking information. Anyone using Universal Analytics has seen in the past year Google’s urgency to get a GA4 property created that would run in parallel with your UA property. This way, when the switch occurs in July, you have some year-over-year data to review in your new GA4 property. Let’s review the 4 biggest differences to be cognizant of when creating a new GA4 property.

Measurement Model

One of the biggest differences from UA to GA4 is the measurement model and lingo. In Universal Analytics, we tracked based on sessions and pageviews, in the new GA4, the most important metrics are based on events and parameters. Each user action taken in GA4 is considered an event and GA4 comes out of the box with set events like click, file_download, page_view, session_start, view_search_results.

Data Streams vs. Views

This is my personal LEAST favorite thing about GA4, it’s how the properties are set up. In Universal Analytics, you could set up multiple views in one property with different filters and goals. For example, we have a view per service line for one of our credit union clients. In their GA4, we have one data stream and ALL their goals set up within that one data stream. You can create multiple data streams in one GA4 property but it muddies the tracking process.

Event Tracking Setup

One of the most POSITIVE differences moving to GA4 is the custom event tracking. In Universal Analytics you were allowed 20 “goals” per view which was very limiting. Now in GA4 you can have 500 different events per data stream and on top of that, you can select 30 of those 500 events as Conversions. The conversion distinct should ONLY be utilized for your most important events, because it provides more granular reporting in the platform. The only downside is the reporting for events is much smaller and easily navigable in the GA4 platform, something they hopefully expand upon in the future.

Ecommerce Tracking

Universal Analytics provided a large swatch of ecommerce data that would provide a snapshot into the purchase path for purchasers on your website. This was called Enhanced Ecommerce Tracking and this feature is NOT available in GA4. Ecommerce tracking in GA4 is much more complex with the need for custom coding to push parameters in the GA4 data stream. The long and short of it is GA4 has a LONG way to go in making Ecommerce data, insights and tracking more intuitive and easy to set up for Ecommerce focused businesses.

To conclude, Google Analytics 4 will become the only Google Analytics website tracking platform available to companies and marketers alike. It’s imperative to get your GA4 property setup, make sure it’s configured correctly, and begin collecting data to manipulate in client reporting. Because July will be here before you know it!