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Introduction to GA4: The Always-updated Starter’s Guide to GA4 and UA

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Table of contents

Since the Adpocalypse on Facebook, there’s been constant uncertainty about the state of digital advertising.

The growing importance of personal privacy (GDPR, CCPA, Apple’s ATT, etc.) and a shifting approach to data collection affects not just Facebook, but platforms all over – even the biggest one of them all, Google

In line with this paradigm shift and a long overdue update to Google’s current Universal Analytics (UA), Google announced its newest measurement solution – Google Analytics 4. 

Why is this important?

Because the existing UA tool will stop recording new hits on July 1, 2023

That’s only a few months away. 

It’s important to understand what’s changing and how that affects your data analysis and reporting. 

We recommend testing and getting familiar with Google Analytics 4 as early as possible so you can set it up and get going before July 2023.

What are GA4 and UA?

Universal Analytics, or UA, is the current measurement solution for Google Analytics. 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest iteration of Google Analytics, with a new data model. In its beta phase, it was called “App + Web” but now it’s just GA4 – short & simple.

Session-based data model (UA) vs Event-based data model (GA4)

Tracking with UA:

  1. The website sends a cookie into the user’s web browser.
  2. The cookies monitors and records web activity on the site for that session.

UA’s measurement approach is a session-based data model.

Tracking with GA4: 

  1. Not dependent on a cookie. It will still use cookies where they are available.
  2. Tracks user journey across devices, regardless of sessions.

Instead of tracking sessions, GA4 has an event-based data model.

Hits (UA) vs Events (GA4)

In UA, hits are predefined tracking data only for specific interactions within a webpage.

Some examples of hit types:

  • Pageview hit.
  • Event hit
  • Ecommerce hit
  • Social interactions hit

The pre-defined hit types in UA are strictly structured and can’t be customized. Learn more about hits and hit types here.

GA4 however uses events instead of hits structure to track data across webpages, within pages, and across devices. 

Events are a versatile method of collecting data and there are plenty of ways you can use them – it all depends on your business and your needs.

Events in GA4 can fall into these four categories:

Automatically collected events

These events are collected through basic interactions on the website and are pre-built out of the box.

For example, events like,

Enhance measurement events:

Events are collected after you’ve enabled “Enhanced measurement” on Google Analytics.

  • ~Page views

Recommended events

Events that are not automatically collected but are recommended by Google to set up for your website.

  • Custom events
    These are events you can set up from scratch, with custom parameters to collect the data you need for your business.

Cross-device tracking:

We all do it.

We’re on the go, find something interesting and bookmark it for later. Return home and check it out on our laptop. 

Today’s user journey is complex, and people often switch devices, platforms, or profiles as they use different websites and apps.

How does Google reliably track this? 

GA4 aims to tackle this by measuring a single user’s journey across devices based on a User-ID. This can be:

  • Associated with your business’s internal user/client IDs.
  • Powered by Google signals user data for that particular user. 
  • Based on the Device ID from browser cookies.

This creates opportunities for advanced cross-platform attribution analysis to better understand your audience’s behavior across all your apps and platforms.

Learn more about tracking user journeys across devices.

Multiple Properties (UA) vs Single Property (GA4)

First off, what’s a property in Google Analytics? 

A property in Google Analytics is where your business’s online data gets processed by Google Analytics.

In Universal Analytics, the account hierarchy is as follows:

Accounts > Properties > Views

But in GA4, we have only:

Accounts > Properties

But how does this affect you? Let’s take an example.

If Socioh’s website is https://socioh.com and our iOS & Android apps are named Socioh each – then each of these will be treated as a separate property in UA, i.e. three different properties under one account.

<underline>Socioh (Account Level)<underline>

  • https://socioh.com (Property 1)
  • ~~Views
  • Socioh iOS            (Property 2)
  • ~~Views
  • Socioh Android      (Property 3)
  • ~~Views

However, in GA4, for the same situation, all of these are part of a single property, as multiple data streams

<underline>Socioh (Account Level)<underline>

  • Socioh (Property Level)
  • ~~https://socioh.com (Data Stream 1)
  • ~~Socioh iOS            (Data Stream 2)
  • ~~Socioh Android      (Data Stream 3)

We infer that Google aims to create a more unified experience for attribution and analytics of cross-platform user journeys.

So should I switch to GA4? What’s the catch?

GA4 is still in a relatively nascent stage and still lacks a few important features that may matter to you during your transition.

  • No historical data
    If you already had a UA account set up with years of data, this historical data DOES NOT transfer to GA4.
    Your historic data is still safe and available under UA (you can switch between the two) but you will be starting from scratch when setting up GA4 for your business.
    That said, we recommend that you get started with your GA4 planning now. The planning alone can take days (or even weeks if you’re a large company) so it’s better to start now, and build your data so your GA4 account is ready.

  • Events instead of Hits & Goals
    Since the core data model has changed, translating your existing event structure is not so straightforward.
    Look at it with a fresh perspective and try to build your events to answer important questions about your business and user base.

  • Different Interface
    Google has moved in a drastically different direction from the traditional Analytics features. This means there’s a fairly steep learning curve to the new tool.
    To focus on the user journey and customer “Life Cycle” GA4 now has Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention.
    These features replace UAs Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions panel.

  • No bounce rate.
    Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
    Instead of showing you the percentage of users who leave your website without interaction – Bounce Rate – Google wants you to focus on the percentage of people who engage with your website – Engagement Rate.

There’s a lot to say about GA4 and the changes Google is making across all their services to future-proof their services and platforms.

And we can’t cover everything in one go. 

Want to stay informed on the latest about GA4 and more? Sign up for our free newsletter and we’ll keep you informed with everything advertising, eCommerce, and attribution – curated content, no bullshit, completely free.

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