Understanding GA4: The New Generation of Google Analytics

In today’s world, our current practice leans towards utilising Google Analytics to gauge website performance, while Google Analytics for Firebase measures app engagement. Both platforms perform exceptionally well, offering businesses crucial insights. However, synthesising data from these separate sources to provide a comprehensive picture can be quite challenging.

Enter Google Analytics 4, or GA4 for short. It’s been designed with the express aim of unifying analytics for both apps and websites. GA4 is the next generation of Google Analytics, developed to simplify navigation and enhance understanding of your customers’ complex, multi-platform journeys.

Moreover, GA4 significantly improves data privacy and security for customers, as the tool no longer stores IP addresses. This development is particularly advantageous for businesses in today’s global environment, where there’s an escalating need for heightened data protection and controlled sharing.

Contrasting GA4 with Universal Analytics

It’s crucial to understand that GA4 boasts many features that differ from its predecessor, requiring some adaptation. So, before you hop on board and begin the migration process to GA4, let’s examine these differences. In this article, we’ll condense them into five primary points.

1. Tracking Paradigm

A fundamental contrast between these two tools is their data tracking methods. Universal Analytics employs a tracking paradigm centred on sessions and pageviews, while GA4 measures event-based data.

Universal Analytics gathers and gauges various user interactions within a specified period, known as sessions or ‘hits’. Universal Analytics mainly tracks page views across your properties, although it can track multiple additional events within a session if you have some technical prowess with event tracking and Google Tag Manager.

Conversely, GA4 is constructed to capture ‘events’ on your website and app, offering a holistic view of your user engagement, regardless of your technical capabilities.

There are four event types in GA4:

  • Automatically collected events are initiated by basic interactions when the GA4 codebase is installed. Examples include page_view, first_visit, and session_start.
  • Enhanced measurement events, which are also automatically collected, enable you to track content engagement. For instance, with enhanced measurement events, you can observe data relating to scrolls, outbound clicks, site searches, video engagement, and file downloads. Some measurements in this event type can be manually disabled in settings.
  • Recommended events aren’t automatically collected, but they can assist in measuring additional data and consequently create more valuable reports.
  • Custom events comprise names and sets of parameters that are defined and unique to your business. Before setting up a custom event, review the list of automatically collected, enhanced measurement, and recommended events to avoid duplications.

2. Data Setup Organisation

In Universal Analytics, you’re required to establish separate properties for your website and app. Plus, each property is recommended to include three distinct views: an unfiltered view for storing all raw data, a test view for experimenting and adding filters, and a master view for gathering all the goals, filters, and other customisations tested in the test view.

However, GA4 considers a website or an app as a ‘data stream’, which can be grouped under a single property. A data stream is a data funnel beginning from a customer’s touch point to GA4. Each GA4 property can accommodate up to 50 data streams.

3. User Entity Modelling

Whenever you visit a website, you’re often asked to consent to cookie settings. Once accepted, websites integrated with Universal Analytics send cookies to your web browser, enabling them to record and monitor your online actions during a specific session.

Regrettably, websites aren’t the only platforms customers interact with businesses these days. An increasing number of people are engaging in-app and sourcing information from multiple platforms where cookies aren’t accessible. Sole reliance on cookies makes it challenging to combine user behaviour data from various touchpoints to form a holistic picture of their interactions.

GA4’s new user entity modelling, which utilises both cookies and Google signals, allows you to piece together data in a single unified cross-device user journey. Google signals are data from users signed in to Google, filling the data gap left by the absence of cookies.

4. Different Metrics

GA4 introduces a new metric termed ‘engagement rate’, which is the percentage of ‘engaged sessions’. ‘Engaged sessions’ are sessions that last longer than 10 seconds, include a conversion event, or have at least two pageviews or screenviews.

In contrast, Universal Analytics uses the ‘bounce rate’ metric—the percentage of single-page sessions without any interaction with the page. A bounced session lasts for 0 seconds.

The ‘engagement rate’ is a more useful metric than the ‘bounce rate’ when assessing the behaviour of users who may have viewed a single page and left without further action. However, it’s important to note that ‘engagement rate’ isn’t the inverse of the ‘bounce rate’.

5. Cross-device Tracking

With GA4’s ability to group various data streams (either a website or an app) together under a single property, you can now generate reports that show cross-domain traffic and aggregate data while maintaining the capacity to breakdown data per stream.

Wrapping Up: Making the Shift to Google Analytics 4

The introduction of Google Analytics 4 heralds a significant step forward in the world of analytics. Offering a unified platform for both web and app analytics, GA4 opens up new avenues for understanding your customers’ journeys across multiple platforms. With its enhanced data privacy and security measures, it’s certainly a compelling upgrade.

Understanding the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 is pivotal as you contemplate making the shift. The changes in data setup organisation, tracking paradigms, user entity modelling, metrics, and cross-device tracking present both opportunities and challenges.

Ultimately, it’s all about embracing the change and harnessing the powerful capabilities of GA4. As with any new tool, the learning curve may seem steep initially, but the benefits and insights it provides could be invaluable to your business.

So, don’t be apprehensive about making the move. With a clear understanding and the right strategies, transitioning to GA4 could help your business soar to new heights, providing richer insights into your customer behaviour, their engagement with your brand, and how to enhance your online presence.

Remember, we’re in an era where data is power – so why not harness the most advanced tools at our disposal? Here’s to the exciting journey ahead with GA4!