• John Walker

What is Google Analytics 4 and what do you need to know about it?



If you’ve been using Google Analytics, you may have seen prompts to learn more about Google Analytics 4, or even to upgrade to this new platform. This post explains what you need to know about Google Analytics 4 (GA 4) and whether you should upgrade now.


Google calls Google Analytics 4 “the next generation of Google Analytics” and if that sounds grand, it should, because this new platform is more than an upgrade to the Google Analytics you’ve been using (now called Universal Analytics), it’s a rethinking of how the entire platform works.


Why the change?

GA 4 was launched because the marketing world has gotten more complicated. Marketers used to track mostly just website activity but now we want to track users across platforms (websites, apps and software). Look closely at Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) and you see that it’s hard wired to track metrics related to websites- pages, pageviews and site content are some of the foundational metrics the system tracks.


But in today’s marketing world, you may want to track activity on an app, or see what's happening on internet enabled devices (“Internet of things”). If you’re doing that, then pageviews may not even apply. That’s a limitation of the Universal Analytics.


The other change in our marketing world is that cookie-based tracking is becoming less effective with increased privacy considerations. Meanwhile AI is creating new opportunities for predictive modeling of user behavior that does not rely on cookies.


Enter Google Analytics 4.


What are the main changes?

If you’ve been using Universal Analytics and you log in to GA 4 and you will not recognize the interface. Its entirely different. So that’s one thing.


Why is it totally different? It’s totally different because it relies on a different data model. Rather than the old web-centric data model, the new one is based on what are called “events.” And the user gets to determine what each event is. It could be a website pageview, like the old system, or it could be a screen view, or it could be some other activity related to whatever device or platform you're tracking. You pick.


Next, all those standard reports you’re used to in Google Analytics like traffic channels or page content, they’re gone. They’ve been eliminated because the new system is meant to be extremely flexible and customizable. Rather than using canned reports, you’re expected to create whatever custom reports you need.


Other changes? Here are a few:

· AI-powered insights on user behavior provide deeper intelligence.

· You can process streams of data from across multiple platforms in a single report.

· Google claims GA 4 is future proof because it will work even when cookies go away.

· Rather than a three-level structure like Universal Analytics, GA 4 has just two.

· Event tracking (like button clicks) can be implemented without modifying code.


Should you upgrade?

You don’t need to upgrade now unless your tracking needs have changed a lot recently. Universal Analytics is still a great way to track website performance, and I understand that it’s going to be around for a while.


But you should consider installing an instance of Google Analytics 4 side-by-side with Universal Analytics so you can learn how to use it. That way you're ready to switch over if your needs change.


Much of the content of this blog came from Julian Juenemann of Measure School. Julian has a good video on this topic called “Should You Switch to Google Analytics 4 (Now)?” So, thanks Julian!


This post was written by John Walker, Principal at J. Walker Marketing, a marketing consultancy. Contact John directly to discuss your marketing challenges.