Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – First Impressions
With businesses constantly demanding a more complete cross-device/channel view of their customer life cycle, Google came to introduce GA4 at the end of 2020.
This is the fourth update for Google Analytics which started back in 2005 as GA1 Urchin, followed by GA2 Classic in 2008, moved into GA3 Universal in 2013 which we have been using so far, and now GA4 has been introduced in late 2020.
GA4 comes to provide a complete cross-platform view (essentially the rebrand of the App + Web property) of the customer life cycle coupled with predictive analytics.
We have therefore taken the chance to trial it here at Tug. Here’s what we have found out.
What is the difference between the current Google Analytics and GA4?
GA4 focuses more on user behavior and customer acquisition and seamlessly integrating web + app (a rebrand of the previous ‘web + app’ property with more features). The main difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 is in the data structure.
GA4 also comes with a new UI and new types of reports with a plethora of custom insights. GA4 uses a cookieless tracking approach, and heavily relies on machine learning to fill in any data gaps. This is something to be evaluated in the long term as we obtain more data in our new properties.
The new interaction model for a website or an app is event-based which also helps facilitate the cookieless tracking and provides more event insights by default. Traditionally, GA events/goals were custom made.
What new features have we seen and liked?
- Smarter Insights with Machine Learning (Churn rate, Demand Rates etc.)
- Different measurement models, event based data model which is more user centric (page views, scrolls, Clicks, Installs, etc.)
- Enhanced measurement, automatic tracking, scrolls, outbound clicks, video engagement, will be automatically reported (only page views were tracked by default with UA).
- More data control options to comply with data regulations.
- Big Query Integration.
- Full cross-device and cross-platform reporting.
- It has data streams instead of views.
- Track core web vitals for SEO.
- Cookieless, using event-based actions, sparse data will become the norm as GA4 will rely more on machine learning to fill in the data gaps. This is a particularly interesting feature for data regulation and privacy risks, which will help overcome cookie tracking issues.
Creating a new GA4 Property
GA4 is a free extension and can be run in parallel with the universal analytics main property. Creating a new GA4 property won’t override the existing universal analytics property. It will just create a new property which will start recording data from the date of creation and won’t include any historical data. We have found this quite practical to use as the new reports provide a different range of insights, while still benefit from the universal ones.
Creating a new GA4 property means that you might also need to install the new tag (Measurement ID) and review any existing goal tracking, depending on the preexisting set up.
Will Tug be moving fully into GA4?
Not fully yet, it is highly recommended that you keep your current Universal Analytics and set up a GA4 property (GA setup assistant) alongside so you can start collecting and using the new features of the new property while keeping the current universal property intact.
GA4 at this stage should be seen as a reporting and tracking addition which will eventually turn into a fully integrated solution as any further developments on the product will be only taking place in GA4. The sooner you get it, the more historical data will be available when it becomes the main property.
- GA4 has the capability of tracking everything that the old one does.
- It is prepared for when we can’t track cookies and privacy issues.
- It has more enhanced tracking including better cross-device and general tracking.
- The platform is still very new and very limited and will take a while to get used to.