What is GA4 Google Analytics?

The Google Analytics we know and love is an online tool to help you understand what visitors are doing when browsing your website or mobile app. The analytics data allows you to track website traffic and the customer journey to understand how well your site performs. GA4 is quite different from Google’s current Universal Analytics (UA), with a new interface and new features, including data modelling powered by machine learning.

GA4 offers more out-of-the-box functionality. Where UA only tracked page views by default, GA4 has automatic data collection features such as page scroll, file downloads, and video engagement. To get these same features in UA, you would need to use Google Tag Manager and know how to set up event tracking.

When did Google Analytics 4 come out?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was launched in October 2020. This new Google analytics platform is now the default option for new and existing GA accounts, alongside Universal Analytics. You can still set up and use a classic analytics account - and don’t worry, UA is likely to continue for some time.

I’ve heard Google Analytics 4 doesn’t have views…

Google understands that a data model based on page views and URLs doesn’t work for mobile apps. That is why GA4 is an entirely new approach to data based on ‘events’ rather than website pages. GA4 is a lot more customisable and allows you to create and track custom events relevant to your business. For example, you can create your own ecommerce events to track and analyse the user journey and how it influences sales.

The analysis hub, which is the new GA4 reporting window, includes new AI-driven features that were previously only available on the Google Marketing Platform: automated insights and predictive metrics. These tools can highlight significant trends from automatically collected events. Predictive metrics show your predicted conversion and churn data, which you can use to create audiences for improved digital marketing results.

How else does GA4 differ from Universal Analytics?

The most significant advance with GA4 over UA is the ability to track site visitors on websites and mobile apps simultaneously. Before GA4, it was difficult to combine web and app data meaningfully, but now they can both be managed on the same platform. Google Analytics 4 supports iOS, Android, and Javascript, allowing you to send multiple data streams into a single GA4 account. New cross-domain tracking will enable you to unify data from various platforms and sites.

Another key difference is that GA4 comes with enhanced measurement events, including ‘elapsed time,’ which analyses event data to see how much time users spend viewing a video or filling out a form.

Should I switch to Google Analytics 4?

You can make the switch anytime and even run both GA4 and UA accounts side by side. Even if you don’t immediately switch to Google Analytics 4, it’s worth adding a global site tag into GA4 so you’ll have as much historical data to look back on as possible.

The customisable features within Google Analytics 4 make it a powerful tool, but one that requires more planning and setup from the user. Unlike universal analytics reports, Google Analytics 4 also needs more input from you to get the most of its reporting features. For many marketers, the benefits of a single unified data set for web and mobile will be a compelling reason to switch to GA4.

Can I stay on Universal Analytics for now?

Yes, you can. Google says there is still plenty of time to get used to GA4, before it becomes the only option for all new accounts. Even after it rolls out, you will still have access to user data in your previous GA accounts.

Eventually, GA4 will become the standard, so it’s worth getting familiar with the new interface sooner rather than later. It’s important to note that Universal Analytics data cannot be migrated into GA4 - so, the sooner you get GA4 set up and collecting its own data, the better.