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GA4 For Online Business: Key Points You Should Know About

Analytics
May 15, 2023
15 min
Content

GA3 will cease data processing from July 1, 2023. While X-Day is soon approaching, every online business should do its best to migrate to Google 4 Analytics (GA4) as soon as possible to go on with data mining on the new platform.  

What is Google Analytics 4? GA4 officially emerged from its beta version in spring 2020 as an analog to Firebase Analytics*. From there, the service retrieved interface and the logic of data accounting. 

*Firebase Analytics embraces analytics systems for mobile apps with extended functions. 

What are the major advantages of Google Analytics 4? How does the service differ from Universal Analytics? What are the road bumps underway in the transition from GA3 to GA4?

And, most importantly, how to work with Google Analytics? We’ve outlined these and other issues with Pavlo Fortelny, Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

What’s In The Name?

Providing you are unfamiliar with Google Analytics evolution, the very name may embarrass you a bit. In 2005, Google acquired Urchin. Classical analytics made further iterations that gradually evolved into Universal Analytics, also known as GA3.

The strategic move here is to position the analytics product as the ‘new GA,’ rather than something suitable only for the app owners. 

What Will Happen To Historical Data During GA4 transition?

The good news is that nobody will lose historical data during the migration. Even though July 1 marks the  X-Day for GA3, all the data gathered by then will remain active by the end of 2023, i.e. you can track, analyze and upload all the available data. 

Since January 1, 2024, though, users will lose all the historical data gathered by GA3.

So, why should one migrate to google analytics version (GA4) now while there is still much time by the end of the year?

It is crucial to migrate from GA3 to GA4 at least two months before X-Day. During the creation and implementation of GA4 on your site, all the generated traffic will get to Direct. Accordingly, you’ll not be able to track the users you engaged before the implementation of GA4 correctly. Therefore, two months is a critical minimum while the period marks the time needed to create a user funnel. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

Hence, make sure to migrate to GA4 by this summer to:  

  • Spot the real source of all current (and returning) users and their conversions. 
  • Compare GA4 and GA3 stats and detect major distinctions*.

*The distinctions are due to the differences in data mining approaches by Google Analytics vs Google Analytics 4. 

For the time being, we suggest using both versions of GA. You’ll be able to collect data only after installing Google Analytics v4, so the sooner you adjust it, the more historical data you’ll accumulate. At that, the new GA4 analytics will not be at odds with the GA3 data. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

Major Challenges To GA4 Transition

85% of Promodo clients have already implemented GA4 in parallel to GA3, while many have entirely migrated to Google Analytics v4.

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Was the transition smooth? Not entirely, though the first migrations have shown that GA4 will most suit analysts. In their turn, marketers will have to pump up their tech skills to get accustomed to the new tricks. 

What are the major road bumps underway of GA4 implementation? Reports present the major challenge. 

GA4 Entails Fewer Reports Than GA3

GA3 assumed far easier reporting through a user-friendly interface. 

Reporting comes as a major drawback of the new Google Analytics for business: there will be no more ready-made reports like the ones compiled by GA3. 

Feel the difference: GA4 assumes 6 key blocks with 2-5 reports, whereas GA3 entailed more than 100 ready-made reports.

Beyond The Altered Amount Of Reports, GA4 Excludes The Reports That Were Actively Used By GA3 

In particular, Assisted Conversions reports will have no relevant substitutes in GA4. 

Assisted Conversions reports showed the number of actual conversions of a channel per attribution and a channel's impact on other channels before attribution. GA4 Model comparison report in Attribution will serve as an analog, where you can choose the attributions and track conversions. However, the report cannot fully substitute Assisted Conversions reports used by GA3. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

To operate the same reporting options as in GA3, you’ll have to customize reports in the GA4 interface (Menu - Research). 

If you need to obtain a Conversion Rate, you should be able to use Looker Studio above the baseline level. Once you need to build an assisted conversions report, use BigQuery while Looker Studio will not help you here. 

There is a limit, though. 

For example, you’ve made a report based on the data retrieved from GA4 and Looker Studio, the report will encompass a large number of graphs, pie charts, and tabular data. Plus, GA4 data may align with some other Google doc or the data available on your Google Ads.

More Updates By Google Analytics 4?

Simplified Comprehension Of Analytics

No more sessions & hits that were available in GA3. By contrast, Google Analytics Version 4 provides event analytics. GA3 tracked data by considering the sessions of artificially generated metrics. First thing, the new version of Google Analytics focuses on a user. With that, GA4 grouped all the analytics around the events. This has much-simplified analytics and data work for tech experts. 

Google Analytics 4 aligns all the analytics around the events, which enables it to gather unified data across all devices and platforms — the sets of similar events on-site and in the app. With GA4, you may track all ‘adds to the cart’ as a single event for both platforms. As a result, you’ll enhance data quality and rely on a unified report of a user path throughout the funnel. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

GA4 applies three levels of identification:

GA4 applies three levels of identification:

This makes Google Analytics serve as a cross-platform system. 

GA4 can simultaneously track apps and site interfaces, as well as process raw data.

What else?

GA4 Key Advantage - Negative Import In BigQuery

Google Analytics Version 4 enables setting import in 5-10 minutes depending on the availability of the user account and the cloud.  

Previously, the export function was available only in paid GA 360 version. GA 360 required scripts, API connection, and further authorization to upload necessary parameters. Besides, there was a limit to uploading up to 10 metrics at a time. 

GA4 Assumes Conversions Instead Of Goals 

Similar to GA3, GA4 well tracks data per conversion, though the logic is different here. While GA3 assumed Goals, GA4 assumes Conversions. Due limitations are as follows: GA4 allows the creation of up to 30 conversions, whereas GA3 uses multiple events to create a single goal or adds several events to the Conditions to generate a goal.

GA4 does not differentiate between conversions and events. The only difference is that instead of events you should make conversions in Google Analytics 4 to further import them to your Ads Manager. Once you need to optimize your campaign for conversion, mark the event as a conversion. Then you’ll import it for further optimization. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

GA4 Lacks Views

GA3 Views enabled the additional creation of data sources for certain tasks. Unfortunately, GA4 lacks the option. 

Users created views for:  

  • Domains
  • Agencies (the agencies filtered certain data to be shown; this is how they created every single view
  • Blogs (the views enabled to track blog traffic without tracking an entire site).

What’s the fix? 

Apply side BI-systems like Looker Studio (former Google Data Studio) or GA4 360 (only paid version is available). The latter allows you to create five unique views in GA4 and filter necessary data.

While the solution is at hand, still many users do not favor it. Why?

GA3 came as an easy way to create views, whereas reporting and presenting data with Looker Studio requires the knowledge of the tool above the baseline level. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

That is why, unlike GA3, we’d suggest GA4 for the analysts rather than marketers.

GA4 Does Not Display The Conversion Rate 

The same is true of any other tracking metrics. For this purpose, we suggest using BigQuery. If you need a conversion rate (CR) for a specific task, connect Looker Studio to GA4 and further apply formulas to generate the additional metric Conversion Rate. You may also do the same with GA4 custom reports.  

While GA4 holds data about the costs in the interface, any connection to GA4, even through Looker Studio, disables downloading this metric. To balance it out, the Looker Studio report expands with two data sources - GA4 and Google Ads respectively. 

Following the alignment, you get new data per channel, campaign, click, cost, impression, revenue, and transaction among other metrics retrieved from GA and Google Ads.

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Further Core Advantage Of GA4 - Machine Learning And NLP Functionality

Partially, these functions were available in the GA4 counter, though few users applied it. With GA4, you are now able to:

- Project conversions and create relevant audiences for Google Ads

- Detect flaws in the reports. This also concerns all the messages available in Universal Analytics (GA3). Once you experience any flaws (conversions fail to track or CR fails to count correctly), you’ll be the first to know it with GA4. 

Pay attention to highlighted messages with the ‘bell.’ Marked messages assume useful information. While we often cope with the queries to fix bugs, we use marked messages to detect them. 

- Project client engagement rate so you can effectively invest in retention. The Google team is up to expand in this direction with more projection metrics. For instance, ARPU lets all  GA4 users correlate marketing strategies and advance their ROI with ML Insights.

From now, GA4 will update you about important data tendencies, i.e. product items featured by rising demand due to the changing user needs.

Privacy - The Top Priority

Google is going to avoid cookies and shift towards tracking with browser identifiers and mobile devices.

More and more brands are experiencing the tracking problem now: i.e. in the banking niche.  While it is impossible to track more users, the collected data is hard to process and insufficient for making informed decisions. As a relevant alternative, Google has offered a cookie-free gtag.js library.

Despite the the latest version of Universal Analytics is using the gtag.js library, few users have benefited from it while it operates as the site code. I do not suggest transferring to gtag.js and using standard Universal Analytics installed through Google Tag Manager. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

Google is also likely to abandon Client ID and rely on internal identifiers of a device and browser, as well as on the cross-platform identifier that generates CRM (aka User ID).

IP Anonymization In GA4 Is Set Up By Default

While GA did not track IP anonymization, users could customize and track it. GA4, however, does not provide customization options.

Free Integration With YouTube

Google actively works on enhancing the quality of YouTube campaigns. For example, the system tracks View-through conversions to see:

- YouTube ad campaign that favors engagement metrics; 

- YouTube ad campaigns that most affect bounce rate, as well as on-site events (not necessarily conversions).

GA3 fails to analyze YouTube campaigns effectively. In its turn, GA4 assumes extended functionality - you may now observe YouTube stats in Analytics. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

The new version of analytics embraces deep integration with Google Ads. GA4 enables to create new audiences, launch campaigns, and engage new clients owing to far more relevant and useful offers regardless of a user’s device.

GA4 Involves Four Basic Parameters

While GA3 features are now minimized, GA4 allows tracking with four parameters only.

GA4 allows tracking with four parameters only

Instead of sessions, Google Analytics 4 concentrates all processes around the events. While sessions served as an artificial concept, Google wants to get rid of it. If you need data about sessions, you can generate it by using raw data from Google BigQuery.

There are straight-through settings of data collection for an entire site subject to alteration with every single event. There are standard events generally tracked on all platforms during GA installation.

  1. GA4 embraces in-built cross-cutting reports User ID; no separate view is required for due use. 
  2. Reports are collected automatically, e.g. page_view, session_start, view_search_results, scroll, file_download (full list).
  3. Recommended events are grouped per business niches (full list).
  4. Custom or any other events you would like to implement and track; the events are subject to GA4 limitations.

From now on, every event may have additional parameters. 

During GA3 settings, an event featured a category, action, and shortcut. GA4 assumes a different logic: an event  has the name and may involve additional parameters.

"Add to Cart" previously came as a separate script and parameter designed per individual value. With GA4, everything is arranged under a unified event structure, i.e. an event involves product name, price, size, color etc). 

Custom Dimensions are straight-through Parameters & Metrics that will help you comply with GA4 limitations. 

Custom Dimensions are straight-through Parameters & Metrics

Google Analytics 4 Excludes Category Action and Event Shortcut

For the available settings and collected data, you have to correlate these features with the event parameters being set. If you want to see properties in GA4 reports, register them.

With GA4, page views have turned into event pageviews. Pageviews entail set parameters. The event will collect automatically if you have fragment “config” gtag.js.

  1. GA4 will cover sessions, though calculated differently than in Universal Analytics.
  2. The session is initiated by the event session_start, and collected automatically.
  3. Session duration — is a lag between initial and final events.
  4. Interactions are automatically recognized: now you do not have to send an interaction event.
  5. Time-out to process late applications makes 72 hours compared to 4 hours in UA Properties).

If you compare the number of sessions between GA4 and Universal Analytics reports, you’ll see fewer sessions in GA4. Unlike Universal Analytics, the new session is not created with the change of an ad campaign source during the GA4 session. Providing that the session starts on one day and ends on another (i.e. from 23:55 to 00:05), the system counts it as a single session though marks it individually for each day. You may also change session time-out in the data stream setup. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

Custom Parameters And Metrics

To add Custom Dimensions & Metrics to GA4 reports, you should transfer them to the new resource in line with Google Guidelines. 

GA3 embraced 4 levels of metrics oriented toward hits, users, sessions, and products. Now their GA4 equivalents are events and event parameters, user properties, and elements — product level parameters. PAVLO FORTELNY Team Lead, Web-analytics at Promodo.

You’ll find User Properties among Google Analytics new features.

These are the values relevant to a specific audience or an individual user, i.e.: gender, city, identification of a new or an existing customer, etc. 

User-specific properties also assume behavioral patterns. Individual user properties further serve as a background to target audiences and personalize ad campaigns. 

New Approach To Data Views

The data traffic report now looks as follows:

 GA4 data traffic report

New Constructor Of User Reports

GA4 excludes Menu item: My reports, now substituted with Explorations.

Sequence Analysis

You can set a funnel manually once you have a set of events; first,  you need to set up the right tracking and then formulate the reports.

Set up of the right tracking
Set up of the right tracking

The same report allows the creation of segments per any move across the funnel.

New Editor For Segments And Audiences

Choose the Menu option to add up a new segment compiled from the moves across the funnel.

Just Do It — Get To GA4

We started this article by highlighting that two months is a necessary minimum for the GA4 transition before the X-Day to save historical data.

Here are 5 more reasons why you should migrate from Universal to GA4 in no time:

1. Data collection on your site is arranged through Data Layer and Google Tag Manager. 

2. The fewer tags you have the better, meaning that you’ll have to insert minimum corrections. 3. The syntax of codes and scripts implemented on-site differs from the previous version: the lesser are the codes and scripts, the smoother the transition.

4. You actively use YouTube Ads and re-marketing based on User ID. 

5. You actively use Firebase. Your team knows how to collect data with Firebase and export tabular data scheme App+Web (Firebase) to BigQuery. 

There is a point in implementing new Analytics along with the old ones.

How To Set Up Data Collection For GA4

1. Create and set up GA4. You cannot align old data with the new one by using the new counter, while GA3 and GA4 follow a distinct logic.

2. Add tracking code manually or through GTM. We recommend applying Tag Manager which is faster and way more convenient.

3. Think about the events and parameters you would like to collect with a GA4 resource type.

4. Use both resource types at a time to compare data collection approaches.

Mind that:

- A GA4 resource allows adding only one Firebase project once you already run the tracked Firebase project.

- A GA4 resource allows for adding multiple data streams.

GA4 Is Suitable For Analytics And Will Less Benefit Marketers - Now What?

Be sure to consider several options here:

1. Marketers will benefit from GA4 by consulting analysts. There will be no more ready-made reports in GA4. Therefore, you will need to consult a competent analyst or an agency. 

2. Alternatively, you may pump up your tech skills and get to know GA4. With that, you will not be able to view some parts of the data: as a proper solution, install Looker Studio or prepare reports with BigQuery. 

3. The third and best-fit option is to create an autonomous system based on raw data and work in your BI system instead of the GA4 interface.

Summing Up

With more than 9 m. GA4 users worldwide, the days of Universal Analytics are numbered. Be sure not to postpone your migration by the X-Day.

Technically, you will lose all the historical data. You will not be able to transfer your previous data from GA3 to GA4 while both systems are grounded on distinct data models. Thus, the sooner you migrate, the more data you’ll operate. Still, it is possible to save historical data from GA3 by uploading them to BigQuery.

More to that, if you start the GA4 update now, you’ll have enough time to master the new interface. As a result, you’ll feel far more comfortable and confident while working with Google Analytics updates.

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4?

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google web analytics. GA4 enables new functions and opportunities lacking by Universal Analytics.

WHAT ARE THE KEY ADVANTAGES OF GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4?

  • Enhanced tracking and analysis of user behaviors across multiple platforms and devices.
  • Tracking of events and conversions without setting goalsі
  • Machine learning that generates ideas and recommendations based on user data
  • Advanced confidentiality, including top data security controls and user agreement.

HOW TO MIGRATE TO GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4?

While the process might be challenging, we recommend working with qualified GA 4 consultants or a marketing agency to ensure a smooth transition.

CAN I USE THE PREVIOUS VERSION OF GOOGLE ANALYTICS?

Yes, you may still use the previous version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics). However, since 1 July 2023, Google abandons Universal Analytics, so we recommend starting your migration to Google Analytics as soon as possible. 

Written by
Maria Kashina

Content Marketing Manager at Promodo

Written by
Pavel Fortelnyi

Web Analytics Specialist at Promodo

Published:
May 15, 2023
Updated:
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