GA4 is the polarizing new platform rolled out by Google in 2020, now being pushed as the primary way to collect and report on data by Google. Starting on July 1, 2023, data will no longer be collected by old UA properties and website owners will be forced to switch over to GA4, so you should get a handle on it now. What exactly is new in GA4 and how is it different from Universal Analytics?
How Data is Collected
The most noticeable difference in GA4 is one that is geared towards the future of digital marketing, and it’s obvious what that is when you look at the name of GA4 when it first came out: App+Web Property.
In GA4, you’re able to collect data under one property for both your app and website. With Universal Analytics, app and website traffic had to be separated into their own properties. Google’s goal is to streamline reporting with the consideration that many businesses now are moving into the app landscape.
Some of the more popular engagement and behavior metrics in UA–things like bounce rate, pages/session, and average session duration–are going away with GA4. While this might anger some users, it is due simply to the fact that the data model in GA4 is different, and this type of data will be shown differently.
GA4 uses “Engaged Sessions” to group those under one umbrella. More specifically, an engaged session will occur when a user has a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion, or visits 2 or more pages within that session. It will also show Engaged Rate and Engaged Sessions per User.
Google is aiming to streamline the reporting with its new platform. Under UA, there are 30+ “reports” that can be accessed using the sidebar. With GA4, there are only 3 standard reports, with the goal of making data exportation easier and more efficient. Of course, you can customize it however you want to suit your needs, but if you just need what Google deems necessary, there are only 3 to choose from.
Here’s the big one–events are no longer a special type of metric that you need to set up in Google Tag Manager to be exported into your Analytics property. In GA4, everything is an event.
There are 4 main categories of events in GA4:
- Automatically Collected Events
- Enhanced Measurement Events: Things like scroll depth tracking, external link clicks, or file downloads are all available out of the box.
- Recommended Events: Events that are not out of the box, but are recommended by the platform to set up using GTM.
- Custom Events: These are events you set up yourself with no recommendation from Google, also using GTM.
In the above screenshot, you’ll get an idea of some of the automatically collected events and enhanced measurement events that come out of the box.
Previously in UA, your conversions could be defined using goals. These were set up as either destination or event goals, with the events being set up exclusively in GTM.
In GA4, your conversions are set from the Configure tab, where you can set up conversions using predefined naming conventions that come out of the box. If you want to set up custom conversions, you can simply create your own event in the Configure>Events tab, where you can set your conditions for an event to trigger, and then go to the Configure>Conversions tab to turn on the switch that marks that event as a conversion.
There are a number of reasons that users are apprehensive about switching from UA to GA4, but doing some exploring yourself will help you realize that you’re able to do most of the things you were able to do in UA, plus some more convenient features that will help you paint an even clearer picture of the data!