GA4: The benefits, differences, and misconceptions
Google Analytics 4 brings some significant changes to the tried and tested systems of Universal Analytics. It’s easy to feel unsure of how to start navigating the so-called “future of analytics”.
We’re here to help. After reading this you’ll be fully in the know; enjoying the benefits, understanding the differences, and moving beyond the misconceptions of GA4.
So grab yourself a coffee and get comfortable while we dive into the new world of GA4.
- What are the benefits of GA4?
- What are the main differences between GA4 and UA?
- What are GA4 events and how do I use them?
- What do all the new sections mean?
- Common misconceptions
- Tips for using GA4 reports
GA4 has some excellent new features, designed to level up your campaigns like enhanced funnel functionality, customisable reports, integration with the full Google Marketing Stack, and more powerful conversion tracking.
With the addition of enhanced funnel functionality, you can now chart the user journey with more accuracy than ever before. GA4 places the user insight first, fitting in with Google’s focus on user intent.
By assigning characteristics to users you can link a session together, tracking multiple touchpoints in the journey to conversion. GA4 has a much more modern understanding of how users navigate online, with numerous interactions across different platforms. You can even track apps on Android and iOS!
GA4 Reports is one of the most beneficial elements, with customisable reporting ready to go. There are now numerous preset reports on key metrics like user acquisition, engagement overview, and the old faithful; conversion reports.
With so many reporting options that are all customisable, you can tailor your reporting to focus on what matters most to your business and cut out any unwanted data.
Better for building audiences
As digital marketing evolves, it’s important to stay up to date with what and how you track users. In GA4, you can now easily integrate analytics with the entire Google Marketing Platform stack (including Search Ads 360, Display & Video 360, and Campaign Manager 360), a feature that was previously limited to enterprise accounts.
Privacy for a modern world
We live in the era of GDPR, and it’s time that our analytics reflected that.
Usefully, GA4 has improved privacy controls that put you firmly in charge of who you collect data from and how that data is then used across your ad campaigns. This makes GDPR compliance substantially simpler.
More powerful conversion tracking
Not only has Google finally updated the word “goal” to “conversion” (to match how we’ve been talking about successful conversions with our clients for years), but they’ve also improved how conversations are tracked.
The majority of GA4 events that you may want to follow are now tracked by default. For many conversion types, you won’t even need a developer to write custom code!
If you’re looking for something really specific, you can still create custom GA4 events, having saved time setting up your default tracking, thanks to these new features.
The main differences between GA4 vs Universal Analytics are how interface is designed, the data sets you have available, new tracking systems, namely the ability to track across web and app properties.
GA4 looks different
The language has changed. The new systems feel unfamiliar. It may seem like GA4 bears no resemblance to Universal Analytics. But in fact, the foundation of your campaigns is identical.
Differences with your data sets
It all starts with your data set. This hasn’t changed at all. GA4 simply tracks that same data in a new, more accurate, and more specific way. You can now search using natural language to ask GA4 questions like - ‘How many people are leaving my site?’ and you’ll be shown the results, rather than looking at preset reports and trying to fit them to what you need to find out.
New tracking system
One of the most headline-grabbing changes in GA4 is the new tracking system. Say goodbye to hits and sessions; it’s time for events and event parameters to shine.
This update is a welcome change to the outdated UA model of tracking user interactions within a given time frame.
Move beyond page views
With events, you move beyond simply looking at page view (something that is irrelevant in apps, for example) and can now track user journeys across app and web simultaneously.
Put it this way, if a user visits your site on a mobile app, then later on a desktop computer, and then makes a purchase through the app, GA4 can now connect that journey rather than split it into separate sessions. With this in mind, you can now analyse your attribution models in a bespoke Model Comparison report, found in the new Advertising section.
Events used to just track actions within a page. Now, GA4 events track any action on a site or app. You can now collect more data than ever, to really focus on the conversion goals for your company. Getting your head around events is essential for working with GA4.
You can choose events to track across websites, Android devices, apps, or a mix of them all.
There are 4 types of GA4 events:
- Automatically collected events - these are automatically triggered in your account and record a large amount of basic predefined activities, like new visitors and clicks on your ads.
- Enhanced measurement events - these are more complex activities that you can enable to be tracked, like interactions with videos, scrolling, or file downloads.
- Recommended events - these are a list of events that Google recommends you track, including logins, sign-ups, and searches.
- Custom events - this is your chance to get really specific and create your own events that are hyper-specific to your app, ads, and site. Your only limitation is your imagination, or your developer’s ability to write custom code!
Custom event parameters can then be applied to these events to add detail to your data. For instance, if you want to track when a user views a product, you can include specific parameters such as the product name, category, and price.
The reporting options in GA4 really build upon the foundation set in UA. Here are some highlights:
- Audience Overview - all your key metrics in one place. Review users, bounce rate, return visitors, and more.
- All Channels Report - understand where your users are coming from, to help measure the efficiency of different channels.
- All Pages Report - a page-by-page look at your site, to see how they are comparing in performance.
- Mobile Overview Report - this is an overview of your mobile metrics, like users, sessions, and device types.
A new name in the world of GA4, “Explorations” allows you to dive deeper into your analysis and data set, with custom variables to review your metrics.
GA4 Explore uses a variety of segments, variables, dimensions, and metrics, you can scale your analysis to be as specific and detailed as you like!
Once you have your dream data set, you can then create a report and have all sorts of useful styles to choose from, including geo maps, bar charts, and scatter plots. There’s even the option to compare different segments of data to each other, something that will be extremely useful when A/B testing new campaigns.
The GA4 Advertising workspace is the heart of your campaign strategy. It’s where you run campaigns, attribution models, and paths to conversion.
There are 4 main components:
- Conversion Selection - here you can choose which conversions you want to activate in the account.
- Filters - get uber-specific with what data you want to see, for any type of event you like.
- Report Cards - these are a summary of your historical and current data sets. Great for overviews!
- Report Links - these show you details on the Conversion Path and Model Comparison.
The natural language search
One exciting highlight of GA4 is the ability to just ask a question, instead of creating a report and sifting through data. Want to create a report of “users by city”? Simply type “user by city” in the search box and GA4 will bring up the key metrics. This is ideal for those moments when you need specific campaign information at speed!
Will I be able to carry on using UA?
It’s time to say a fond farewell to UA; it will stop collecting data from 1st July 2023. Take some time to transfer your accounts over to GA4 as soon as possible. The more familiar you are with GA4, the easier this transition will be.
Is Bounce rate not in GA4?
Ok, so you can’t find the bounce rate in GA4. Don’t panic.
Google likes to hide some old favourites in the new interface. You can find the bounce rate in report data > metrics section of any custom report.
GA4 has also introduced engagement rate, the inverse of bounce rate. With both of these metrics to hand, your campaigns will be stronger than ever.
Where are Segments in GA4?
You’re looking in Reports for your segments and can’t find them anywhere.
In classic new-interface style, Google has moved them to Explorations. This makes sense, as the explorations section is geared more towards investigating your data, where segments can come in really handy.
You can hide charts by clicking “customise report” in any report view and changing the cards shown via the “customise report” sidebar. Use historical data from your old UA accounts when making decisions on their new GA4 versions. That way you won’t lose out on useful historical data with your new campaigns.
Dive into the drop-down widgets in any overview reports to find hyper-specific dimensions to filter your data with.
If you clicked on this article, asking “What is GA4?” we hope you’ve seen just how much it has to offer in terms of updates and a fresh approach to tracking campaigns and users.
Some key takeaways:
- All of the formerly known UA “hits” (page view, event, user timing, etc) are now all classed as events.
- You can track apps now!
- Many of the UA reports have been renamed in GA4, but you now have even more options to track your data using the new event model.
- Bounce rate does exist… just, not exactly where you’re used to seeing it.
If you’re still feeling like you’ve only just skimmed the surface of GA4, we’ve got your back. Our experts at Evo work with GA4 daily, specialising in focused campaign management and reporting to give the best results for our clients.
Keep an eye out for our articles on GA4, search, and online marketing, to find the answers to all of your questions.
We’re here to help you navigate the switch and ensure you get the most out of your data. So, get in touch if you need more help.
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