What is Google Analytics 4?

The new age of analytics is upon us. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is an analytics service that enables you to measure engagement and traffic across both your website and mobile apps. GA4 is designed to generate customized insights led by machine learning and is the puzzle piece that will provide big-picture information across all devices and platforms. 

Why am I seeing so much talk about GA4?

Your inbox and social feeds have likely seen a fair amount of discussion about Google beginning to sunset Universal Analytics in 2023–but what does this mean for you? 

Google is making the move to start sunsetting the old analytics tracking method (Universal Analytics or “UA”) in favour of Google Analytics 4 properties. With major shifts in consumer behaviour coupled with changes to long-time industry standards related to data privacy, the current analytics approach isn’t keeping pace. Additionally, marketers have indicated that the existing solutions make it difficult to get a complete view of the customer and derive insights from their current analytics data. Google Analytics 4 helps address these concerns. 

What’s the big deal?

Google Analytics 4 creates opportunities to gain deeper insights into the customer journey and discover what really engages your customers. These insights can be used to improve marketing decisions and get a better return on investment by tracking customer journeys and interactions across your website and mobile applications.

By making the switch to Google Analytics 4, you will be able to harness advanced machine learning models’ power to gain richer consumer insights, discover significant data trends, and tap into powerful predictive metrics. This allows organizations and marketers to get the full spectrum of data and insights needed to make informed business decisions and better understand your customer’s entire lifecycle—which is currently not possible with Google’s Universal Analytics.

What are the main differences between UA and GA4?

The upgrade to Google Analytics 4 does bring significant changes compared to Google Universal Analytics. Some of the most substantial updates include:

1. Different Measurement Models & Event Tracking

Using Google’s Universal Analytics, measurement is based on sessions and pageviews. With Google Analytics 4, measurements are based on events and parameters, which have been made more flexible so more information can be supplied. Traditionally, in Universal Analytics, the event parameters needed to provide event tracking would include category, action, label, and/or value, whereas the GA4 property is more flexible with event parameters to provide additional information and details important to tracking user behaviour and interactions. Automated event tracking will also be made available as a built-in feature which is currently not available in Universal Analytics. This will allow for automatic event tracking without additional coding or tagging setup.

2. Tracking Across Multiple Platforms & Devices

In Universal Analytics, separate schemas are used to track web and app data. With GA4, the same schema is used for both web and app data, allowing for the Google Analytics 4 property to merge your customer’s web journey with their mobile app experience. This solution provides a robust and forward-thinking solution to providing an effective omnichannel experience, accurately tracking the customer journey and optimizing conversion opportunities.

3. New Reporting & Interface

A robust, innovative solution such as GA4 needs an extensive update to the way it reports on data. At first glance, the reporting interface of GA4 serves up a different set of reports that you may be used to seeing in Universal Analytics, but it’s all in the effort of providing a customized reporting experience. Reports are generated based on the events being tracked and ensure you see the metrics that relate directly to the conversions and behaviours that have the most impact. These levels of insights and custom reporting are not available in the Universal Analytics property.

For a further look into the key differences between Universal Analytics and GA4, check out the infographic featured in our blog The Benefits of Using Google Analytics 4.

When do I need to switch to GA4?

To ensure that there is plenty of time for organizations and marketers to adopt this new platform, Google will stop recording website hits in the Universal Analytics properties starting on July 1, 2023, and Universal Analytics 360 will stop processing new data as of October 1, 2023. Previously processed data will be stored for at least six months after the deprecation dates. While this may seem like a great deal of time to adopt the GA4 property, it is recommended to set up and optimize your GA4 properties at least 6 months to 1 year ahead of this date to start gathering website data to cause the least amount of interruptions to your reporting next year.

Is it easy to switch, or are there other considerations?

Google Analytics 4 is available now and fully equipped to support your data measurement needs. Our experience to date has revealed that migrating from Universal Analytics to GA4 is not only a strategic project but also a technical one. Because the data structures are so different, considerable care needs to be taken to audit your current GA/GTM setup, define a migration strategy, and ensure accurate events, parameters, and reporting are enabled to truly take advantage of what GA4 can do. 

In addition to adopting GA4 as your new analytics property, it’s important to also look at updating other marketing strategies, such as Google Ads campaigns, which may be using imported audiences, site metrics, or goals from your Universal Analytics properties. As of July 1, 2023, when Universal Analytics stops processing data, your Ads campaigns will be affected–so don’t forget to update your goal and conversion points appropriately!

What should I do next?

Ready to make the transition? If you want Google Analytics 4 to drive results for you, contact Northern today and our Digital Experience team can take you from configuration to conversions!


Frequently Asked Questions

Does Google Analytics 4 (GA4) cost money?

No, GA4 comes free with few limitations on functionality.

Larger enterprises may consider the Analytics 360 version of GA4. This paid version of GA4 offers raised limits on audiences, conversions, custom dimensions, custom metrics, and more. It also offers service-level agreements (SLAs) for business-critical items such as BigQuery export, data collection, and processing functions.

What should I expect? Is there training available for GA4?

The new Google Analytics 4 properties use a new interface with focus on event-based measurement and cross-platform reporting. Expect to adapt to new reporting functionalities while integrating new KPIs gathered by the cross-platform measurement model of GA4.

Some entry-level training is available through Google Skillshop, but reach out to Northern for assistance with any setups.

Is there support in GA4 for offline conversions and data imports?

Offline conversions are an important piece of your customer experience that should be tracked when possible. GA4 does support data imports, which can include offline conversions. We hope to see GA4 launch user-friendly offline attribution modelling. More details are to come on offline conversion analytics in GA4.

Will my existing Universal Analytics (UA) data be migrated to GA4?

Existing UA data will not be migrated to the Google Analytics 4 property. For that reason, we advise implementing GA4 properties early to collect data alongside your UA properties. Until Universal Analytics is sunset in July 2023, you will still be able to continue to collect and analyze data within your existing UA properties while your new GA4 properties populate with data.

Will the reports I created and saved in Universal Analytics be migrated to GA4?

Google Analytics 4 properties use a new data model, making migrating reports from Universal Analytics nearly impossible. Getting started early with GA4 allows your brand to navigate new GA4 reporting systems and phase in changes to your reporting processes. Additionally, early GA4 implementation will allow you to capture data needed for future reporting.

What are some of the new recommended measurement tools for reporting in GA4?

Within GA4 we recommend using:

  • Exploration reports for behaviour flows
  • Predictive metrics and insights
  • BigQuery exports

Supplement GA4 with:

  • Google Tag Manager
  • Google Data studio for more custom reporting flexibility
How long does GA4 retain historical data?

For non-Analytics 360 properties, retention of user-level data, including conversions, can be set to a maximum of 14 months.

I have GA4 as a connected tag in Universal Analytics at the moment. Should I plan to replace the tag completely with GA4?

Once Universal Analytics is sunsetted, data collection in UA properties will be halted and will remain available for at least 6 months after. If your UA properties use gtag.js, GA4 will use your existing tags to collect data, and no replacement is necessary. If your current properties use the analytics.js tag, this tag will not track automatically to GA4, and you’ll need to manually update all site pages to gtag.js. More information on GA4 connected tags.

Will there be more than 50 event parameters allowed per property in the future?

A standard Google Analytics 4 property allows 25 event parameters per event.

GA4 properties can be upgraded to Analytics 360 properties to unlock higher limits. Analytics 360 allows 100 event parameters per event, however, it is a paid solution.

Will it be possible to do year-over-year reporting between the transition from UA to GA4?

After Universal Analytics has been sunsetted, you’ll still have access to data in UA properties. Google intends for users to run their GA4 properties alongside UA, collecting data well in advance of the sunsetting of Google Analytics 3 and Universal Analytics. The new GA4 data model makes merging data nearly impossible. For that reason, early data collection is key to minimizing the need for cross-platform year-over-year reporting.

What are the key things to consider when migrating to Google Analytics 4?

Consider the benefits of running UA and GA4 properties in parallel as soon as possible.

  • Minimizes the need for cross-platform reporting
  • Gather GA4 property data early for stronger insights
  • Provides time to adapt to the GA4 environment

There are opportunities to optimize your account during migration.

  • Reevaluate which KPIs are most valuable to you and plan for your reporting setup in GA4
  • Audit your account structure in Universal Analytics for inefficiencies and build a new structure in GA4

Training teams on the new GA4 environment must be conducted well before the sunsetting of UA.

Will reporting improve like sharing segments easily across all reports without the need to drag and drop each time?

Google Analytics 4 places great emphasis on improved reporting. The new integrated reporting structure allows for full cross-platform and cross-device learning with powerful built-in exploration reports. GA4 segments are only available in Explorations reports however, if you need to see subsets of data in your reports, you can use comparisons, which also let you focus on subsets of your data.

How can I maximize conversion performance using GA4?

The same level of data analysis currently found in Universal Analytics will be available within GA4. Continue using conversion-oriented KPIs to track performance.

Use the cross-platform and cross-device reporting capabilities to understand your full customer journey. Seek opportunities within your cross-platform data to optimize your marketing channels for conversions.

Is there a way to tag sessions with an “internal” marker to filter reports in GA4? How can this be done without fully excluding internal IPs?

Yes, there is support for this. Set your internal IP filter to “Testing” instead of “Active” in the property data filter setting. This filter will be evaluated and matching data will be identified with the dimension set to your test data filter name. Setting a filter to “Active” permanently changes the data moving forward, similar to filtering in Universal Analytics.

With the removal of views on Google Analytics 4, what is the best setup for large websites using subdomains and subfolders that we want to track in-depth analysis for?

In most cases, we recommend hosting these subdomains and subfolders in one property to get a full scope of the aggregated site experience using total session numbers and better attribution. Each GA4 property can have up to 50 data streams (with a limit of 30 app streams), accommodating larger setup needs.

Creating a custom report, using a platform such as Google Data Studio, can bring greater depth to your subdomains and subfolders. We recommend fully identifying your reporting needs before committing to a single-property approach.

Still have questions?

Contact Northern to brush up on your Google Analytics 4 knowledge. We're able to guide you through any stage of your brand's migration.