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Gettin’ Under the Hood of Google Analytics 4

If you spend a lot of time in Google Analytics (GA), you may have noticed that there is a new version available: Google Analytics 4 (GA4). As a data analyst, nothing excites me more than hearing about new tools for viewing and manipulating data, so I went ahead and implemented the new version on our instance of GA and played around.

What is GA4?

As more companies are creating apps to better serve their customers, Google has decided to shift its focus to app-based reporting in the form of GA4. It is meant to be a reporting tool for a company’s app metrics and website metrics.

What’s different about GA4?

The shift to GA4 isn’t just a simple update to the user interface; it is almost a completely different tool. The biggest change between the current version of GA and GA4 is the way that data is tracked and presented. It shifts the focus away from general site metrics and toward how your site’s users and customers are interacting with your website. It helps answer customer-centric questions such as:

  • What are the users I’ve acquired through social media doing on my site?
  • Which types of users are earning me the biggest profits?

While this customer-centric focus is indeed important for marketers and retailers, it’s crucial to not lose sight of tracking overall website metrics, which GA does so well.

GA4 and Events

As mentioned above, GA4 tracks both your app (if you have one) and your website. To report on two different interfaces, there needs to be a common denominator between the two, which in this case is events. In GA4, everything a user does is an event, even viewing a page. These events can be parameterized and tracked across both your website and your app.

In the current GA views, events are completely optional and manually created and implemented. GA4 has certain events ready right out of the box and is designed to make it easy to implement other events without needing a developer to change or add code on the back end.

GA4 is just different.

Why You Should Act Now(ish)

If you are thinking that the current state of GA suits your reporting needs just fine, that’s great; Google isn’t forcing you to switch over. Yet. Based on Google’s track record in this space, I can say with confidence that Google will eventually retire the current state of GA and force its users to adapt to GA4 (or, more likely, its successor). I definitely recommend setting up a GA4 property in parallel with your current one. This will give you some time to play around in both properties and get used to the differences before any mandate to switch over.

Implementation

The good news is that Google wants you to create a GA4 property, so it made it relatively easy to create one (although I still recommend that someone who is fairly savvy in GA do the legwork). If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. There are many how-to guides and YouTube videos out there instructing how to complete the process.

Takeaways

This is gentle reminder that the space of digital marketing analytics changes, and it changes fast. GA4 isn’t the end-all be-all of site analytics tracking, but it’s definitely a step toward the future of Google Analytics. I fully endorse creating a GA4 property for yourself, playing around, and experiencing different views of your data. And if you have any questions, reach out to me or anyone at GLG, and we’d be happy to help.