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Analytics 4

The end of UA and the transition to Google Analytics 4 is one of the biggest revolutions in the world of web analytics.

But what changes with Google Analytics 4? From the emphasis on user events to the removal of bounce rate in reports, the new Google Analytics will lean towards greater standardization and automation in reporting, thanks to the contribution of machine learning. Therefore, greater importance will be given to predictive analysis as well as multichannel integration.

In this guide on Google Analytics 4, you will be explained step by step:

  • What Google Analytics 4 is and how it works
  • What’s new compared to Universal Analytics
  • How to transition from Google Analytics 3 to 4
  • How to configure Google Analytics 4
  • How to analyze its reports
  • Why GA4 is not illegal in reference to GDPR

Continue reading to become familiar with Google Analytics 4 so that you can start using it like a true digital marketing expert.

Google Analytics 4: What is it

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a data analytics software provided by Google. It is designed to monitor user behavior on a website or owned app. It was introduced by Google in November 2005 after acquiring Urchin Software, one of the first companies to combine JavaScript, log files, and cookies to establish a method for unique visitor identification (UTM – Urchin Traffic Monitor).

Since 2012, Google Analytics has been known as Universal Analytics, which was the third version of the popular analytics tool. However, on October 14, 2020, a significant change occurred. On that date, the well-known search engine unleashed a true revolution, marking a paradigm shift in data collection methodology.

What is the purpose of Google Analytics 4?

  • It collects data through a unique tracking code called Google Analytics Tracking Code (GATC), which needs to be installed on every page of your website. It is a JavaScript code snippet that is executed by the visitor’s browser whenever they visit the pages of the website. The code loads a larger JavaScript file from Google’s server to record various interactions (page views, sessions, events, etc.). These interactions are then sent to the GA4 server, where they are processed and presented in the form of reports.
  • It tracks and records web traffic, providing comprehensive statistics on how visitors find and interact with your website/app. This allows for precise audience profiling based on various dimensions and custom metrics, as well as tracking advertising campaigns, social media activities, and digital PR.
  • It helps identify traffic drops often caused by Google Core Updates. Similarly, it enables the measurement of the return on investment (ROI) for all implemented web marketing activities. The tool provides essential features for effective business intelligence.

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The Advantages of Google Analytics 4

The revolution brought about by Big G allows for the detection of much more detailed information regarding user behavior. This is because with Google Analytics 4, data management shifts from session-based to event-based. All statistics and data related to user access on the website or app are organized in graphs, tables, and sections, making it easy, clear, and intuitive to consult them.

So, why use GA4? Installing and using it allows you to monitor:

  • who visits the site, including geographical area of origin, language, browser used, screen resolution, whether from mobile or desktop, etc. With this data, you can, for example, set up a technical strategy to improve the visibility of your website;
  • what visitors do, such as which pages they visit, the time spent on each page, or the bounce rate. Having this information allows you to improve, for example, the overall user experience on your site;
  • how visitors find you online, whether through search engine queries, typing the correct name in the Google search bar, or being referred by social media or external websites. This way, you can assess, for example, how to improve your presence on Facebook or enhance brand visibility;
  • how users interact with the platform. You can conduct A/B tests to determine which pages increase traffic or track how users land on a specific content through specific links.

Additionally, with the new analytics, you’ll have:

  • a simpler and customizable interface;
  • enhanced data tracking from iOS and Android apps, organized under a single property;
  • better integration with other tools such as Google Ads;
  • more accurate user recognition and counting;
  • event-based tracking;
  • user autonomy in GA4 for event and tag configurations and management, minimizing the need for programmer intervention;
  • replacement of views with subproperties, implemented only in the paid tool Google Analytics 360.

1. User Recognition

If you’re wondering about the main difference between Universal Analytics and GA4, the answer is definitely user recognition. Universal Analytics, which is session-based, generates sessions for each connection.

To help you understand better, here’s a practical example: If you enter a website and have a browsing session, Universal Analytics considers the entire session as a field for all necessary measurements. A new session, even if it’s from the same user, is considered a new measurement. Therefore, it’s impossible to accurately define the number of users using UA.

On the other hand, Google Analytics 4 is event-based. As a result, reporting is generated based on the events performed by individual users in various sessions. This makes the tool much more precise, as user recognition is comprehensive.

event example ga4

But how is the user recognized? UA uses the Client ID as the identification method, which is a specific instance of the browser saved within the cookie. The instance is installed in the cookie the first time you navigate the site and remains in the user’s browser for a certain period of time. Each browser has a different client ID, so if you browse from Chrome, then from Edge, and then from Firefox, three different client IDs will be detected. Additionally, every time you clear your cookies or change devices, you will be identified as a different user.

The identity method of Google Analytics 4 consists of three steps:

  1. User ID: If the website has a login area that users can access, their login, or commonly known as the user, is used for identification. This method is very precise because no matter where you access from, you will be identified as a single user. However, implementing this method requires coding knowledge and certain programming skills.
  2. In case there is no User ID, GA4 directly relies on Google Signals. In this case, the Google account is taken into consideration. If the user browses from a browser authenticated with the same account, they are counted as a single user.
  3. Finally, if the user cannot be identified through the previous methods, Google Analytics 4 also utilizes the client ID, just like its predecessor.

The central role assigned to the user, therefore, constitutes the first key element in understanding the revolution of the tracking system and data model introduced by GA4.

2. Data model

The introduction of events serves as a dividing line in the system of data collection and analysis online. Events already existed in Google Universal Analytics, where each event is associated with a hit type within a category. In the new GA, however, there are no differences between hit types because the hit itself is an event.

In Universal Analytics (UA), hits represent the user interactions within the website’s browsing session. They are generated when the tracking code on the pages is activated following user interactions.

In Google Analytics 4, there are three types of events:

  • Automatic events: These events are always active and cannot be modified. They are pre-configured to track basic user actions, such as page views.
  • Recommended events: These events can be activated through code. They can be implemented based on your specific business activities, such as for an e-commerce website.
  • Custom events: These events can be activated as per your specific needs.

In addition, there are user properties, including predefined user dimensions (language, operating system, etc.), and custom user properties that allow for a more precise user profile definition.

ga4 comparison model

3. User Count Metrics

In Google Analytics 4, there are changes to the user-related metrics. Compared to Universal Analytics, which has two metrics (total users and new users), Google Analytics 4 introduces a third metric called active users.

Here’s a breakdown of these metrics:

  • Total users: This includes all users who have recorded an event.
  • New users: In addition to users who have interacted with the website, this also includes users who have interacted with the app for the first time.
  • Active users: This is the main metric and refers to the unique users who have interacted with the website or app. An active user is defined as a user who has had an engagement session or a first_visit event.

4. Sessions

Google Analytics 4 uses sessions to track the new metric of active users. What are sessions? They are the period of time during which a user actively interacts with a website or app. One key difference between the two versions of the tool is when a session ends.

For Google Analytics 3:

  • after 30 minutes of inactivity
  • at midnight
  • at source change.

For Google Analytics 4, sessions simply end after 30 minutes of inactivity. So, if you navigate across midnight, only one session will be counted instead of two.

But what are the criteria for engaged sessions?

  • sessions lasting at least 10 seconds (the only adjustable parameter, ranging from 10 to 60 seconds);
  • recording a conversion;
  • visiting at least 2 pages or screen views (for apps) during the session.

5. Bounce Rate

The bounce rate indicates the percentage of sessions that did not result in any interactions. It’s important to note that the duration of a bounce session is 0 seconds, but this does not necessarily mean that the user spent no time on a page without generating conversions. Furthermore, due to the evolution of the structure of modern websites (with many in-page contents and interactions without changing URLs), the use of this metric is considered outdated.

Therefore, in Google Analytics 4, the bounce rate is no longer available in reports and is replaced by Engaged Sessions. This term refers to all sessions lasting more than 10 seconds or containing a conversion. This provides more accurate data about users who have interacted with the site and how they are doing so.

In essence, to calculate the bounce rate in GA4, you divide the number of Engaged Sessions by the total number of sessions. By doing so, it becomes easier to work on strategies to improve user experience based on more reliable data.

6. Conversions

Another important difference between UA and Google Analytics 4 is related to the conversion rate. In UA, the conversion rate is based on the completion of goals, so it calculates only one conversion. In contrast, GA4 uses conversion events that you set up based on the actions you want to track.

Therefore, in the reports, you can gather data related to:

  • user conversion rate, which refers to the number of users who have performed an action on the site in an event;
  • session conversion rate, which indicates the sessions during which conversion actions have taken place.

The collected information will be valuable in further improving the user experience and optimizing the number of conversions during a session.

7. UTM Parameters

In Google Analytics 4, new dimensions are introduced that are related to UTM parameters. These code snippets are used to track the traffic of the unique URL in which they are inserted. In addition to the 6 standard UTM parameters in UA (source, medium, campaign, term, content, and id), GA4 adds 3 more:

  • utm_source_platform, which identifies the platform that is the source of traffic and conversions on the site;
  • utm_creative_format, to understand which ad format is generating traffic and conversions;
  • utm_marketing_tactic, which provides information about the marketing tactic used in a specific campaign.

But how do you create UTM codes? Google provides the Campaign URL Builder, which allows you to easily create your UTM-tagged URLs for campaign tracking. I also recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep track of all the parameters.

8. Page Dimensions

Page dimensions are a new feature in Google Analytics 4. There are various dimensions that encompass one or more characteristics of a URL. The image below indicates the elements that make up the URL and their corresponding GA4 dimensions that contain them (Custom represents what Google Analytics 4 does not record).

ga4 page dimension

GA4 Report: Overview and Usage

Using Google Analytics 4 is easier than you might think. Once you have installed the tracking code on your website pages, it takes 24 hours for GA4 to start tracking visitors, analyzing data, and generating reports. The data will be visible in dashboards that can be easily customized, saved, and shared according to your needs.

The list of dashboards is located in the left panel and is grouped into 3 categories:

  1. “Snapshot” and “Real-time” which provide an overview of overall results and show events happening “live”.
  2. “Life cycle” which offers an overview of the user’s lifecycle, starting from the source through which they arrive, their behavior, and any returns or exits.
  3. “User” which gathers all the information about visitors that may be important, such as gender, source, and device used.

    If this division seems complex at first, try thinking about it this way: there is a person (User) who arrives at the website (Acquisition), performs actions (Engagement) that have consequences for you (Monetization), and if satisfied, returns (Retention).

Are you curious to discover the new dashboards in GA4? Continue reading to get all the details.

Demographic and Technology Data

As mentioned, these Google Analytics 4 dashboards provide all the necessary information to identify the user as much as possible and are extremely valuable for creating segments for digital advertising campaigns and creating tailored content. Once you know your users, you can proceed with analyzing their behavior within the website or app.

Specifically, you can obtain demographic information such as:

  • The location from where the user is connecting, broken down by country or city
  • The language set on the device
  • The gender
  • The age
  • The interests.
google analytics dashboard

Regarding technology, you can obtain data regarding:

  • The device (web, mobile, or tablet)
  • The operating system
  • The browser.
google analytics tech report

Acquisition

The “Acquisition” dashboard is a very important set of data, especially for those involved in SEO. It helps identify the sources of your traffic acquisition and understand where your users are coming from. You can use this data to evaluate the effectiveness of your social campaigns and monitor the results. Additionally, you can segment the traffic based on how users arrived at your site.

You can view data, for example, on:

  • Organic traffic
  • Paid traffic (CPC)
  • Referral traffic
  • Direct traffic.

This way, monitoring your digital marketing activities will be simple and immediate, allowing you to assess any changes to your strategies.

google analytics acquisition report

Engagement

This is where you monitor user behavior within the site. It is in the “Engagement” dashboard that you can manage events, create them, and identify those that are most important to you and your site, labeling them as “conversions.” By default, GA4 includes some events, such as page_view and session_start.

However, just like in UA, you can also create your own events directly from the administration panel. These events will then be counted and displayed in the dashboard. Additionally, in the “Engagement” dashboard, you can see which pages are most viewed and which ones generate the most traffic, known as landing pages.

Monetization

As the name suggests, this report is used to quantify the revenue generated by your website. Monetization is a crucial set of data for all businesses, as it, along with conversions, represents the outcome of user actions and serves as the starting point for analyses required for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

In Google Analytics 4, monetization is divided into three subcategories:

  • E-commerce purchases: To identify revenue generated from actual purchases made on the website.
  • In-app purchases: For purchases of new features within an application.
  • Publisher ads: For revenue generated from display ads.
google analytics monetization report

Retention

Retention is an important metric for many websites, especially e-commerce and online magazines. This report is a significant addition compared to Universal Analytics, and it provides data related to the retention of users on your website or app. In particular, you can find information on:

  • Retention by cohort
  • Engagement by cohort
  • Overall user retention and engagement
  • Lifetime Value

A cohort refers to a group of users that share common characteristics, and in GA4, these characteristics are associated with specific dimensions within the tool.

google analytics retention

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How to switch to Analytics 4

If you are using Universal Analytics, you already know that you will need to make the transition to Google Analytics 4 by July 2023. The migration process won’t be too traumatic as Google provides you with functions that guide you step-by-step through the configuration and linking of the GA4 property with the UA property. Additionally, there will be no need to modify the linking code between your website and GA.

The steps to follow are:

  • Create a GA4 property and link it to your UA property: To do this, access the “Admin” menu at the bottom left and then click on “GA4 Setup Assistant”.
  • Enter the new property and configure Google Analytics 4: To do this, access the “Admin” menu of the new property and then click on “Setup Assistant” (yes, it may seem similar to the previous step, but the content is different).
  • Migrate goals and conversions using the “Collect Universal Analytics events” function. For this step, you will need the assistance of a programmer.

Keep in mind that if you have an e-commerce website, you will need to perform an additional migration step with the help of a developer. Furthermore, if you are using Google Ads, you need to import the Google Analytics 4 conversions (wait at least a couple of weeks to have some data) and set them as the primary action, moving the previous UA conversions to secondary. Once the transition is complete, you can use both properties as long as Google allows you to do so.

How to set up Google Analytics 4?

You need to go to the “Admin” menu at the bottom left, select “Account Settings,” and then click on “Data Streams.” Choose the data stream and enter the details. In the “Google Tag” section, select “View tag instructions.” At this point, you will have three possible options:

  1. Installation with a website builder or CMS tool, an option that you can activate without entering any code and without the help of a developer. Simply enter the name of your company’s website and choose the platform and plugin for the integration. This option can be done if you are connected to the CMS as an administrator, such as WordPress. If you are unsure about the platform used by the website, you can select the “Scan” option next to the website name, and it will automatically detect the platform used.
  2. Manually install the Google tag, which allows you to link both GA4 and Google Ads, but it requires the assistance of a programmer as you need to insert HTML code into a specific section of the website.
  3. Manual installation through Google Tag Manager: a versatile tool that allows you to connect the Facebook pixel as well.

Attention: These options are alternatives. If you set up more than one, you risk sending duplicate tracking and analyzing incorrect data.

Google Analytics 4 and GDPR: What Does the Privacy Guarantor Say?

Regarding Google Analytics 4 and GDPR, there is a lot of information available concerning the Privacy Guarantor’s decisions regarding data tracking for marketing purposes. There are often discussions about rulings that affect European Union citizens, which is prompting some website owners to consider using alternative web analytics systems like Matomo.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, and it explains how personal data should be handled in terms of:

  • data collection methods,
  • usage,
  • protection,
  • sharing.

Like all disciplines, digital marketing has had to adapt to these new regulations. To comply, Google Analytics 4 has been designed based on a privacy-by-design model, providing the ability to choose which data to collect through a series of configurations. For example, you can evaluate whether and which data to use in remarketing campaigns with Google Ads.

However, the situation becomes even more complex within the European Union. In June 2022, the Privacy Guarantor also issued a ruling through the famous Schrems II case, stating that the use of the Google Analytics service violates European regulations because it transfers user data directly to the United States. These two decisions have caused significant challenges for those working with data. However, thanks to the implementation of privacy protection features, it is possible to use GA4 in compliance with the regulations. You can:

  • disable retargeting features and personalized advertising display at a country level;
  • disable data collection;
  • not collect and/or store IP addresses;
  • manage data retention periods;
  • delete data on a per-user basis;
  • regarding the privacy guarantor, data is collected on servers located in the EU, then filtered according to European regulations, and only after that, it is sent to the USA for processing.

Certifications and Courses on Google Analytics 4

The transition to Google Analytics 4 provides valuable and specialized insights that require high skills and expertise. It’s important to note that Google itself, through its Analytics Academy, encourages training on the tool. Through training activities, you can become familiar with fundamental tools for web analysis, such as:

  • GA4
  • Google Analytics 360
  • Google Tag Manager.

The activities available on this platform can be extremely useful in obtaining the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (or GAIQ), a certification offered in Google’s Skillshop. By passing a free exam, this certification recognizes expertise in digital analytics.

However, despite being comprehensive and straightforward, the Google Academy consists of a series of documents that each student must analyze on their own before taking the exam. Moreover, most aspiring marketers do not possess such strong skills in web analytics. That’s why there are organizations that provide training on behalf of Google, known as Google Premium Partners.

Digital Coach has been part of this group of companies for over ten years, offering the opportunity to attend online lessons and gain hands-on experience after passing the exam. Acquiring knowledge of all other web analytics tools and the Google Analytics 4 certification allows you to have your skills recognized as a web analytics specialist, which can be valuable in the digital job market.

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