Why set up GA4 now?
The article was written by Markestic
22nd November 2022
Just a ten-minute setup can save you a lot of headaches.
“In 2023, we will start to retire Universal Analytics”
Remember the emails you’ve received from Google in recent months about Universal Analytics 2023? about the July termination? Did you just look at it, see the date and decide that there’s a lot of water under the bridge before then, so can your future self deal with it?
Here you have made a huge mistake.
Next June, you’ll be so angry when, a week before the change, you finally take a closer look at what Google says in this email and realise that you’ve been receiving reminders about the change for over a year for a reason. In a year’s time, it will be too late to start using GA4, and anyone who gets wise then will be at a huge disadvantage compared to their competitors.
But you are lucky to have found your way here, so let us help you protect your future self from this fatal mistake.
What is GA4?
GA4 – known in full as Google Analytics 4 – is the next generation of Analytics, offering more advanced and sophisticated measurement than its predecessor.
The original, classic Analytics was replaced in 2013 by Universal Analytics (Google Analytics 3, or UA/ GA3 for short). It was joined by Firebase for mobile app development in 2016 and the Google Analytics Web + App beta in 2019. The combined version of these is Google Analytics 4, which is being launched now and will completely replace the current Universal Analytics in July 2023. 2023. After 1 July 2011, Universal Analytics will no longer collect data (the data it contains will be available for viewing for another six months).
Let’s get to the point: why do I need to set up GA4 now?
However, with the switch to Universal Analytics in 2013, UA’s current data CANNOT be migrated to the new GA4 system. The new Analytics works in a completely different way, it collects, stores and displays data differently than UA, so it is not possible to import data. Therefore, if you want to avoid having to start from scratch when you switch, you should also set up GA4 as soon as possible so that you have more than half a year’s data by July.
More arguments for implementing GA4 as soon as possible:
- Collecting data from both systems in parallel allows you to compare how changes to the new tracking system affect the measurement of your data.
- You’ll be able to analyse the cause, if you notice a big difference somewhere, it’s easier to spot if something has been accidentally set wrong.
- You’ll have time to test the settings you can use to get the data you need from the system, to design your new reports.
- You can get used to the new features and the new interface at a comfortable pace.
There are a lot of changes in GA4 compared to Universal Analytics, give yourself time to get to know the interface and get used to the differences. Even if it’s hard to get used to at first, a number of new features will make your measurements easier and more accurate in the long run.
What are the differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?
The biggest difference between the two systems is the new user- and event-based tracking instead of the previous session-based measurements. While session tracking was justified in the past, the continuous evolution of technology has completely changed the behaviour of users, and has long since failed to provide a satisfactory picture of actual user behaviour. Not to mention how unmanageable mobile app tracking was in UA.
Thus, the new system no longer focuses on URL-based tracking and page loads, but on user behaviour.
Measuring engagement instead of bounce rate
We have to say goodbye to several much-used indicators, such as the return rate, page views per session, or even session duration. Instead, GA4 measures the average duration of engagement: how much time a user actually spends browsing your content.
These can be used to track committed sessions, which are sessions in which the user
- spends at least 10 seconds browsing our content and/or
- visit 2 or more sites and/or
- implement at least one conversion event on our site.
By dividing the committed sessions by the total sessions, we get the commitment rate, which we can follow in the future instead of the return rate.
So, if someone reads through a blog post, for example, or performs a conversion event on the first page they open, that counts as engagement, not a return visit as before (because only one page load) – which, let’s face it, is closer to reality than putting them in the same category as someone who just opened the page and then closed it. This is particularly important when tracking activities in mobile apps, where there is much less navigation across multiple pages.
Users and events instead of sessions and page views
Universal Analytics currently starts a new session in the following cases:
- after 30 minutes of inactivity
- acquisition dimension change (change of medium/source/campaign)
GA4, on the other hand, only starts a new session after 30 minutes of inactivity, not the other two, so you will see far fewer sessions for the same number of users under GA4.
This is part of the new measurement model under GA4, which no longer focuses on sessions and page views, but on users and events. The previous UA request types are all recorded as events in GA4, with different event parameters. So even a page view is just a simple event in the new system.
Instead of UA’s previous category-operation-label-value-event hierarchy, GA4 operates on an event-event-parameter-user-property model, so GA4 reports do not display a category, operation or label. Events, on the other hand, can have up to 25 event parameters, which can be text or numbers. And user properties describe groups of users in the user base (for example, their language preferences or geographical locations).
Types of events
GA4 distinguishes between four types of events:
- Automatically collected events: events collected automatically by GA4 from the installation of the base code, such as page views, first views, new session starts (page_view, first_visit, session_start).
- Advanced measurement events: these are also collected automatically from websites by Google Analytics when advanced measurement is enabled in the service, such as scrolls, outbound clicks, file downloads, video views, etc.
- Suggested events: they have to be implemented manually, but they have predefined names and parameters by Google.
- Custom events: if you can’t find a suitable event from the above, you can create your own.
When using event measurements, it is recommended to follow the above order – if possible, use the automatically collected events, if you don’t find what you need, use the advanced measurement events, and so on.
More accurate tracking between websites and mobile apps
GA4 uses the same schema for web and in-app tracking – unlike Universal Analytics – which allows users to be tracked across different devices, linking the same user’s activity on a computer and on a phone.
While UA measures a single conversion (target completion) as a session, GA4 tracks every conversion event that a user performs. As a conversion, you can set up any event that is important to you, whether it’s a click on a page, watching a video or filling in a form.
Data protection and modelled data
Data protection is becoming an increasingly central issue today, with more and more regulations to comply with and users becoming more and more aware of it, so that browsers and devices offer more and more privacy options for their users. This also makes it more difficult to monitor and target the activities of users.
To comply with increasingly stringent data protection rules, GA4 is using Privacy Consent Mode. So some of the data measurement will be kept and will be included in reports, but it will no longer be possible to trace users by IP address, for example (IP address is personal data under GDPR, so GA4 will handle it separately).
Even so, it is still not possible to measure data with previous accuracy, so GA4 adds machine learning to the measured data. In the future, this will be a growing trend, where decisions will increasingly be based on predictive data estimated by the algorithm, in addition to measured data.
In GA4, there are no views, but you can organise several websites and mobile apps into one property, so you can even measure across domains.
There are less of the pre-built reports that many people used to have, GA4 relies more on custom reports, so be prepared to have to create and configure your own reports, even if you felt the basic Universal Analytics reports were sufficient.
False data detection
Instead of the easy-to-forge Tracking ID used by UA, GA4 also uses a secret key that is not publicly available, so it can eliminate unwanted referral traffic altogether.
In UA, several options were available for data retention: 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months, “do not expire”.
For GA4 properties, the maximum retention period for user-level data, including conversions, is 14 months. For the other event data, you can choose between 2 and 14 months, but regardless of your settings, age, gender and interest data will only be kept for 2 months.
What should I do?
The most important thing is to set up the GA4 as soon as possible so that it can start collecting data.
In addition, we also recommend that you
- save your data in Universal Analytics: data in UA will still be available for 6 months after the switch, so do this by the end of next year at the latest.
- as soon as GA4 starts measuring your data, compare it with the data measured by UA and analyse them in parallel to see how the changes will affect the reporting and analysis of your results.
How can I set up GA4?
If you are using an ecommerce engine to manage your online store, look for their guides (for example, you can find Shoprenter and Unas guides here).
Add a GA4 property to your site already running Universal Analytics
- In the Google Analytics interface, click on Admin in the bottom left corner.
- In the Account column, make sure the correct account is selected.
- In the Property column, select the UA property currently collecting data.
- Also in the Property column, click on GA4 Setup Assistant.
- In the “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property” section ” Start
- Select “Allow data collection with existing tags”, then select Create property.
Then, thanks to pre-defined events, the measurement of the most important events is automatically triggered.
If your site/CMS system uses analytics.js tags instead of gtag.js (the “Allow data collection with existing tags” option is not shown), follow Google’s instructions here.
If you don’t already have a Google Analytics account, the GA4 property will be included by default when you create it.
If you get stuck in the setup process, contact our expert team!
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