GA4 is the new version of Google Analytics that is very different from Universal Analytics. It is said to provide AI-powered insights, track users across devices and provide more granular data controls. GA4 intends to use machine learning processing to fill in the gaps where business can’t understand their customer base completely because users opt out of cookies and data collection. The overall analysis is shifted from user focused to behavior focused. New Google Analytics properties now default to GA4.
In general, version 4 will help companies that have an app, have a software-as-a-service business model or want to enhance their advanced remarketing.
Below are our major observations on GA4 and how it is different from Universal Analytics.
The major change in concept is that GA4 is based on Users and Events.
- Pageview is no longer a first class citizen. It is now treated as Event.
- GA4 events support any attributes. Pre-defined event category, event action and event label are gone. There are no pre-built event reports.
- Current event tracking code needs to be updated if you wish to migrate to GA4. There is a limit of 500 event names.
- Sessions are also treated as events (session_start event). It appears to be treated differently than sessions in Universal Analytics. (https://www.qa2l.com/blog/211-google-analytics-4-exploring-sessions-with-debugview). There are no detailed documents regarding this.
- Custom Dimensions are retired since events can have any attribute.
- Pre-built reports still need improvement. For example, it would be nice to see reports including a horizontal scroll bar that allows users to see all columns on the same page. Some reports only contain charts with no option to see detailed data.
- In general, GA4 will require more customization to maximize usage, including creating customized reports and updating customized event tracking.
- The best part of GA4 is its raw data export. However, raw GA4 data in BigQuery is nested data. If you plan to integrate with your backend system, the data needs to be transformed in order to be able to join with your database. Reach out to us if you have such needs. SkyGlue offers data transformation and data integration services.
Nonetheless, all merchants should create a Google Analytics 4 property to benefit from the updated reporting and enhanced features that will come in time. The current version 4 is just the beginning. Our assessment is it will take some time for existing Universal Analytics users to fully switch to GA4 (e.g. wait for Google to develop better pre-built reports) and make it truly useful. We suggest you to run GA4 in parallel with your existing Universal Analytics. If you need help setting on GA4 in Google Tag Manager, reach out to us and we can help out.