the new features of google analytics 4

Migrate to Google Analytics 4

This July 1, 2023, Google permanently retires the application that has accompanied us in our web analytics for the last ten years: Universal Analytics. In doing so, it concludes a migration process that began three years ago, with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 in 2020. Although at that time it was not yet called that.

The change has caused an earthquake in the digital ecosystem since both versions are not compatible with each other, and switching from one to another involves a process, misnamed migration, which can sometimes be complex.

Indeed, Google Analytics 4 does not allow the import of historical data stored in Universal Analytics, which can be strategically important for those who need to perform comparative analysis with previous periods. For example, the case with an ecommerce that needs to contrast the results of this year’s Black Friday campaign with those of previous years.

To avoid this problem, the Google team insisted over the last two years that we install the new GA4 in parallel to UA, thus overlapping both measurements. As was predictable, many people did not carry out the integration until the last moment. Some have not even done it after the blackout.

In the following lines, we will try to find a solution to this situation.

What changes does GA4 entail?

GA4 represents a radical change in the way data from your digital assets is acquired and processed. There are several very important differences compared to previous versions.

Web + app

Google Analytics 4 allows tracking and analysis of both websites and mobile applications. This means you can gain insights and metrics on the performance of your website as well as the usage of your mobile app, all in one place. This is especially useful in a world where many businesses have a presence on both the web and mobile platforms.

All is about events

One of the main features of GA4 is that it is based on an event-centric model. In previous versions of Google Analytics, the focus was primarily on page views. However, in GA4, all data is collected and organized into events. An event can be any action that users take on your website or app, such as clicking a button, playing a video, or submitting a form. This allows for a higher level of flexibility and customization in data analysis.

Machine learning

GA4 leverages the power of machine learning to provide more detailed and valuable insights. It uses machine learning algorithms to perform advanced data analysis and uncover hidden patterns and trends. This helps identify opportunities and challenges for your business such as high-value audience segments, revenue predictions, and specific user behaviors. The artificial intelligence and machine learning in GA4 also allow for the creation of custom models to predict future user behavior.

Cross-platform and cross-device tracking

GA4 has an enhanced ability to effectively distinguish users who browse your site from different devices or browsers. It can now tell if the same user accessed your website from their mobile browser in the morning, through the office computer in the afternoon, and on your business app from their tablet at night. User accounting is thus more accurate, and we can fully trace the customer journey.

Data-driven attribution

GA4 offers more accurate and comprehensive data-based attribution compared to previous versions. With data-based attribution, you can better understand how different marketing channels and user actions contribute to your business goals. You can see which traffic sources and marketing tactics generate more conversions and make informed decisions about resource allocation. The attribution of responsibility for each marketing action is much more precise and fair as it is distributed based on how effective it has been with each type of user, statistically speaking.

Should I install GA4?

The answer to this question is always “it depends.” If you’ve used Universal Analytics on your website, it seems reasonable to make the switch and collect data in GA4. However, this has its technical and legal implications.

As you may already know, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires user permission to perform analytical processing of their data. This reason alone justifies the use of a cookie banner for any website whose potential target is not only the European Union, but also other countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Switzerland, Canada, some states in the U.S., and increasingly more countries around the world.

On the other hand, it’s very likely that for many of the people reading this article, server analytics will be sufficient, thus avoiding this small legal quandary.

Statistics on SiteGround

At SiteGround, we have an entire section in the Site Tools dedicated exclusively to statistics, where you’ll find very interesting information about your website.

In it, you can access useful information such as the volume of traffic your website receives, the countries of origin, the source of visits (search engines, social networks, other sites), your most viewed content or pages, and the technology used by your visitors (browser and operating system).

The collected information can be viewed both in line chart format to measure temporal evolution, as well as in bar charts or tables to consult absolute values.

The analysis periods are monthly, and the information is updated with a frequency much higher than that of Google Analytics, which can take up to 24 hours to consolidate its data.

The main aspect you should consider with these reports is that they are based on what is known as server logs, a type of data that does not discriminate between bots and human users. Therefore, the data volumes may not accurately represent the number of readers or customers of your online asset. In any case, the evolutionary information of the traffic, month by month, is very useful to understand the growth of your website and the content with the highest demand.

Alternatives to GA4

If the information from SiteGround’s statistics is not enough and you want to continue avoiding managing legal aspects related to user privacy, it is recommended that you install another general analytics solution like Matomo, or specific ones for WordPress like Fathom, Koko Analytics, or Simple Analytics, for example.

But if you want to conduct a thorough analysis of your site’s traffic and performance, understand how users interact with your content, identify the most effective traffic acquisition channels, or discover those elements with the greatest potential for improvement on your website, GA4 is the most comprehensive tool and the current industry standard. Moreover, there is already quite comprehensive official documentation, tons of guides on user blogs, and thousands of videos showing many of its advanced features.

How to install GA4

There are several ways to install GA4. All of them work similarly to how it was done with Universal Analytics. If you were already using this tool, the easiest way is to change the tracking code or the identifier from one to the other.

You will find the Measurement ID in Admin > Data Streams > Web Stream Details, and you will recognize it because it is a ‘G’ followed by a dash and a series of characters, for example, G-PSW1MY7HB4. This ID from the example is the web stream identifier of the Google Merchandise Store, a property that Google shares for demonstration purposes and that you can consult whenever you already have a Google user.

In this same space, a little further down, in the Google Tag section, you will find the View Tag Instructions section, where Google offers some recommendations on how to install the tracking code on your website, either through the Measurement ID that you obtained in the previous step, or through the complete script for a manual installation.

The most comprehensive formula for all those WordPress users who care about respecting the privacy of their visitors is to add the GA4 tracking script to their website through a cookie plugin. For example, GDPR Cookie Compliance has a section in its settings for third-party cookies where you can add it.

As soon as you complete and save the configuration (follow the official plugin documentation to make sure you don’t miss anything), your GA4 property will be tracking all those visits that accept the cookie policy of your website.

The future of GA4

Over the next few years, Google Analytics 4 will be present on millions of websites. Not only on those where its tracking code is installed, but also in hundreds of thousands of tutorials, manuals, tips, and courses.

You can be sure that Google Analytics will continue to be the standard and that its tool will continue to grow day by day. The current version still needs to be polished in many aspects, but changes and updates that increase its potential are published every week.

The closure of Universal Analytics should mean a reorientation to GA4 of the many resources it consumed, so it seems logical to think that the steps it will take in the coming times will be larger and more firm.

For those of us who have been working with it daily for many months, it is already a very useful resource that is difficult to tame but gives us a much broader and deeper view of our digital assets. We know that the learning curve is steep and that it is difficult to overcome resistance to change, but we are sure that if you give a little love to your Google Analytics 4, you will be getting sparks out of it in a few hours.

Have you tried it yet? What did you think? Have you encountered any problems? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments.

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author avatar

Pablo Moratinos

Growth Data Specialist at Product Hackers

Marketing consultant specialized in digital analytics has more than 10 years of experience helping digital businesses improve the performance of their efforts on the internet. He is the author of «Business online. Data driven Marketing», from Anaya Multimedia publishing house, top sales in its category on Amazon during its launch.

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