Say hello to Google Analytics 4

Alysia Caccuro, Director, Business Insights

January 31, 2021

Executive summary

The next generation of the popular site analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), has machine learning at its core and addresses key industry changes in privacy, applies event-based measurement modeling and offers enhanced multi-device customer journey tracking. For Google Analytics users, CMI Media Group recommends adding Google Analytics 4 along with your Google Universal Analytics property for dual tracking. 

Say hello to Google Analytics 4 

Google Analytics 4 unites measurement for apps and web sites and is the most significant update to the platform since the introduction of Universal Analytics in 2014. 

This new platform is “built to last” and will address the evolving challenges of media measurement in a 3rd party cookie-less world. Privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, will likely result in missing data as fewer people may consent to cookies. Google Analytics 4 is prepared to address these data gaps by relying on machine learning to fill in the blanks. 

There is no immediate need to shift to Google Analytics 4, but you can anticipate a broad shift within the next 2-3 years. However, Google Analytics 4 utilizes a new measurement model and best practices suggest adding it early and dual tracking. 

Why did Google Analytics change the measurement model? 

Universal Google Analytics was designed before mobile apps existed. The platform utilizes hit types such as page hits, event hits and social interaction hits. Now with mobile apps, the focus is on things you can do. To connect the two user experiences and bridge a common metric, Google Analytics 4 has shifted to an event-driven measurement model. A simple example of this change is measuring page views: a page view in Universal Analytics was a “hit”; a page view in Google Analytics 4 is an event.

This foundational measurement change means that data will not look the same in Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. According to Google, it is better to rethink your data collection in terms of the Google Analytics 4 data model rather than port your existing event structure into it. 

The measurement model may be the most significant change in the new platform, however there are several notable changes in reporting, platform design and tracking code structure. 

Four Notable Changes in Google Analytics 4

What else has changed?

Google Analytics 4’s approach is customer-centric measurement, as opposed to measurement fragmented by device or platform. It uses marketer-provided User IDs and unique Google Signals from users who opted into ads personalization, to give you a more complete view of how your customers interact with your business. Here are some additional changes in Google Analytics 4: 

Conversion is the ultimate goal: There are no longer goals in GA4, just conversions. All of these conversions are event based and not URL or dimension based. 

Codeless and Automatic Event Tracking: All hits are events and events such as video plays and scrolls are auto-tracked and do not require setup in Google Tag manager.

Focus on Source/Medium and not Channel Groupings: Although Google Analytics 4 has finally parsed “Paid Social” from “Paid Search,” it appears that custom channel groupings are no longer offered. For Universal Analytics users who rely on custom channel groupings for attribution or pathing analysis, this may require additional coding to re-map select tracking parameters to defined groups. 

More auto-generated insights powered by machine learning: This feature is a time saver, as you get instant visibility on program triggers without extensive data exploration. Also, Google is hinting that machine learning may also assist with forecasting conversions to offset data privacy losses. 

Moving toward Omnichannel: Attribution will be less rule based and will be moving toward cross platform integration, which is crucial when developing omnichannel marketing campaigns.

Reporting Expansion: Analysis Hub is a new reporting feature which will allow for a more robust customized reporting experience. 

Why should I dual track? 

Dual tracking is a best practice when migrating to an analytics platform. Running Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 at the same time allows the user to preserve historical data while taking advantage of the new platform as soon as possible. By collecting foundational data, the user creates a baseline, gaining the ability to adjust and fine tune reporting in Google Analytics 4, while maintaining a Universal Analytics reference point.

Google Analytics 4 is forward facing only, so it only captures data at the time of creation. It cannot import data from Universal Analytics, so the sooner you implement Google Analytics 4, the more data you will have at your disposal. It is critical to note that Google Analytics 4 tracks users differently than Universal Analytics, therefore, data will not look the same in the two properties.

CMI Media Group Recommendations for Client Action 

For new site implementations to Google Analytics, you will automatically default to GA4.

If you currently running Universal Analytics, adding a Google Analytics 4 property to your account is not difficult. To make the data meaningful, you need to adjust the basic settings in the property. 

Here is a handy task list of what you need to do in 2021: 

1. Create a Google Analytics 4 property: In the Property column, select the Universal Analytics property that currently collects data for your web site, then click GA4 Setup Assistant and Google will guide you through the setup.
Remember, your Universal Analytics property is left unchanged and continues to collect data. 

2. Enable enhanced measurement event tracking setting to “auto-capture”: In the Admin Panel, navigate to Data Streams and select the web data stream. The next window will open with a section called Enhanced Measurement

3. Connect Google Analytics 4 to your Google Ads: The process here is the same as Universal Analytics and the option to link Google Ads is found in the product linking tab under Admin. 

4. Check your data – retention settings: For Google Analytics 4 properties, retention of user-level data is fixed for up to 14 months. For all other event data, you may choose the length of retention.

5. Add your internal filters exclusions to your new Google Analytics 4 property: To align your data between the two properties, be sure to mirror the same exclusions such as internal IP addresses in Google Analytics 4 that are currently in Universal Analytics.

6. Dual track the data collection between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4: Set up internal checkups to compare and analyze the data between the two properties. This will build confidence that there is no disruption or unadjusted alignment to standard reporting.