Google Analytics 4 Changes Everything

If you’re just hearing the news, Google Analytics has recently announced a major update to their product. Google Analytics 4 (or GA4 for short) is now the default property type for all Google Analytics accounts moving forward, and there are some major changes to be aware of. To be frank, the changes to Google Analytics in this version are shocking and will certainly take a while to get accustomed to.

Google Analytics 4 is designed for comprehensive user analysis.

The days of single session reporting are gone and GA4 is a step closer to closing the gap on cross-platform user journeys with a focus on user acquisition, retention, segmentation, and lifetime value.

In this article we are going to be covering the top 9 updates to Google Analytics, common FAQs, and what that means for your website, app, and/or business.

9 Critical Updates to Google Analytics:

#1: Brand new data

When you create a Google Analytics 4 property, or upgrade your existing account, you will starting with fresh data across the board. While your existing Universal Analytics properties will not lose any data, and you can continue to use it, the Google Analytics for property will start collecting new session/user data, and will unfortunately not have any historical data within the property.

Because of this, we recommend having both the Universal Analytics property and the GA4 property on the website together for the time being. Learn more about how to upgrade your property to Google Analytics 4 or create a new one here.

P.S. our favorite implementation method is with Tag Manager.

#2: “Goals” and conversions

Just like you will be receiving new user and session data in your GA4 property… events and goal conversions have been completely overhauled. Technically, there are no “goals” in GA4, just conversions. And by the looks of it, all of the conversions must be event based and not URL based or any of the other methods we were previously familiar with. This means that after you get your property set up and installed, you need to enable the enhanced measurement event tracking setting to auto-capture more events and then start to assign certain events as conversions within the property.

In our brief experience, event and conversion tracking in GA4 is both more simple and more complex at the same time. On one hand, GA4 makes it easy for us to track standard event types like link clicks file downloads in video plays without a single touch of code or Tag Manager. On the other hand, creating additional event types for things like e-commerce, or custom form conversions may prove to be difficult for those who are not very technical.

Learn more about the four types of event tracking in GA4 here.

#3: Automatic event tracking

Unlike Universal Analytics, where an event was a “hit type”… in GA4, all hits are events. That means that most meaningful events in the browser or app is automatically being captured and sent to the property.

This is a benefit to those who are less technical, but could potentially add a lot of noise and confusion within the property by the sheer volume of events available.

Learn more about event tracking with GA4 in what you need to know for your business type here.


#4: Views and filters

If you’ve set up your GA4 property by now, you may be surprised to see that there are no “views” to be found. Period. We are actually happy to see this, as views in Google Analytics are often misused and can easily be replaced by some thoughtful filters and segmentation. We encourage you to take a closer look at your previous views and Universal Analytics and see how you could transfer those to a segment.

Now what about filters? While we are used to seeing filters at the view level in our existing analytics properties, filters are now found at the property level and are a little trickier to implement.

By default, the new Google Analytics filters out bot and spam traffic automatically (which is nice). With that being said, we still need to go in to the property and exclude our internal traffic, development environments, etc.

Learn more about filtering traffic in GA4 here.

#5: Channel Groupings

By the looks of it, the default channel groupings in GA4 have changed quite a bit. In addition, it seems like GA4 focuses less on channel groupings and more on source/medium combinations to analyze traffic acquisition sources and attribution.

For the new channel groupings, they have finally parsed “Paid Social” from “Paid Search” which we are excited to see. We will be eager to see how this evolves over time and if Google will add additional channels to the mix and provide additional guidance on best practices for UTM tracking and auto tagging. With that being said, it does appear that custom channel groupings are currently unavailable with GA4 which changes quite a bit if you were mapping certain UTM parameters to assigned groups.

Learn more about the new default channel groupings here.

#6: Improved auto insights and machine learning

The powers that be at Google are leveraging their best machine learning technology to provide automated insights and intelligence to analytics users.

The insights gathered from the machine learning algorithms look very promising and are an exciting way to gain new insights and visibility on problem triggers without doing any dirty work.

In addition, Google has mentioned that they may use these machine learning tools for future features such as forecasting conversions, right sizing sessions to offset data privacy losses, and more.


#7: Robust reporting and analysis tools

One of the most exciting features of GA4 is the expansion of the reporting, analysis, and customization tools. With a robust set of templates, we are able to analyze user behavior with improved user experience and visibility in ways that we have never been able to before in Universal Analytics.

In addition, the funnel analysis, user retention, and cross-device tools seem to be miles ahead of where we were before with Universal Analytics. The only thing we are having a hard time narrowing down are the multi-channel funnels and attribution modeling tools. We hope to see Google add these to the new product in future or at least make the feature more accessible if it already exists.

#8: Built to last

According to their own documentation, Google Analytics 4 is the future of Google Analytics and will be the platform that will receive continued updates and maintenance. Google Analytics 4 is prepared to withstand the inevitable blow that data compliance regulations like GDPR and CCPA will have on the accuracy of our reporting.

In addition to that, the cross device and cross platform tracking capabilities in GA4 are far superior to that of Universal Analytics and will continue to evolve over time as new technologies get released. If you are a website and app owner, GA4 closes a much needed gap in the user journey and will take your analytics game to new heights.

#9: Quick actions you can take today

Here are a few pieces of advice that you can take action on with GA4 today:

  • Keep both the Universal Analytics and GA4 properties on-site for some time before cutting ties with UA.
  • Connect GA4 with your Google Ads properties.
  • Check your data-retention settings (the default date range is not ideal).
  • Add your internal filter exclusions to the property.
  • Read. Despite what Google may say, this product is far more complex than it appears. You’ll want to spend some time in the documentation to fully understand the fundamentals of the tracking platform.