What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (or GA4) is the newest version of Google’s free website analytics tools. It became the default version of Google Analytics in October of 2020, superseding the older Universal Analytics. Right now, you can still choose to use the old version instead of GA4, but with a little background info and some setup tips, you’ll be eager to adopt GA4 as soon as possible.
GA4 vs. Universal Analytics
Universal Analytics has been the standard web tracking tool since 2012. It’s allowed website developers and business owners to collect, sort, and export data about their users and how they interact with their website. Most importantly, certain actions can be designated as “goals.” Universal Analytics goals are usually associated with user actions like contact form fills or newsletter subscriptions. Then, these goals can be tied directly to Google Ads.
Universal Analytics works best when tracking a single domain or website. It has cross-domain tracking capability with some extra setup, and it can track users across websites and apps using the App + Web property configuration.
GA4 builds from the old App + Web property, so fundamentally, it is better suited to cross-domain and cross-platform tracking with minimal fuss. It accomplishes many of the same functions as Universal Analytics, and while there are still some features that seem to be missing, GA4 is being updated very frequently.
What’s Changed from Universal Analytics to GA4?
The biggest change is how actions are tracked. To put it simply, Universal Analytics tracks users based on page views while Google Analytics 4 tracks actions based on events.
An event in Google Analytics isn’t a party; it’s some kind of action that a user has made. It could be that they viewed a page, clicked a link, started a video, or nearly anything else. In Universal Analytics, events had to be coded into the website or created using a tool like Google Tag Manager. In GA4, there are all sorts of events that are tracked right out of the box, you can make some events directly in the user interface, and you have the flexibility to create much more precise custom events by mixing and matching aspects of Google’s recommended events.
GA4, of course, still gives demographic and location data, but GA4 excels at giving more precise data about how those users actually interact with the website or app.
GA4 Conversions vs. Universal Analytics Goals
GA4 has conversions rather than goals. Why is this important? First, the terminology change now means that GA4 matches Google Ads. Second, GA4 conversions have much more flexible definitions than Universal Analytics goals. For example, someone scrolling down 50% of a page is tracked as an event automatically in GA4. If you wanted that event to be a conversion, you can just find that event in a list and click a button to turn it into a conversion. Need to make something very specific into a website conversion? You (or an SEO) can make an event for it.
GA4 vs. Google Tag Manager
GA4 and Google Tag Manager (or GTM) are tools that complement each other. GTM allows you to install code snippets, like the GA4 tracking code, into your website easily. GTM also makes it easy to create custom events, which you can then use to really customize the data GA4 collects. Also, GA4’s new debug mode and near-instantaneous user-tracking makes troubleshooting your tracking setup much easier. You can use one without using the other, but they’re really meant to work in partnership.
Getting Started with GA4 In a future post, we’ll discuss implementing GA4 on a WordPress website using Google Tag Manager and a few settings you’ll want to turn on in GA4 right away. If you’re eager to get started with GA4, reach out to BadCat Digital.