NEWS • 11 April 2023

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 (or GA4) is the latest version of the web analytics tool created by Google. It was launched in October 2020 and is a significant update to the previous version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics or UA).

Google Analytics was first launched in 2005, when Google acquired Urchin Software Corporation. It was initially called Google Analytics Premium and was only available to paying customers but in 2007, Google launched a free version of Google Analytics, which made it accessible to a much wider audience. 

In 2013, the version of Universal Analytics we all know and love was introduced. This included many new tracking capabilities and improved integration with other Google products. Since then UA has remained largely unchanged.

In 2020, Google launched Google Analytics 4, a major update to the platform that introduced a new data model and new features such as cross-device tracking, machine learning-powered insights, and enhanced privacy controls.

Why was Google Analytics 4 created?

One of the primary reasons GA4 was created was to address the changing landscape of digital marketing and the increasing complexity of user behaviour across different devices and platforms.

With the rise of mobile devices, social media, and other digital channels, traditional web analytics tools such as UA were no longer enough to provide a complete picture of user behaviour. UA was primarily designed for web tracking, while GA4 provides a more comprehensive approach that includes tracking across mobile apps, web, and offline interactions.

The benefits of GA4 (and differences from UA)

GA4 is built on a new technology infrastructure and provides a more comprehensive approach to tracking user behaviour across different devices and platforms. It allows marketers and website owners to gather more data and insights about their users, including data on app usage, web browsing, and offline interactions.

There are several key differences between GA4 and UA:

  • Data Model: GA4 has a new data model that focuses on events rather than pageviews. In contrast, UA primarily tracks pageviews and sessions.
  • Cross-Platform Tracking: GA4 allows for cross-platform tracking, including web, mobile apps, and offline interactions, while UA tracks only web data by default.
  • AI and Machine Learning: GA4 integrates machine learning algorithms, which provide more relevant and useful insights to users, such as predicting churn, session replay, and automatic alerts for significant events. UA doesn’t have this level of AI integration.
  • User-centric: GA4 is more user-centric, tracking users instead of sessions, which is the case in UA. This enables marketers to understand the full customer journey and make better decisions.
  • Enhanced Privacy Controls: GA4 comes with enhanced privacy controls and allows marketers to manage user data effectively, making it more compliant with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA.

Overall, GA4 provides a more modern and flexible approach to web analytics and enables marketers to gain deeper insights into their customers’ behaviour and optimise their marketing efforts accordingly.

The downsides to Google Analytics 4

While GA4 offers many advantages, there are also some downsides to be aware of:

  • Data Migrations: One of the significant downsides of GA4 is that it requires data migration from UA to the new platform. This can be a complex process, especially for websites that have been using UA for a long time.
  • Limited Third-Party Integration: GA4 is a new platform, and some third-party integrations are still not available or are limited compared to UA. This may make it difficult to use GA4 with other marketing and analytics tools.
  • Customisation Limitations: GA4 offers fewer customisation options than UA, although Google is adding more over time.
  • Learning Curve: GA4 has a new interface, which can be confusing for users who are used to UA’s interface. The more complex data model and new features in GA4 also require a steeper learning curves.

Making the switch to GA4

In March 2022, Google announced they would be sunsetting Universal Analytics and from July 2023 it will stop processing new data altogether. Accounts will remain active and be accessible for 6 months but by the end of 2023, Universal Analytics will be no more.

We’ve been making the switch for all of our clients since July 2022 and so most new GA4 account will contains 12 months of data. There’s a learning curve to the new UI and data model but we’re excited about the opportunities GA4 will bring to user behaviour analysis and ultimately what that could mean for improved marketing efforts and user experience.


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