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What is Google Analytics 4? A Complete Guide for Marketers

Peter Foy
Peter Foy
Written by
Peter Foy
Marketing at AgencyAnalytics
Mar 04
Mar 4, 2021

With the introduction of Google Analytics 4 several months ago and AgencyAnalytics' recent integration release with the platform, it seems like a good opportunity to review the key features and differences of the upgrade, as well as how to make the transition from the current version. 

At its core, Google Analytics 4 is focused on providing more data throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer journey. In other words, there is much more data available after a customer has been acquired, including their level of engagement, monetization, and retention. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Google Analytics 4 as a marketer, including:

Let’s get started.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Formerly known as “App + Web”, Google Analytics 4 is a new property that came out of beta in October 2020. One of the main reasons for this upgrade that Google cites in their announcement is due to shifts in consumer behavior and major changes to online privacy policies. These shifts, alongside research by Forrest Consulting, led Google to the conclusion that current analytics solutions didn’t provide a complete view of the customer journey, which is a largely cross-platform experience these days. As the Forrester survey highlights:

More than half of those surveyed say simply managing the volume of data is a huge challenge. Their data is siloed with different teams and the analytics tools they’ve used in the past haven’t been able to keep up.

To solve this, the new Google Analytics offers a machine learning-based approach to both surfacing cross-platform insights and a privacy-centric approach:

It has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms. It’s privacy-centric by design, so you can rely on Analytics even as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data. 

Although several AI-based insights have been available since 2016, a few examples of its new capabilities include:

  • Automatic alerts of trends in the data, such as increased demand for a specific product

  • Anticipating customer actions by calculating churn probability

  • Other predictive metrics such as revenue estimates from audience groups

Churn probability: Google Analytics 4

Key Features & Benefits of Google Analytics 4

Now that we know what Google Analytics 4 is and a few reasons for the change, let’s discuss the core features, differences, and benefits of the upgrade in more detail.

Deeper integration with Google Ads

One of the major changes that advertisers have been requesting of Google Analytics is a tool to measure both app and web integrations together. In particular, the integration allows you to see in-app and web conversions for Google Ads, YouTube Ads, other non-Google paid channels such as Facebook, and organic channels including search, social, and email. This integration of mobile and app data helps simplify the process of measuring the overall impact of all your marketing investments, regardless of the acquisition channel.

Customer-centric measurement

Another major focus of the upgrade is a more customer-centric approach to tracking the customer journey, which is typically a fragmented experience involving multiple devices and platforms. As Google describes:

It uses multiple identity spaces, including marketer-provided User IDs and unique Google signals from users opted into ads personalization, to give you a more complete view of how your customers interact with your business.

Again this comes down to knowing exactly where customers are coming from and what actions they’re taking throughout their lifecycle interacting with a business.

Reorganized reporting

In terms of reporting, Google’s goal was to simplify the process of tracking a customer throughout a marketing funnel. For example, below you can see they have a new section called “Life Cycle”, which includes reports for:

  • Acquisition

  • Engagement

  • Monetization

  • Retention

Google Analytics previously only had the Acquisition report, so these new sections offer much more visibility into the later stages of the customer lifecycle. 

In addition to these reports, another new reporting capability is the “Analysis” section, which provides several templates to analyze conversion funnels, user journey, cohort analysis, and more:

A new approach to data controls

Finally, the new Google Analytics is designed to adapt to the new privacy landscape with more granular controls on how you collect, retain, and analyze user data. Specifically, they are designing an approach to data collection that doesn’t use cookies or identifiers. Instead, the new platform will rely more on data modeling to fill in gaps in the customer journey where data may be incomplete or inaccessible.

Best Practices for Migrating to Google Analytics 4

If you’re setting up a completely new property you’ll be using GA4 by default, although in this section we’ll discuss how to make the transition if you’re still using the legacy version.

Since Google Analytics 4 isn’t just a revamp of the old version and instead is a completely new tool, this means you’ll need to start the transition by having both implementations set up simultaneously—one for Universal Analytics and the other for GA4. 

It’s recommended to create a new GA4 property as quickly as possible since you can’t import data from the legacy version. In other words, you’ll want to start collecting data and getting familiar with the tool before completely replacing the legacy version. Since this is how Google recommends transitioning, we’ve also got both integrations available inside AgencyAnalytics:

In the resource Google provides to add a GA4 property to a site that’s already using Universal analytics, they state that while you can’t import all your previous data, the two accounts will be “linked”. This means you can use the Setup Assistant in GA4 to migrate configurations from your Universal Analytics property to the new property.

One other important distinction to be aware of during the migration process is that Google Analytics 4 properties don’t use the “Views” reporting structure, and instead use “Data Streams”. During the setup process, you’re required to connect a data stream and configure it based on whether you’re connecting a web or app data stream. The marketing agency Bounteous provides the following insight into the setup process:

When configuring a web data stream, there is an option for "Enhanced measurement." This is plug-and-play event tracking that only requires the flip of a toggle to configure. These events will not require any additional tracking configuration.

When configuring an app data stream, you'll be guided through data stream config and will then be directed to add the Firebase SDK.

Keep in mind the Universal Analytics property isn't going away anytime soon, although connecting a data stream and learning how to use the tool will put you ahead of the competition when it comes to analytics.

Summary: Getting Started With Google Analytics 4

In summary, Google Analytics 4 is designed to help businesses and marketers with several key outcomes, including unifying cross-platform data and providing more customer data after the initial acquisition, such as engagement, monetization, and retention. The platform also provides more access to their machine learning insights and data science analysis, much of which was previously only available in the enterprise-level Google Analytics 360.

Although the legacy platform isn't going away anytime soon and it will likely take years to completely replace Universal Analytics, it's recommended to create a new GA4 property as soon as possible and start gathering data alongside your existing properties. This allows you to start familiarizing yourself with the upgrade, stay ahead of the competition, and take advantage of the latest insights as they're implemented.

If you want to see exactly what's available in the AgencyAnalytics integration with Google Analytics 4, check out our recent blog post announcement that highlights all the new metrics and sections available.

Peter Foy
Peter Foy
Written by
Peter Foy
Marketing at AgencyAnalytics
Peter Foy is a content marketer with a focus on SaaS companies. Based in Toronto, when he’s not writing he’s usually studying data science and machine learning.

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