8 Things to Know About Google Analytics 4

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google’s analytics platform. The current version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics, will no longer process traffic as of July 1st, 2023. At that point any visitor tracking, or conversion tracking — as well as any report in Google Universal Analytics — will no longer contain new data. As a result, to continue collecting web traffic information, you will need to migrate to Google Analytics 4. Here’s my top 10 things you should know prior to converting your analytics to GA4.

1.) Google Analytics 4 Data Migration

First, it’s not possible as of this writing to migrate your historical Google Universal Analytics data into Google Analytics 4. Data will not be backfilled, and data will only be collected in GA4 once the account is created. Google suggests running GA4 and Universal Analytics side by side to begin to build data in GA4 while you move away from UA.

Note, that you can migrate annotations to GA4 from Universal Analytics, using the CSV bulk upload tool. You can see a full tutorial on how to do that here.

While it’s known that Universal Analytics will stop processing data on July 1st, 2023, it’s not known when Universal Analytics will no longer be accessible. My suggestion is to add the GA4 tag as soon as possible to begin collecting data. Then once the data is close enough for comfort, make an annotation of that date and you’ll know what system holds what data.

2.) Events, not Goals

With Google Analytics 4, Google has blended the tracking previously known as Events and Goals. In Universal Analytics, you might have setup specific button clicks, or or page duration as an event. Meanwhile, your eCommerce tracking might have been setup as goals. With GA4, both will be setup as events. Using events, rather than goals, allows Google to appropriately track actions users track within your application, which leads me to change in Google Analytics.

3.) Web & Application Tracking Now Available

In one of the largest improvements in Google Analytics, GA4 is now able to track both web & app information, making GA4 a full mobile measurement partner. If you’ve used Google’s Firebase — their initial tool to track app analytics — you’ll actually notice that the GA4 design is very similar to Firebase. GA4 combines the power of Firebase and the previous web analytics platform. This means you can track your web events, as well as in-app events in a single interface. Events such as account creations, login, and even things such as how users use your application or online portal.

If you’re already familiar with Firebase, you can even sync events from Firebase to GA4 – or from GA4 to Firebase.

4.) Your Traffic will be Lower

There’s two changes that Google has made which impact traffic reporting — and almost certain will decrease the amount of traffic reported.

Google now automatically excludes known bot traffic. Secondly, Google has also changed a default metric from reporting all sessions to reporting just engaged sessions. There are 3 ways a user could be counted as an engaged session:

  • The user remained active on your site for at least 10 seconds
  • They took 1 or more conversion events, such as a signup or lead creation
  • They visited 2 or more pages/screens

It is possible to add sessions back as a metric reported on using the customize reports option. However, it will continue to exclude the known bot traffic.

5.) Moving Beyond the Cookie

Google Analytics 4 is not cookie-less but it is prepared for a cookie-less future. GA4 at the present time uses cookies where possible, but all cookies are first-party cookies remaining compliant with GDPR & CCPA. While there aren’t many details available, Google has indicated it will be using machine learning to fill in the gaps where they can’t collect data due to a lack of cookies.

6.) Cross Device Reporting Capabilities

GA4 can now identify and de-dupe when a user engages with your website or application across multiple devices — cross-device reporting. It does this using identity spaces and reporting identities.

There are four different identity spaces available, which are used to identify a user engaging across multiple devices.

  • User ID: If you assign visitors a user ID, it can be shared with Google to identify that the user is engaging across multiple devices. This is the most accurate method of cross-device reporting.
  • Google Signals: Many users have Google accounts now, especially with Gmail being so popular. Google is able to identify if the same user is engaging across multiple devices if the user is using the same Google account on their device. In order for this to work, a user does need to opt in to the sharing of information within their Google account.
  • Device ID: Google can use the device ID to dedupe traffic from the same device, such as a user engaging on both your website and mobile application.
  • Modeling: In a situation where users have chose not to share information, Google will model based on information from users who do share information.

7.) Server-side Tracking is Now Available

Universal Analytics required you to place a snippet of javascript on your site to track users – this would be called client-side tracking as the reporting back to Google Analytics was performed by the user’s browser. GA4 supports server-side tracking, which means the data is processed by a server you setup and reported back to Google Analytics. This results in much more accurate tracking as server-side tracking cannot be blocked by browsers.

8.) New attribution measurements available

Be gone with last click attribution! Finally, Google Analytics supports new attribution methods which can allow you to see the full funnel of each channel’s contribution to a conversion. Historically with last click attribution, activities such as Facebook advertising may have resulted in the user first engaging with your site. Then perhaps they engaged with affiliate, and finally signed up after using Google Search to locate your site. Despite Facebook, and the affiliate both playing a role, the only channel to get credit would be Google Search.

  • Data-driven attribution (my preference): uses Google’s machine learning/artificial intelligence to determine what channel most likely caused the conversion.
  • Last click attribution: the most commonly used method, which ignores all activity but the last click. Whatever channel the user reached your site through last, is credited as the source of the signup.
  • First click attribution: similar to last click, but instead of the last activity, it credits the first activity as the source of the signup.
  • Linear attribution: the most fair method of giving credit, linear attribution evenly distributes attribution across all engaged channels.
  • Position-based attribution: the first and last clicks get 80% of the credit – the remain 20% is spread between all channels engaged with in between the first and last clicks.
  • Time-decay attribution: those channels engaged with most recently, get more credit. Specifically, Google uses a 7-day time decay, so a channel engaged with 8 days prior to conversion gets half as much credit as a channel engaged with within 7 days.

Common Google Analytics 4 Questions

What are GA4 Events?

Google Analytics 4 has merged the tracking of goals and events into a single tracking mechanism called events. This allows for GA4 to seamlessly blend the tracking of web & app activity. Events allow you to track everything you previously did with goals, as well as any event tracking required.

What attribution is available in GA4?

GA4 introduces 6 methods of attribution, including data-driven, last-click, first-click, linear, position-based and time-decay. My suggestion is to continue using last-click while you convert from GA UA to GA4. Once you’re fully on GA4, you can switch to a new attribution method; my suggested being data-driven.

Is GA4 cookie-less?

Not at the moment, as it does use first-party cookies where it can. However GA4 is prepared to operate without cookies.