Mastering GA4: A Six-Month Review and Comparison

Are you struggling to make sense of all the data that Google Analytics provides? Do you find it difficult to navigate through the new features of Google Analytics 4? If so, you’re not alone. Many business owners and marketers are in need of training to fully utilize the power of this analytics tool. In this video, we will examine the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics.

Transcript:

Welcome to Hack My Growth. This episode will examine the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics. We are six months into the official switchover from GA4 to Universal Analytics. GA4 has been around for quite a while, but now it’s the only form of Google Analytics processing data for us. In this video, we’re doing a six-month check-in to help you guys out in case you’re still not 100% familiar with GA4, how to use it, and why Google made the switch in the first place.

Why Did Google Create GA4?

Google created these new properties to help organizations accomplish three things.

Cross-platform data unification. We have a lot of data coming at us from many different platforms today, whether social channels, email, websites, etc. The goal of GA4 was to help unify that data and to make more sense of it.

Enhance the multi-touch attribution. This measures the events that were taking place between one action and another. They may have come to your site via organic traffic, come back later through social interaction, and so on.

Easier access to machine learning data science-type tools for all users in the marketing platform. Many of these features were only available to Google Analytics 360 customers. They’ve migrated some of those into GA4. These insights can be helpful if you know how to use them and where to look.

How Does Google Analytics 4 Change Digital Measurement?

Google Analytics 4 properties flatten and unify disparate metrics across digestible categories. This is going to help people better understand complete customer journeys. We need a shift in our mindset because we got used to Universal Analytics and using, honestly, a tool that can be harder to understand. But if we can reframe our mindsets and use GA4 properly, it can be beneficial.

GA4 is built with both mobile applications and websites in mind. It looks at mobile applications and users and shifts that conversion from sessions or visits to important events and actions. Google is shifting away from traffic metrics to user engagement metrics.

This is important for those of us in the SEO world because it helps us see how Google looks at data. While Google Analytics is not part of SEO or search, we can see this change in their goal with data and see how that applies to other sections of Google.

If you’ve read the search quality guidelines or deposition papers that recently came out based on the Google vs. USA document, you can see that user engagement is a very high priority for Google.

How Is GA4 Different From Universal Analytics?

Universal Analytics is based on sessions. These were the foundation of reporting. When someone entered your site, they would get a cookie, and the session started. From that session, there were two groups of users by interactions over a given timeframe.

In GA4, they are events-based, not session-based. You can still look at sessions, but they’re calculated differently than they would’ve been in Universal Analytics. Google is now looking more at the event and user experience across your website or app than just traffic coming in and out. Let’s head to Google Analytics and see what this looks like today.

Take the Guided Tour of GA4

Home Screen

This is Universal Analytics. It had a home screen, an overview of your users, how they came to your site, where they came from, and so forth. You’d have your real-time tabs, audience acquisition behavior, and conversions.

It is very different when we go over to GA4. It is still going to have a home screen. It still looks at users as the metric, and then the event counts based on those users. It has an excellent timeline, and you can adjust it seven days to any date you need. It’ll also show some real-time metrics. If you’ve got a recently accessed report, it will show up, and then they’ll also suggest some data points that may be helpful for you.

Navigation

When we look at the navigation for GA4, it’s a lot different. If you’re going to the navigation sidebar, Reports is the tab where you’ll find most of the information that you need as a marketer.

Reports Snapshot

From this, you’re going to see the user’s overview, including:

  • Real-time data
  • Insights–machine learning insights will be pulling out data points that may be helpful for you.
  • Where users are coming from
  • Channels–direct, cross-network, organic search, etc.

Acquisitions

Acquisitions is under the real-time tab. You must go to your acquisitions tab to see how people came to your site. Each report will have an overview screen, giving you a broad look at your data. You can look at the individual users and traffic. Traffic will give you session data. Users is going to provide you with user data.

Engagement

Engagement is where we will see how people are engaging with your website. From here, you will have the average engagement time, engagements per session, views versus events, and you can track events. It will also show user activity over time and how sticky they are. Are they engaging and staying on your website?

Events

Under engagement, you’ll find event tracking. You can create many events, like page views, scroll depth, and all of those things that GA4 will do for you when setting up your account. You can also create custom events via Google Tag Manager, which allows you to push event data into your Google Analytics account.

Conversions

You can mark specific events as conversions, which will be counted differently. You’ll find them by selecting the conversions tab. You can pull in total revenue if you import data on the data layer specifically, like the purchase data. This is something that used to be done within the e-commerce section of Universal Analytics, which now takes place under conversions in GA4.

Pages and Screens

Under engagement, you will find pages and screens. This is a helpful report. This used to be under the behavior section in Universal Analytics. If you want to look at how a specific page is performing, you can go to this report and search for it.

Let’s say I wanted to look at basket.html, and then it will pull all the pages with that in here. If you want to restrict this data and you want to see “organic search,” you will need a filter. Adding a filter to any of these screens, typically, there’s a box to “add filter.” Then, select what type of filter you want to add.

For instance, if you want to look at Google or organic search, you will want to put in something like a “default channel group,” and then you can look at “first user default group” or “session.” Let’s say, “When does the session start,” you use your session group, select “exactly matches,” and then you can select “organic search.” This will apply this filter to all the data on this screen. You’re just seeing organic data. To remove that filter, just click the X.

Landing Page

The Landing page tab also shows you what page people are coming in on, which is very helpful. One helpful part was the behavior flowcharts and the user flowcharts within Google Analytics. You can still recreate some of that information here in GA4. You can see some useful landing page data here, but let’s say you want to know how somebody moves through the site. To do that, you will have to go to the explore tab.

Explore Tab

Inside this tab, there are different options to explore. You can do it yourself; you use freeform, funnel exploration, or path. It’s going to start with the event name. Typically, a session starts when somebody comes into your website, and then they see a page view, and then first visit event name. But if you want to know what page they landed on, you will have to change these to a page title or screen name.

I like to use page title. If you have good titles, you can see what the page is. If you want to expand this more, you can start clicking on these different pages, and you’ll see the page path data that you used to see within Google Analytics.

As you can see in GA4, there’s a lot you can do with this tool. It is still very similar regarding the functionality of Universal Analytics if you can find the right tools in the right places. The big difference is the data’s different. Users and sessions are counted slightly differently. Events will be your main driver. Make sure you’re adding the events that are most helpful for your business, and mark the ones you want to track as conversions.

This was a quick overview and a six-month review. GA4 continues to add some functionality. It’s gotten better over time. I think Google is going to continue to invest in this product. There are many great things you could do. Setting events and conversions is much easier in GA4 than in Universal Analytics.

Explore this tool. If you have any questions or there’s something in the tool you like or don’t like, contact us! We’d love to hear your thoughts six months into the conversion from Universal Analytics to GA4. Thanks for checking out this video. If you found it helpful, please like and share it with a friend. And until next time, happy marketing.

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FAQs

Does GA4 replace GTM?

No, GA4 does not replace GTM (Google Tag Manager). GA4 and GTM are two separate tools with different functionalities. While both tools are important in the context of digital analytics and tracking, they serve different purposes. GA4 provides advanced analytics capabilities, while GTM facilitates the management and implementation of tracking codes. Companies can use both GA4 and GTM together to enhance their data tracking and analysis capabilities.

Can you use GA4 without Google Tag Manager?

Yes, GA4 can be used without Google Tag Manager. While Google Tag Manager is a tool that helps manage and deploy tracking tags on a website, GA4 can be implemented directly on a website without the need for Google Tag Manager. 

Does Google Analytics 4 require coding?

No, Google Analytics 4 does not necessarily require coding. It provides a wide range of features and capabilities that can be implemented without any coding knowledge. However, certain advanced customizations or integrations may require coding skills or assistance from a developer.

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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