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Analytics 16 min read

Google Analytics 4 Overview:
To Leave Or To Stay?

google analytics overview
Vlada Malysheva
Vlada Malysheva
Creative writer at
OWOX
To be or not to be? Today, Shakespeare is more relevant than ever for marketers and analysts: is Google Analytics 4 ready to become the primary tool for marketing analysis, or is it too early for that?

Let's look at what the next generation of Google Analytics offers by considering its benefits and disadvantages. Is it worth sending Universal Analytics to the attic?

Spoiler hint: No, it's still useful.

What is Google Analytics 4

Google introduced Google Analytics 4 by calling it the future of Google Analytics. Let's figure out if that's true and see how much better, more interesting, and more useful everything has become in everyone's favorite free service.

As businesses transition online under the harsh conditions of the pandemic and quarantine, each cent matters. Marketing budgets are shrinking and marketers' expectations are growing. In order to make informed decisions, you need to rely on up-to-date data and all the information you know about your customers.

The new generation of Google Analytics is built around user actions. Given significant changes in user behavior (more devices, a complex and fragmented path to conversion, restrictions on personal data collection), this approach seems quite logical.
GlobalWebIndex research infographic for 2020
For example, according to a 2020 report by GlobalWebIndex, consumers are increasingly using smartphones to find, buy, and pay for products and services.

Today, your brand isn't just a website. It's a mobile application, a YouTube channel, and profiles on social networks. Your customers want to see your company and buy your products when it's comfortable for them. Google Analytics 4 takes this into account and helps you track user behavior on different platforms in the same place.

New capabilities

Google claims that Google Analytics 4 is still suitable for all businesses — not only those who have both a website and a mobile application.

What's new in the product? The interface has changed along with the data model, monitored metrics, and the property type itself, now you can track the user's path across different devices and platforms. It doesn't matter how exactly your customers interact with you — their actions will be monitored.

Interface

new interface of Google Analytics
As you can see, the Google Analytics interface has changed significantly. At first glance, the left menu has become smaller and more straightforward; numerous drop-down report menus have disappeared. Why did this happen? Reports are now grouped around events, user data, and the path to conversion.

The Google team believes this approach will be more productive for businesses. Also, the additional parameters for all your events are now available to you, which adds flexibility to report settings.
Important! Due to the new approach to data transfer, real-time reports in Google Analytics 4 can have a delay of several minutes.
To get to know the new interface, we recommend watching this video with Krista Seiden, an analytics consultant at Google: Walkthrough of the Google Analytics 4 User Interface.

Integration with Google Ads

One of the new version's main advantages is seamless integration with other Google products (keep in mind that this functionality hasn't been finalized yet). Google is especially highlighting improved integration with Google Ads. According to the latest service update, audiences from Google Analytics 4 are supported in Google Ads Search campaigns.

Machine learning

Google Analytics 4 uses machine learning (ML) to alert marketers to essential changes in data. At the moment, you can use ML for insights and predictive metrics.

You can see insights by clicking the Insights button at the top right of the page. In the pull-down menu, you'll see all the information the system considers necessary to show you along with the search bar.
Google Analytics insights
The second function of ML is for predictive metrics. They're available in the Analysis Hub, which you can access from the Analysis tab in the left menu. It's assumed that Google will still add new features to this section, so follow the updates!
new version of Google Analytics
Using machine learning in Google Analytics 4, you can:
See anomalies in reports
Predict the likelihood of conversion (and send new audiences to Google Ads)
Predict an increase in demand for goods
Predict the probability of an outflow of customers and prevent it and do a whole lot more.
Google Analytics insights
SEO Strategies That Use Natural Language Processing

Control over data use

Google continues to prepare for a future with limited use of identifiers and personal data for advertising — the so-called world without cookies. Privacy is a priority!

In Google Analytics 4, you control access to data in your account. You can also decide whether to use data to personalize advertising campaigns or only to evaluate advertising effectiveness.
Google Analytics confidential

Cross-platform user identification

Thanks to three levels of identification, Google Analytics 4 considers real users who have interacted with your brand on different platforms rather than devices and browsers:
User_id
Google Signals
Device_id
Google Analytics 4 can evaluate, combine, and remove duplicates of user interactions to give you a full understanding of your customers' behavior.

For a more detailed assessment of the new features in Google Analytics 4, you can watch one of the latest videos from the Google team: Product Deep Dive: The New Google Analytics.

Differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics

Since Google Analytics 4 is being refined and continuously improved, this list of differences may change over time.
1
Data model. The most crucial difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics is that the new generation of Google Analytics is built around events. In contrast, Universal Analytics was based on user sessions. Now everything, even a Page View, is an event.
2
Views. The service structure has changed, and now there's simply no such thing as a view. Accordingly, there are no view filters either. In Google Analytics 4, you have organizations, accounts, properties, and data streams.
3
Google Analytics tracking code. The ID in the tracking code has changed. Previously, it looked like UA-XXXXXX-X; with Google Analytics 4, it has the format G-XXXXXXX.
4
Anonymous IP addresses. In the new version, anonymization is enabled by default and cannot be disabled.
5
Default website metrics or enhanced measurement. This section in Google Analytics 4 allows you to immediately enable the collection of data about various user actions on the website (scrolling, searching, downloading files, etc.). The main thing here is that you don't need to change the website code; the Google Analytics tag will start working without your intervention.
6
Tracking engagement. Google Analytics 4 has completely changed the approach to tracking user engagement. You now have an entire section with Engagement reports, from an overview of how users interact with your brand to Events and Pages and Screen reports (engagement time, conversions, number of events, and other metrics)
7
Sampling. This pain of all marketers when working with Google Analytics seems to be a thing of the past. The new generation of Google Analytics promises no data sampling in standard reports. However, when working with reports in the Analysis section, be careful! There, the chance of sampling persists.
8
Historical data limit. In the previous version, you could set an unlimited retention period for historical data. In the new Google Analytics 4, you can't. The maximum shelf life for data is 14 months. Tip: Use data storage such as Google BigQuery to avoid this.
9
E-commerce module. Now, e-commerce isn't divided into ordinary and enhanced. Moreover, in Google Analytics 4, the structure and names of events and parameters have changed. This means that simply copying your settings won't work. You need to reconfigure everything and follow the new schema that can be found in the Help center.
10
Integration with Google products. Unlike in Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 currently only integrates with Google Ads and Google BigQuery. The good news is that in the past, transferring data to Google BigQuery was a paid function. Now it's available to all users. Also, other integrations will probably be available soon.
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Shortcomings

The main drawback of Google Analytics 4 is that it's still in beta. Even though Google is actively promoting its new product (when creating a new Google Analytics account, you're set up with the new version by default), the service is still incomplete.

For example, cost data importing isn't currently implemented, which means you won't be able to analyze the effectiveness of non-Google campaigns. Also, there's no integration with products such as Google Optimize, Search Ads 360, and Display and Video 360.

Even the great innovation of exporting data to Google BigQuery is not so simple. According to the data export scheme, the key parameters are stored in subfields. In simple words, this means you'll need to process more significant volumes of data to get the information you need for analysis.

If you still want to receive all the data you need for marketing analytics, you can use third-party services such as OWOX BI.
OWOX BI features
OWOX BI provides a comprehensive solution so marketers can easily customize advanced analytics and receive any reports to evaluate advertising effectiveness. The service combines data from Google Analytics, websites, offline stores, advertising services, CRMs, and call tracking systems into Google BigQuery, where you can collect and use personal customer data. Together with OWOX BI, you get complete statistics on advertising campaigns and useful insights for fast business growth.

Expert opinion

Google recommends using both versions of the Google Analytics service for now, which is logical since you can't do with a simple update here. Taking too different of an approach to analytics requires specialists to spend a lot of time studying and reconfiguring systems. That's why OWOX BI analysts support the current solution of using both versions of Google Analytics side by side.

We also asked the famous marketing specialist Dmitry Osiyuk for his opinion on Google Analytics 4. Here's what he had to say:
Google Analytics 4 was introduced in the summer of 2019. Then it was called Google Analytics App + Web and was launched as part of beta testing. But even then, it became clear — a new big story begins for Google Analytics.

From the first days, I've been very actively following the development of GA4. I'm forced to note that this is an entirely new product adapted to modern market needs: focusing on automation, forecasting based on ML algorithms Google, cross-device and cross-platform analytics. Google also promises that the new version of the analytics system will work well even under restrictions on data collection (GDPR and local laws) by predicting what couldn't be tracked.

Another significant feature, in my opinion, is that GA4 has free export of raw data to Google BigQuery (Google Cloud). This greatly expands the opportunities for large businesses and allows you to build accurate and flexible analytics on large volumes of data.
Here is what Julius Fedorovicius, the founder of Analytics Mania, writes on his blog:
At the moment (end of 2020), Universal Analytics looks more mature than Google Analytics 4. And this difference is likely to continue for the next six months, while Google continues to improve the system [GA4] and add new features. Now I recommend that you continue to use only the old version or configure both.
We also recommend watching a video in which a well-known expert argues whether you should switch to Google Analytics 4 immediately: How to Upgrade to Google Analytics 4? (and when should you do it).

Conclusions

Google Analytics 4 isn't going anywhere. The new version offers an exciting and new interface for advanced experts and a simple and understandable interface for newcomers to marketing analytics so everyone can benefit from high-quality data analysis.

Given that the product is still being refined, you can try to set it up for data collection as an addition to Universal Analytics — provided you have the time and resources to do so. Or you can wait several months until Google updates the functionality and many detailed courses appear describing the new service's configuration and operations.

One thing is clear: in the end, Google Analytics 4 will become the primary web analytics system that will be used by all specialists. So the sooner you learn to work with it, the easier it will be for you later.
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Useful links

2
Google Analytics video lessons on YouTube from the Google team
3
Digital Debrief — Krista Seiden's blog with regular articles about the new features of Google Analytics 4
4
Analytics Mania and Simo Ahava's blog publish guides and tips for setting up Google Analytics 4
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