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Google Analytics GA4 upgrade guide

The digital marketer’s guide: Getting to know Google Analytics 4

By Brand Candy


Read Time: 5 Minutes

Change is often difficult, but it is inevitable in our digital world. We know all about this as digital marketers. Growth, however, is optional. As Google Analytics 4, or GA4, becomes the next big change happening in the Google space, your digital marketing strategy has the opportunity to grow with it – think advanced analytics, new data and more. This change is going to be set in full motion from 01 July 2023.

After this date, all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. You’ll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for some time after July 1, 2023, but new data will only flow into GA4 properties. So what does this mean for Google marketing as we know it, and how does one go about making the shift? Let our Google experts throw light on the subject and disentangle the basics of GA4.

If you’ve got the basics of GA4 down already but would like to know how to upgrade, jump ahead now.

We see purchases in your future

Initially dubbed ‘the future of Google Analytics’ GA4 is jam-packed with machine learning and artificial intelligence. GA4 is reducing the reliance on cookies and promoting a privacy-centric outlook. Using machine learning to ‘fill the gaps’ where user content is not given for tracking, the new property has been designed to work with or without cookies. By leveraging machine learning and statistical modelling, GA4 can fill in data gaps as the world becomes less and less dependent on cookies. GA4 can predict future outcomes based on historical evidence. For example, GA4’s machine learning uses its predictive metrics feature to model the possible future transactions and revenue for eCommerce sites.

Google will begin gathering the data necessary to create predictive audiences for purchasers and churners on your site. Churners are people from your customer pool who stop buying your products, using your services, or renewing subscriptions from your business. In other words, they stop being your customer. Once populated, you can use the predictive audiences as comparative segments throughout all of GA4. You also get access to predictive metrics in Explorations.

Although not an earth-shattering revelation, a big benefit of GA4 is that the predictive analysis is FREE. You read that correctly. It’s a pretty big deal.

Say hello to custom reporting

The custom dashboards in Universal Analytics were nice to look at but lacked comprehensive information. Now you can access Explorations in Google Analytics 4, enabling you to build custom reports. Laid out much like an Excel workbook, with tabs across the top each with its data, this allows you to create tables or visualisations for paths, funnels or even segments to better understand them. You can share the report with others, print it out as a PDF or download it as an Excel Workbook.

And with the power of custom reporting comes great responsibility. These visualisation tools come with a fair bit of work on the marketers’ side. This is where Brand Candy comes in. Digital marketers are here to lessen challenges and cut through the clutter.

If you got started with Universal Analytics, you’re likely used to tables and tables of data.
While these tables are helpful, they aren’t exactly easy to manipulate when you want to see another metric or dimension. In Google Analytics 4, anyone with admin access can customise the data presented in any of the reports.

GA4 allows for more event-agnostic and adaptable tracking so each event can have any custom parameters attached, which will allow businesses to track their data in more specific and meaningful ways.

From sessions to events, from goals to conversions

Relying on web developers for everything tracking-related is so 2019. With GA4, there’s no need to get a developer involved every time you need something tracked. In fact, most basic events are already tracked for you in GA4 between the automatically tracked events and enhanced measurement events. If you don’t see the events you want to track on either of those lists, worry not. You can create new events on the platform. Maybe the best news is that you get to create up to 300 of these events per property.

Create and track up to 30 conversions and delete them, too! Once the event is tracked in GA4, you can mark it as a conversion by simply toggling it on. In Universal Analytics, you only have access to tracking 20 conversions (goals) AND they are permanent — eek! In GA4, you can track up to 30 conversions and delete conversions as they’re no longer needed.

GA4 makes it easier for us to track standard event types (e.g. link clicks) without a single touch of code or Tag Manager. On the other hand, creating additional event types for things like e-commerce, or custom form conversions may prove to be more challenging.

Cross-platform tracking in Google Analytics 4

If you have a website and an app, and you would like to easily analyse this data in one reporting condition then GA4 is going to save you some headaches. This also means you can manage your audiences and track user behaviour across your app and web platforms, create segments based on this and do advanced cross-platform attribution analysis.

Many of the standard reports in Google Analytics 4 will be similar to what you’re used to, but ‘Analysis’ is a new reporting section that gives you a completely new toolset to do refined analysis and create ad hoc funnels based on whichever event or page you desire. This tool comes straight from the paid GA 360 premium platform and is now available for free in GA4.

Are there any additional benefits?

  • GA4 can calculate, unify and de-duplicate user interaction data, assisting us to understand the user journey.
  • The new property adjusts to a changing environment as it correlates to privacy. This is great for the privacy-conscious user.
  • GA4 helps to take action on your data to achieve goals, more effectively than before.

The next step

Jumping straight into Google Analytics 4, and forgetting all about UA may seem tempting but running the two simultaneously while you can is the smart option.

“Google recommends running GA4 and the previous version (GA3/UA) simultaneously until Google sunsets the previous version in 2023. The sooner GA4 starts tracking data, the more data will be available in GA4 for historical comparisons.”

Claire Smolas, our digital expert

Google Analytics 4 is developed with your key objectives in mind — like pushing sales or app installs, generating leads or connecting online and offline buyer engagement.

So, what does the upgrade button do?

The most uncomplicated way to move to Google Analytics 4 is to click that upgrade button that you’ve probably already seen a couple of times. Clicking it won’t change your current GA setup (phew). It, instead, creates a new GA4 property based on the configuration of your current property.

Every type of setup needs a bit of extra attention. If you’re using gtag.js to track your traffic you have to link existing tracking with your new property and don’t have to do anything after that. Your events will be migrated automatically but you may need to look into reworking your event naming.

If you use Google Tag Manager (GTM) you will need to create a configuration tag and add new tags to your existing event triggers. Custom dimensions with GTM and gtag.js will keep working but require some configuration in the GA4 property. Due to the adjusted data model custom dimensions are changed into properties and parameters. For this reason, it is recommended to assess your current use of custom dimensions. If you use any other, older, tracking besides gtag.js or GTM it’s recommended you update your tracking method and start using Google Tag Manager.

At Brand Candy, we’ve already been working together with clients for a while to help them migrate to the new GA4 property. This migration process can be complex and influence your analysis and reporting in unexpected ways. We understand how meaningful your data is, and we’ll be glad to aid you in this process.

Want to check which analytics property you are using? Read “How to check property type“. To chat with us more on the subject with our digital specialists, contact us.