Pt. 1: How to Use Google Analytics 4 - Exploring the Differences with Universal Analytics
One of the major events in July 2023 was the transition from Google Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This event was truly significant for the Universal Analytics audience, as the collection of new data for the old version was set to cease on July 1, 2023. Google Analytics 4 is not an interim update, but a new product that requires learning.
This article is for you if:
- You've just started or are planning to start using Google Analytics 4
- If you're in a rush trying to switch from Universal Analytics to GA4
- If you've already switched to Google Analytics 4, but still haven't gotten the hang of the nuances of its use.
This is the first part of 5 planned articles about Google Analytics 4. It's dedicated to three key differences between GA4 and UA. Of course, there are many more differences between UA and GA4, but the aim of this article is to ease your first steps, and for that, you don't need to know everything:
- Chapter 1: From "Views" and "Sessions" to "Events"
- Chapter 2: From "Properties" to "Data Streams"
- Chapter 3: "From Routine Reports" to "Explorations"
In my view, understanding these three features greatly influences the first use of the new version. I'll do my best to break down the main differences, questions, and initial steps in layman's terms, so you can break the deadlock and start making use of GA4.
From "Views" and "Sessions" to "Events" in Google Analytics 4
When Google was creating the first versions of Analytics, websites were quite simple. There were no complex CMS and web and mobile apps. All data analysis was based on collecting data about "Page Views" and grouping URL pages into "sessions". Essentially, you were just watching the pages of your resource and the URL where the conversion was made.
With the advent of web and mobile apps, Google gave the opportunity to analyze data from websites, apps, and platforms within one account. To do this, they had to use an event-based model - Event Driven Data Model. In such a model, any action, even a "Page View", is an event.
To quickly understand how this works, imagine how mobile app analytics are structured. When you download an app like Twitter or Instagram Threads, scroll through the feed or leave a tweet, all of these are events.
I'll give a simpler example to feel the difference:
Imagine you have a supermarket (this is your site) with three departments of goods (these are its pages): groceries, clothing, and electronics. You've installed surveillance cameras to track visitor actions in your store (this is your Google Analytics counter)
In UA (Universal Analytics):
In UA, the main focus is on sessions. It's as if after visiting the store, we made one general record of all visitor actions in the journal: "The visitor spent so much time in the store during the visit, visited so many departments and made so many purchases".
In GA4 (Google Analytics 4):
In GA4, the main focus is on events. It's as if we, in addition to surveillance cameras, also installed various sensors recording visitor behavior. And we recorded each visitor action separately in the journal: "Here's the entrance to the store - a separate entry in the journal, here's the visit to the electronics department - a separate entry, he did this, then this, then this..."
I hope this example gave you more understanding of the possibilities and flexibility you get for data analysis. If not, no worries, then just keep this in mind for now. The picture will become clearer when reading the following chapters.
From "Properties" to "Data Streams" in Google Analytics 4
In the previous chapter, we found out that the transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) brought changes to the data collection approach and moved from "Views and Sessions" to "Events". This led to the next noticeable change - the disappearance of "Views" and their transformation into "Properties" and "Data Streams". This often becomes the first thing that confuses UA users.
The difference in the hierarchical structure of Account-Property-View in UA from Property-Data Streams in GA4 is easy to explain if you pay attention to a simple detail:
Remember what the UA setup process looked like?
- First, you created a Property, specified a domain, and received a unique tracking code (it looked something like UA-XXXXX), which you installed on your website.
- Only after that did you set up "Views" depending on what traffic you wanted to track in reports.
The setup and installation steps in GA4 have changed.
- You also create a "Property" at the very beginning, but at this level, you only perform basic settings. The "Property" does not have a tracking code.
- Then you create "Data Streams". You can set up one data stream for several domains (resources). Or several, setting up a data stream for each domain (resource) separately. Each "Data Stream" has its tracking code and becomes a unique data source.
Thus, in UA, we first collect data from all sources into one big "box", into the Property. And then with the help of "Views", we filter this mass for different reports. In GA4, we set the parameters of the "Data Stream" from the very beginning and get only the data we need and put them into the "Property".
In UA, data can only be viewed separately. In GA4, within one interface, you can work with the data of each source separately or aggregate them and see the overall picture.
Let's consider an example of how this can be in practice:
Suppose you have a SaaS product, it has a website on the domain http://example.com, a platform with a personal account on the domain app.example.com, and a mobile application. In GA4, you create one property and three different data streams:
- Web stream for tracking activity on your website.
- Platform stream for tracking activity within the product and personal account.
- iOS stream for tracking activity in your iOS app.
You will be able to view all data at once or each separately within one interface. With UA, it would be difficult to correlate your marketing expenses because all data is distributed between Properties or views. Convenient, right?
And since we've already touched on the topic of reports, let's move on to the last chapter.
From Routine Reports to "Explorations"
In the two previous chapters, we established:
- Google Analytics 4 is based on an event-based data collection and analysis model
- Events and data are now collected through "Data Streams" in "Properties"
In this chapter, I'll talk about changes in Reports. There's a lot of new and interesting things, but I'll only describe what will help you take the first steps and start working with the platform.
The first thing you'll notice is changes in the navigation panel. Previously, after registering an account in Universal Analytics (UA), you landed on a page with a set of predefined reports, such as Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. In GA4, the report structure has changed. Now it looks like this:
- Realtime: This section is similar to UA, but provides more extensive information about current user behavior.
- Life cycle: This section replaces and breaks down what was previously in Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions in UA. It features reports on traffic sources, user interactions, monetization, and user retention.
- User: This section presents information about users, similar to the Audience section in UA, but with additional technical information about user devices.
- Events: In this section, you can view and manage all tracked GA4 events.
These are all the same predefined templates with the ability to edit them as in UA. However, in Google Analytics 4, this process looks a bit different. To change a report, you need to click the corresponding button.
Here you will find many events and parameters for filtering, including the choice of Data Streams, which I wrote about earlier. You can select data from one or several streams for a specific report.
The next unfamiliar change for UA users is working with "Segments". In GA4, they are called "Add Comparison", in my subjective opinion, it has become less convenient, as the settings of "new segments" have become less flexible and can only be saved for a specific report. Changes can be saved for the selected report or saved as a New report.
All created reports are located in the "Library" section. Here you can create a new "custom" report or use a template.
In the "Library", there are collections of predefined templates for different purposes, which can also be edited.
For example, you can create a separate collection, in which to place reports that you use, and "publish", and collections that you do not use "Unpublish". All changes made will be reflected in the side menu navigation.
Detailed user reports can be created in the "Explorations" section. Here you will find the possibility of adding "Audiences". There are also many templates of different types and the ability to create your own template from scratch.
Transitioning from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) may initially seem challenging, but it's a necessary step to keep pace with the evolving digital landscape. GA4's event-driven model, data streams, and new reporting structure provide greater flexibility and a deeper understanding of user behavior.
In this article, we've only skimmed the surface of the capabilities and changes in GA4 that might initially cause you some confusion.
In the following articles, we will:
- Walk through the process from installing Google Analytics 4 to creating "Events" and "Conversions".
- Learn how to create and transmit Client ID, as well as how to transmit purchase events from your CRM.
- Understand "Enhanced Measurement" and what "automatically tracked events" are.
Remember, the key to mastering any tool is practice and having real tasks and goals for its use.
You can follow the release of the next articles by subscribing to our community on Facebook. Happy analyzing!