Google Analytics 4: What's New & How Does It Differ from Its Predecessor?

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More than 5 million businesses use Google Analytics to better understand customers and optimize their websites. As more commerce moves online and companies are increasingly required to maximize their marketing spending, staying on top of the Google Analytics updates, including its newest iteration, Google Analytics 4, has become more critical than ever.

The earlier version of Google Analytics — Universal Analytics — does not keep pace with customer behavior changes, privacy regulations and industry standards. Google introduced the new and more intelligent Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020 with more features and capability than its predecessor. It employs machine learning to better understand customers and deliver valuable insights. How does GA4 tackle the weaknesses of Google Analytics? And how does it organize information differently? Let’s explore.

What is New in Google Analytics 4?

Earlier analytics solutions do not offer a complete view of customers or provide valuable insights from data, which is why keeping up with Google Analytics updates is so important. Many marketers struggle to manage the vast volumes of data from analytics while ensuring customer privacy. Google Analytics 4 solves these issues with:

1. Machine Learning

GA4 uses machine learning to provide valuable insights and help you understand your customers better, informing marketing decisions and improving your ROI. The new analytics alerts you of noteworthy trends in data so that you can anticipate changes and adjust accordingly. For instance, it may predict a boost in product demand so that you can increase your supply to match it.      

2. Privacy-Centric Design

GA4 is privacy-centric by design, meaning you can utilize the analytics amidst industry changes such as restrictions on cookies and privacy regulations. It can assist your business to adhere to data regulations like CCPA and GDPR.

GA4 has a consent mode for sites that must have end-user consent to collect data. The consent mode comes with a separate consent opt-in to permit the user of visitor data for ads and analytics. Universal Analytics lacks this level of granularity, so businesses could not use customer data, even for analytics.

GA4 also enhances data deletion capabilities, allowing companies to accept delete requests from users without eliminating more data than necessary.         

3. Customer-Centric Measurement

GA4 employs customer-centric measurements instead of measurement based on device or platform, a distinction that provides a comprehensive picture of how customers interact with your organization. For example, you can determine how customers discover your company – web, ads or app. This also allows businesses to better understand their clients throughout their lifecycles, from acquisition to conversion and retention.   

4. Out-of-the-Box Event Tracking

Universal Analytics only tracks pageviews on your properties. This limits the metrics you can monitor and fails to provide a comprehensive view of your site or app. The new GA4, however, collects additional data, including scrolling, video engagement, outbound clicks and file downloads.   

5. Ready for the Future

Google Analytics 4 is designed for the long-term, always preparing you for what comes next. Businesses can respond to changes such as regulatory developments, increasing consumer expectations, and user privacy concerns. For example, you can manage how you collect and use analytics data with GA4's data controls.

Also, the new analytics can help organizations adjust to living with or without identifiers and cookies. Machine learning models are used to bridge data gaps emanating from eliminated third-party cookies.

Dashboard Information Organization

Among the notable differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics lies in the organization of information. First, there are differences in the organization of reports. The new GA4 reorganized all the reports on Universal Analytics and made various additions.

Reports are now structured around the customer journey, as opposed to devices and platforms. As such, marketers benefit from a better understanding of the customer journey and how they engage with their business. For example, in the user acquisition report, you can see the channels that attract new customers. The engagement and retention reports help provide invaluable insights into the actions customers take.  

Second, Universal Analytics and GA4 differ in the way they present web and mobile analytics. GA4 combines web and mobile data for seamless management and tracking.

Moving to Google Analytics 4

GA4 is the default experience for new properties, and comes with innovations absent in the previous analytics. While some businesses are still reluctant to let go of their existing analytics setup, they can create a GA4 property to use together with their existing setup. It will enable you to gather data and benefit from new features and innovations while your current analytics stays intact. Also, GA4 is advantageous compared to Universal Analytics because it is available for websites and apps.    

You can set up a GA4 in three ways.

  1. Set up a new site on GA4.
  2. Create both Universal Analytics and GA4 properties. Both properties collect data, and there is a connection between the two, so you can migrate settings to your GA4 from your Universal Analytics.  
  3. Add GA4 to a website that already uses Analytics. Click on 'GA4 Setup Assistant' to create GA4 that gathers data alongside your existing property. You will retain your Universal Analytics property as it continues to collect data, and you can access it through the 'Admin screen' or 'Property Selector.'    

It is never too early to start familiarizing yourself with the Google Analytics updates – and collecting data. If you’re ready to work with Beacon Digital Marketing for Google Analytics changes, integration and data management, drop us a line.

Posted In: Google Analytics 4
John Reinesch

John Reinesch

John is a search engine specialist focused on gaining greater visibility in search results for Beacon Digital clients. His expertise includes SEO campaigns, PPC, Google Analytics, keyword research, technical website auditing, paid social media optimization, web analytics implementation and conversion tracking.