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Google Analytics 4 under the magnifier. To alert readers to the changes that are about to be pushed onto them.

What’s all the hype about? What is Google Analytics 4? Since search became a thing, Google’s Universal Analytics has been the standard that most website owners use, to understand user behaviour. 
Trying to combine the data from desktop and laptop browsing with mobile browser and app activity has been a real pain for most users. This is a consequence of the differing ways people interact with information on the various screens. One of the many benefits of using GA4 is that both platforms are measured with the same technology so it’s easier to get a complete cross platform view of visitor behaviour.

As a solution, Google launched its fourth version of Google Analytics, now known as GA4 in October 2020. For many digitally savvy businesses, the new platform is as a much-needed upgrade to its predecessor, Universal Analytics. UA has been supplying most of us with website data since 2012. Google has been encouraging Analytics users to get their new GA4 property set up since October 2020. That encouragement is becoming more of a clarion call as the disconnection of Universal Analytics from your website data is due to happen on July 1st 2023. A wise move is to ensure you have both analytics running side by side for as long as possible to help understand how the two contrasting sets of data compare.

Can’t face taking time out to learn and set up GA4 before July?

Let ClimbHigh SEO do the lifting for you. Check out our GA4 Migration Service.

This fourth generation of Google Analytics boasts several improvements that marketers and analysts alike will find valuable. At least – once the learning curve has been negotiated. There’s the promise of smarter insights to help make more strategic marketing decisions.

The new platform provides a good foundation for a more comprehensive view of visitors’ interactions with the business. And for those who delve more deeply, the new Analytics has a section which utilises AI to give predictive analytics.

Are Google Analytics 4 Benefits The Real Deal?

In particular, there are five particular features which website owners would do well to familiarise themselves with. Firstly, GA4 is a more advanced web analytics service than the previous UA version. It allows marketers to analyse customer usage metrics with precision more precision than previous measurement models. It can detect and record much more of the activity on screen than previous versions.

Interestingly, it has the ability to track customer paths across multiple platforms. So it should provide website owners a more detailed understanding of visitors’ interactions with the website and the mobile app.

Privacy is becoming a huge issue and rightly so. We have all become a bit too blasé about feeding the monster corporates with our personal data. You need look no further that personal data-driven tactics used by unscrupulous political operators recently. In 2016, the Brexit vote and the presidential election were both heavily influenced by highly targeted personalised ads. It is important for people to understand the implications of the usefulness of personal data.

GA4 attempts to gather data and adhere to the latest privacy laws, such as GDPR in Europe and the CCPA legislation enacted in California. It is set up to be a privacy-first tracking solution, with cross-channel data measurement. An innovative AI driven predictive analytics section may be extremely useful. Time will tell whether it walks that tightrope between data and privacy successfully.

Another major difference between the two iterations is that GA4’s dashboard is significantly different from the dashboard UA users have been accustomed to in. Tables and reports have been rearranged and the navigation bar comprises “Home,” “Reports,” “Explore,” “Advertising,” “Configure,” and “Library” buttons.

Beyond the cosmetics of the dashboard, the measurement model and data capture methods are very different. Universal Analytics generally measured page views. In contrast, GA4 looks at activity in terms of events.

Even in its most basic configuration, GA4 will pick up data on events such as page views, session starts: as you’d expect. It will also detect scrolling activity, button clicks, downloads and contact form submissions. All this allows the website manager easier access to engagement metrics. These include: engaged sessions, engagement rate, and engagement time, as well as a number of other dimensions.

Lastly, GA4 comes with an increased capacity to segment data, which is a massive plus for its adoption. Individuals can now create audiences based on the events, as well as including “time” as an element of segmentation. This allows for the marketer to develop highly specific tailoring of messages to help users make buying decisions. In turn, you can track customers throughout the entire journey with the assistance of unique user IDs.

How Does Google Analytics 4 Work?

This is made possible through the gtag.js script that is the codebase of GA4. It’s this JavaScript library that enables, the anonymised user ID and event data from the website or app to be sent to Google Analytics and reported to the GA4 property. Previously, tracking users across platforms was a bit of a technical minefield.

This newer event based approach to mapping the user journey on websites is likely to prove a positive improvement for marketers and users

How to Set Up Google Analytics 4

To get your GA4 up and running, there are 2 ways you will encounter it. If you are a new website or a new analytics user… it’s the default. Setting up a Google Analytics account for the first time will only give you the option of GA4 now. There would be very little point in trying to go retro and implement Universal Analytics.

For existing users of the old UA, it is almost certain you will find a GA4 property already added to your Universal Analytics property. At present (March 2023) you will need to activate it. If you go into your GA account you will quickly discover whether Google has “upgraded you or not.

Google analytics account not updated automatically by Google.

It is quick and easy to discover whether Google has or hasn’t updated your account with an empty GA4 property. Just hover over your account and slide over onto the property column. if there’s no mention of GA4 beneath your familiar UA property then you will have to use the GA4 Setup Assistant.

Google Universal Analytics Home Page, seeking the Admin button.

Google Has Not Done an Automatic Upgrade

If no GA4 property has been created by Google Analytics, then visit the Admin button (gear wheel) at the bottom left of your Universal Analytics’ property’s home page. Click it.

Searching for the GA4 setup assistant on the analytics account's admin screen.

Open up the property’s admin screen. There you will find the GA4 setup assistant.

2 choices when activating the GA4 setup assistant from your Universal Analytics account.

Clicking the setup button presents you with 2 choices. I would recommend that you do NOT connect the new GA4 property to the existing UA property. Choose the top choice for a NEW Google Analytics 4 property.

Google Has Automatically Upgraded Your Account
If your Google Analytics account has been automatically upgraded; the start of the process looks something like this.

Google Analytics account when Google has automatically upgraded your account.

There are several more processes to follow in order to set the account up properly. These include accepting to the data controller agreement and ensuring the property settings are aligned with the UK. Or, if you are not UK based, you will need to apply your own country’s, time zone and currency settings. The full range of setup options are the subject of another blog post. So, we won’t visit them in depth in this one.

Applying the New Code To Your Website.

For WordPress users the Monster Insights (MI) plugin provides a dual tracking option. That allows the new data to be added into the MI dashboard. All you need is the new Measurement ID from GA4.

In Joomla, the two scripts that run the tracking code need to be installed via the Extensions, Styles, Options route. This throws up a Custom code section. One snippet needs to go into the head section as far up as possible and the second snippet needs to go in to the body section, immediately after the opening <body> tag.

Other CMS platforms are also able to have the GA4 scripts embedded. Drupal has a slightly more complex 5 step process whereas Expression Engine has a paid for extension that makes the process easier.

For HTML sites or CMS implementations where you are trying to cut down on plugins or add-ons, to speed the site up, use Google Tag Manager. There are a range of basic tags available to cover most events.

A Final Word On Google Analytics 4 Migration

It’s worth bearing in mind that even this close to the shuttering of Universal Analytics, GA4 is still an incomplete vehicle. Ecommerce functionality has only recently been added to the platform. For a long time one of my SEO friends and colleagues was doggedly hanging out against it as the initial implementations were so lacking in features or obvious benefit.

In fact, back in June 2021, Search Engine Journal was reporting push-back. “Google Analytics 4 Backlash: GA4 ‘Sucks’ and is ‘Horrible’”. Personally, I suspect there will be a few hiccups as GA4 is pushed onto us.

The bottom line though, is that GA4 is going to be an indispensable tool for any marketer, website owner or ecommerce vendor who wants to understand the customer journey from start to finish. GA4 provides a wealth of more usable data that can be used to glean meaningful insights about visitor interactions. It also promises to meet the rightful privacy concerns of website users. Hopefully, this will keep it in line with current and anticipated regulations and privacy standards.

If that all sounds rather tedious or fraught… then ClimbHigh SEO’s GA4 Migration Service could be what you need.