What’s Different About Google Analytics 4.0? Should You Upgrade?

Google Analytics 4.0 was launched in October 2020, which feels like a decade ago now. But it has not been front of mind for many businesses until recently. Google has just announced that the current version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics (UA), will be put out to pasture from July 1st 2023. UA will now longer process from this date.

So it is time to start thinking about switching to Google Analytics 4.0. But there is a catch; GA4 is a big change and very different to Universal Analytics. You may not have the same reports and data that you are used to. So what is new in Google Analytics 4.0?

Let’s find out.

An image from Google promoting Google Analytics 4.0.
Image courtesy of Google

How Is Google Analytics 4.0 Different?

Google Analytics 4.0 is certainly not an incremental improvement. It is very different from the previous Universal Analytics version of Google Analytics. But what are the key differences between GA4.0 and UA?

Measuring Models – Everything Is An Event

Google analytics 4.0 uses a very different measurement model to Universal Analytics, the previous version of Google Analytics.

Universal Analytics uses a measurement system that is based on sessions and pageviews. If you work in eCommerce, you have probably seen this! A session is a group of interactions with a website that take place within a specific time. One session can contain multiple pageviews, events or even goal completions (like an eCommerce transaction). If you measure users in Universal Analytics they are more like “unique visitors”, eg. a person that has come to your website. That person may do many different things and that is what constitutes a session. Events in Universal Analytics could be custom events that you are measuring or something else. Each event has its own category, action, label or “hit” type. 

Google Analytics 4.0 is different. It measures everything as events and parameters.

In GA4 any interaction with your site becomes an event. GA4 is an event driven data model. In some ways it is more similar to Firebase than Universal Analytics, which is by design.

While we may be used to analyzing pageviews and sessions, the transition towards events does bring more scope to look more at user behavior across the board. 

Moving Towards A Future Without Cookies

Third-party cookies will soon disappear. Although we still do not really know what is going to replace them.

Google Analytics 4.0 helps Google to deal with the “cookieless” future. In fact, in GA4 Google is betting on data scarcity becoming a big problem for online brands. So to fill the gap GA4 uses machine learning models where data is incomplete. This is somewhat ironic as Google will likely hold more data than ever before; we just will not be able to see it. These machine learning models aim to give you more insights into your users. As well as the places where they convert.

A screenshot of the new Google Analytics 4.0.
Image courtesy of Google

New Features in Google Analytics 4.0 You Need To Know About

Although the changes from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.0 might seem big, there are also some benefits.

Updated Interface

The Google Analytics interface has never been pretty. The language is confusing, the terminology is vague and to be frank it is horrible to use. We have just got used to how bad it is. It’s also easy to put GA data into BI programs that are not GA, so you do not always have to look at it and use it!

The new interface in Google Analytics 4.0 is a step forward. It looks cleaner and if you have already messed around with GA4 you will know it’s a little bit more intuitive. But in all honesty that is not difficult, a better UI is about the easiest win Google could get with a new GA!

If you have an app as well as a website things get better as you can now see a unified user view between app and website.

Omnichannel Analytics

This is probably the biggest shift in focus from Universal Analytics. It is good news for companies that operate with an O2O purchase funnel.

The shift away from Universal Analytics to GA4 will bring better visibility to omnichannel customer journeys. You will be able to see if a customer views your site on their phone and then later completes a purchase on a desktop machine, or vice versa.

Universal Analytics was rapidly becoming obsolete in this regard. In a multi-device, omnichannel world you need to be able to see data from the whole customer journey, which is exactly what GA4 gives you.

Removal Of “Hit” Limits

This really applies to big websites who have the fortunate problem of getting lots of traffic!

The previous free version of Google Analytics had a monthly hit limit of 10 million. When you hit that limit you can lose access to your data as going over the 10 million limit is technically a breach of the GA terms of service.

But you can stop stressing out, these hit limits have been removed in Google Analytics 4.0.

GA4 does have a limit on the number of different events that can be captured (500). However there is no limit on volumes of users coming into your site, just specific events used to track them. This is why a lot of companies have already moved to GA4.

Analysis Hub

The Analysis Hub was previously only available to Google Analytics 360 users. IT allows you to thoroughly explore your data, look at users and create custom conversion funnels. Which can help you with conversion focused A/B testing.

Also, BigQuery now has a free tier for all users! This will help you conduct experiments and generate new insights with very powerful tools.

An screenshot of an analytics graph.
Photo by Justin Morgan on Unsplash

Should You Upgrade to Google Analytics 4.0 right now?

The big question is, should you upgrade to Google Analytics 4.0 right now?

The answer is, you do not really have to yet.

One possible solution is starting a new Google Analytics 4.0 property for your site or app now. This will then accumulate data and you can try out the new machine learning functionality. But you will also still have access to all your old reports and data.

When the time comes in 2023, you can then merge your older property with your GA4 property. Or you can merge them now and have them running at the same time.

But if you are troubled by hit limits on a regular basis, you should absolutely upgrade right now.

Contact us via hello@maqe.com.

Talk to MAQE

If you need help understanding your data and conducting experiments to improve conversion, talk to MAQE. We can help you to organize the data you have and conduct experiments to improve conversion. Talk to us via [email protected].