Google launched the beta version of the Google Analytics App and Web Property at the end of July 2019. The latest version, as of October 2020, is called Google Analytics 4. Google Analytics 4 or GA4, is now the standard for all new Analytics Properties. In this article, I want to clarify what makes the new Google Analytics 4 so exciting, what has changed, how important data streams are in GA4, and show some exemplary screenshots of the new version.
In this article I will to answer the following questions regarding Google Analytics 4:
Google Analytics 4 isn’t the first change made to Google Analytics, but probably one of the most radical. The original company Urchin, which Google acquired in March/April of 2015, provided the technological basis for Google Analytics for years. Since the purchase of Firebase, an app-analytics software, in October 2014, there have been ongoing rumors that Google might change the technical platform at some point. This manifested itself in the form of the first beta version of the Google Analytics App + Web Property in July 2019. On 14 October 2020, Google Analytics went live as Google Analytics 4. Every new Property that is set up in Google Analytics is also a Google Analytics 4 Property from now on. Here, you can see a timeline of the development of Google Analytics from Urchin to Firebase to today.
I’ve also depicted the development of Analytics tracking codes from Urchin to Google Analytics 4 here. I haven’t displayed the entire script here, but just one line of code that the Google Analytics object has generated.
Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google Analytics. GA4 is based on the July 2019 launch of Google Analytics App + Web Property. GA4 has the following advantages:
Here you can see a table comparing the most important features of Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics.
Before the data can start flowing in, you need to first set up Google Analytics 4. In order to achieve this, the following steps are necessary. I assume that you already have a Google Analytics account. If so, you have three options.
I would recommend option 1. The upgrade to GA4 is not very complicated, and you get to keep your old Universal Analytics Property. This way, you don’t lose any data.
With this option, your original Property remains and the new Property gets assigned to it. Through this link, Properties support future functions so you can migrate your Analytics configurations more easily. With an upgrade to GA4, you are, for example, taking over the users with the individual rights, just as you had set up in Universal Analytics. This is how Google communicates its new version: “You can already get to know the new Google Analytics and start data collection so that your company is prepared for the future.”
Your UA Property remains:
With this option, your Universal Analytics Property remains and a new Google Analytics 4 Property is created. The advantage, according to Google, is that through this link, the Properties will support future functions and Analytics configurations can be migrated more easily. At the same time, you can already get acquainted with GA4.
My interpretation: Google assumes that there will be a longer migration time (2 years?) as the new version is very different and companies will need a completely new approach to GA4 and its analyses and definitions.
In the setup assistant, you can determine some essential settings. These include
Although this might be a topic for an additional article, I quickly want to show you how to exclude internal traffic in the setup assistant via IP address. This is how you go about it:
Internal traffic is documented but has a parameter value titled “internal”.
Hint: In the first step, this filter is only implemented as a test. But now you can go into real-time data and check the traffic. Even if you can see your own impression through the developer console, you will see that there is a parameter with the value “tt=internal.”
Now you almost made it all the way to excluding your own impressions in GA4. But we still need to make sure that everything was executed correctly. Switch to your real-time report now. Then (1) add a comparison, choose (2) “name of test date filter” as dimension, and choose (3) the value “internal traffic.” This refers to the above-mentioned parameter tt=internal.
Now you can see if the exclusion of internal traffic works if you simulate an internal impression. In the last step, you go to Administration > Data Settings > Data Filter and you can activate it.
In the next step, you now need to integrate your new GA4 Property, either via Google Tag Manager (recommended) or directly on the website via gtag.js. This is how your tracking code will look. The measurement ID (“Your Measurement ID”) corresponds to the Property ID in Universal Analytics.
In most cases, it makes sense to integrate your GA4 Property via Google Tag Manager. The Google Tag Manager does not have a settings variable yet as is does for the Universal Analytics Tag, but it does have:
GA4 data streams offer brand-new events that can be measured all “out-of-the-box” by default. If you set up data streams, you can set up 6 standard events without any implementation effort. These are the events and their definitions, which are extremely important for later reporting:
If you want to know everything about these events, why they are so important, how you can create first reports based on the results, and how you can set these events as goals, then this article on events in Google Analytics 4 is for you.
So how do you define goals in the new Google Analytics version? Data streams are the foundation. Based on these events, you can now decide how you want to mark these goals (conversions). Standard goals (events) are especially suitable for this, such as
If you’ve tagged a goal as conversion, it will be documented and you can start with the first analysis of your goal completion in an overview report. To access the reports tab, select Events > Conversions and choose, for example, a scroll target that you marked as conversion. A new report will open and you can see not only an overview but also detailed target completion for your conversion targets.
Hint: As with Universal Analytics, a goal completion will only be documented, if you activate it. You will not have retrospective goal completion in your analyses.
As with Universal Analytics, there will be numerous new questions regarding Google Analytics & GDPR. Generally, you will still need your user’s opt-in to collect data.
In Universal Analytics, standard reports were often determined by A-B-C, in which ABC stands for Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. The current structure seems a bit stiff at first, but apart from the homepage and the real-time reports, is defined as a “life cycle.” Here you can see a screenshot of the new GA4 interface.
The entire display of your data and the reporting are entirely different in Google Analytics. You can split the reporting into 6+1 aspects: Six main areas or report tabs, and a basis for future analysis of a configuration tab.
Overview of the six report tabs
Since Google Analytics is still so new and different, a lot of questions are emerging on the advantages of GA4 in this first phase - should I upgrade to Google Analytics 4, what will happen to my old data, or are there disadvantages on running Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics at the same time? I will try to answer these questions one by one in the following.
1. When should I switch to Google Analytics 4?
It’s fine to upgrade soon. If you upgrade from your current Universal Analytics Property to the new Google Analytics Property, your old Property will remain and you are creating a new GA4 Property. Therefore, you are not really transitioning, but simply creating a new GA4 Property in the same Google Analytics account. One great advantage is that certain settings, such as administration, are transferred to the new GA4 Property!
2. Why should I switch to Google Analytics 4?
A complete transition is surely not very logical, but Google Analytics 4 is the future of Google Analytics. Getting accustomed to the new version and getting to know the new data model and definitions, or setting up goals right now, is a step in the right direction.
My tip: Upgrade to Google Analytics 4, and try setting up data streams (events) and first goals based on that in the setup phase. In a second phase (reporting), get to know the standard reportings, what target audiences mean, and how the new hub of the analytics tool (reporting) works.
3. Are there disadvantages in running Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 at the same time?
No, there are no disadvantages - quite the contrary. With an upgrade to Google Analytics 4, you are creating a new Property (GA4) in your Google Analytics account. However, you are not migrating any data from your old Universal Analytics Property, you are simply transferring settings such as your user administration settings to your new Google Analytics 4 Property. Your old user data is still documented in Universal Analytics, but now you have the time to get familiarized with the GA4 Property. The advantages are, therefore:
4. What else should I look out for when upgrading to GA4?
Apart from the setup, do not forget data security. You should consider the following topics among other things:
5. Are there limits to the exclusion of internal traffic in GA4?
Further up I described to you how you can exclude internal traffic in your setup. But how many IP addresses can you exclude? In GA4, you can include a maximum of 10 filters on your IP addresses. Of course, this now also depends on the “structure” of the IP addresses that you want to filter. So if you cave a while IP class C block, you could define a filter with “begins with.” This could look like the following:
Example 1: Filter “begins with” e.g. „90.113.30.“
Example 2: You have a certain department in your company. For example, the IP addresses between “12 and 20”. Filter 2: “Filter IP addresses is between” “22.214.171.124/20“.
Problems aren't solved yet? Here you can find the link to Simo’s blog, who describes other methods of excluding internal traffic. You can also find some information on how to exclude internal traffic via a URL fragment on the internet. Both options are implemented via Google Tag Manager.
There are some first fundamental guides, YouTube Videos, and podcasts concerning the newest version. Here you can find an overview of the most trustworthy ones in my opinion.
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Published on 12/07/2020 by Alexander Holl.
Alexander Holl is the founder and CEO of 121WATT where he and his colleagues offer courses and seminars on everything to do with Online Marketing, SEO, and Analytics. Additionally, he led the Google Analytics Bootcamp and lectured at the Google Partner Academy. Now, he is a frequent guest lecturer at several universities.