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Google Analytics 4: The New Google Analytics Property

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:

  • History: How did Urchin Analytics develop into Google Analytics 4?

  • Advantages: What are the advantages of GA4?

  • Features: What are the differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

  • Set-up: First steps on setting up GA4

  • Data streams: What are the events in Google Analytics 4 and why are these the basis for your analysis?

  • GDPR: Some important settings & features concerning data protection in Google Analytics 4

  • Reports: Overview of some important reports, and the analysis hub in Google Analytics 4

  • Next steps: Should you switch to GA4 or wait? What should you do now?

  • Resources: Important resources and blogs around Google Analytics 4

  • GA4 FAQs: Some common questions and answers concerning Google Analytics 4

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A brief history of Google Analytics

Urchin is Universal Analytics – Firebase is 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.

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The development of Google Analytics Tracking Codes

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.

  • The Urchin account: _uacct = “UA-5421525-42”

  • Google Analytics, the first version: var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(„UA-5421525-42“)

  • ga.js: _gaq.push([‚_setAccount‘, ‚UA-5421525-42‘])

  • analytics.js: ga(‚create‘, ‚UA-5421525-42‘, ‚auto‘)

  • gtag.js: gtag(‚config‘, ‚UA-5421525-42‘)

  • Google Analytics 4 – gtag.js: gtag(‚config‘, ‚G-4BN7YBQY59‘);

What are the advantages of Google Analytics 4? Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

The new data model allows for more relevant analyses with better visualization

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:

  • Machine learning: Machine learning algorithms help with better data analysis.

  • Data protection by design: Google Analytics 4 is a sustainable solution for the future. According to Google, the new GA4 allows for the collection of data without cookies or other “identifiers.”

  • Modeling: If data is incomplete, Google Analytics 4 closes the gap with modeling approaches.

  • Data control: Google allows for better data management in GA4. This is especially true concerning the collection, storage, deletion, and sharing of data.

  • Data anonymization: Google Analytics 4 anonymizes the user’s IP address by default.

  • Data streams: The standard version already allows for five additional events to be measured next to page impressions, such as scrolls or clicks on external links.

  • Visualization: In the new analysis module, there are brand-new possibilities for visualization, such as funnel visualization, pivot tables, and scatter plots.

How do features in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) differ from Universal Analytics (UA)?

Focus on users instead of sessions

  • User focus: GA4 puts the focus on the user, while UA focuses on sessions.

  • Structure: There is no more data view and no more filters, but you can filter directly and extensively in the reports (analyses).

  • Analysis: The possibilities for analysis are generally more extensive and more complex.

  • Standardization: A user’s standard interactions, such as click, scroll, etc. are “out-of-the-box.”

  • Define standard goals: Goals can be activated easily via Home > Events.

  • Define custom goals: You can set up custom goals first as individual events and mark them as goals in the second step.

Here you can see a table comparing the most important features of Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics.

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This is how you set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Get familiarized with the new GA4 Property

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.

  • Option 1: You upgrade to Google Analytics 4 with your current account

  • Option 2: You set up a new Property in your current account

  • Option 3: You set up a new Google Analytics account and set up a new GA4 Property

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.

How to upgrade to Google Analytics 4 (option 1)

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.

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#1 Here’s what happens when you start the setup assistant now:

  • A Google Analytics 4 Property is created, which, according to Google,has no influence on your existing UA Property

  • Now, basic settings (user rights) can be copied from the Universal Analytics Property

  • Now, you can access the setup assistant, where you can define further details. The screen is the same, even if you create a new GA4 Property now

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#2 The setup assistant in Google Analytics 4 Property

In the setup assistant, you can determine some essential settings. These include

  • Exclusion of internal traffic

  • Cross-domain tracking

  • Google signals, e.g. for cross-device tracking. With this, you get more information on users that are signed in with their Google account and allow personalized ads

  • Connect Google Ads with your GA4 Property

  • Set up conversions

#3 Excursus: Exclude internal traffic in GA4

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:

  • Step 1: Go to Enhanced Measurement in the setup assistant

  • Step 2: Click on your data stream

  • Step 3: Choose More tagging settings

  • Step 4: Define internal traffic

  • Step 5: Exclude your IP address

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Internal traffic is documented but has a parameter value titled “internal”.

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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.”

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#4 Analyse internal traffic in a real-time report

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.

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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.

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#5a Integrate the new Property on your website

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.

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#5b Integrate GA4 via Google Tag Manager

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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 configuration: You define a new tag, type “Google Analytics: GA4 configuration”. So not “Google Analytics: GA4 event”

  • Additional fields: If necessary, you can define additional fields, as you already did in your Universal Analytics configuration. For example, we added the author of a blog article as an additional field

  • Debugging: Test in preview

  • Go live: Now, go live with your new GA4 tag and start collecting data in your new Property

#6 You can find more info on this update from Krista Seiden

#7 Additional resources for the Google Analytics 4 integration

Data streams or events in Google Analytics 4

Users do more than simply view your page

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:

  • Pageview: Always triggered when a user accesses a new site

  • Scrolls: Every time a user scrolls to the end of the site (90%), a scroll-event is documented

  • Clicks on external links: If a user clicks on an outbound link, the event “click on external link” is documented. Outbound means that the user clicks from one domain to another

  • Website search: Which internal search queries does the user make on your site?

  • Engagement with a video, if you have a YouTube video embedded

  • File downloads, such as PDF documents

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.

Events as the basis for goal definition

Everything is an event!

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

  • scroll

  • click

  • file_download

  • or video goals, like video_start, video_progress or video_complete

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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.

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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.

Data protection (GDPR) for Google Analytics 4

IP Anonymization by default

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.

  • What’s new? IP anonymization does not have to be actively integrated, but is set up by default for GA4 by Google. Google states in its article on IP anonymization of GA4 that “Automatically enabled IP anonymization cannot be disabled.”

  • The opt-out cookie needs to be available in your privacy policy for GA4 as well. Here you can learn how to do this.

  • New deadlines for data storage: In Google Analytics 4, you have two options for data storage: either 2 months or 14 months. As you can tell, the data storage as well as the options have decreased in comparison. Universal Analytics had these set to 14, 26, 38, or 50 months, and you can even choose “don’t expire automatically.”

  • Where can I find the data storage in GA4? You can find the data storage under Admin > Property > Data Settings > Data Retention

  • In the GA4 Property setting, you can also find “Deletion requests for data” in order to delete certain data.

Google Analytics 4’s user interface

More features, more complexity

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.

user-interface-ga4-ryte universal analytics Google Analytics 4 property Google Analytics 4 GA4 property GA4

  • (1) Home: Important reports and ML analyses at one glance

  • (2) Real-time: What are users doing on your website at this moment?

  • (3) Acquisition: How do users get to your site (UTM parameters are still important) (UA= Acquisition)

  • (4) Engagement: How are your users dealing with the content (events)? (UA = Behavior)

  • (5) Monetisation: How much revenue are you generating (for this, e-Commerce needs to be integrated)? (UA = Conversions > Ecommerce)

  • (6) Retention: How is your user retention developing? (UA = Audience > Cohort Analysis and Active Users)

  • (7) User: How are your users described technically and demographically (UA = Audience)

  • (8 & 9) Events: How are your users interacting with your content and what targets are they achieving? (UA= Behavior > Events)

  • (10) Analysis: How can I configure detailed reports? (UA = Dashboards and Custom Reports)

  • (11) Audiences: How can I distinguish my target audience more clearly? (UA = Segments)

  • (12) User properties: What characteristics do my users display? (UA = Custom Dimensions)

  • (13) Admin: Administration of Google Analytics 4 (UA = Admin)

  • (14) Reports: Reports (Widgets) on the homepage (UA = Customization)

  • (15) Adapt reports: Adapt reports based on dimensions such as country, city or age

  • (16) Share reports: Reports can be shared or exported here

  • (17) Insights: Predefined analysis questions (Machine Learning) on six categories, such as “general performance”, “demographic characteristics”, “statistics for user acquisition”, “traffic analysis”, “technology” and “ecommerce”

  • (18) Search bar: Here you can search for analysis questions directly, such as “how many new users this year”

Analyses in Google Analytics 4

Tables, funnels, paths and cohorts

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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

  • (1) Analysis in report tab “Homepage”

  • (2) Analysis in “Real-Time”

  • (3) Analysis in report tab “Life Cycle,” which is itself split up into

    • Acquisition: How do users reach your site

    • Engagement: What do users do on your site (this is where the data streams you defined during setup play an important role)

    • Monetization: How much is your user worth? Here, you will only get data if you have integrated eCommerce for Google Analytics 4 – more on this with Simo

    • Retention – How is your long term customer retention by cohorts for example?

  • (4) Analyses in reports tab “User”

    • Demographic characteristics: Here you can find data on your users such as age, gender, or interests if they are logged into their Google account and agree to personalized ads. For us at 121 Watt, that’s about 25%.

    • Technology: Technology can be found under Target Audience in Universal Analytics. You can find basic data such as device category, browser, operating system, or screen resolution. The only new dimension is “platform/device category” in a new combination such as “web/desktop” or “web / mobile.”

  • (5) Analyses in reports tab Events

    • All events: This report cannot be directly compared to the report “Events” in Universal Analytics since you can find your data streams (events) here.

    • Conversions: Based on these events, you can mark them as “Conversions” and have them readily available in a direct timeline comparison.

  • (6) The tab “Discover”

    • The tab “Discover” is unlike anything we know from Universal Analytics. In Universal Analytics, there are dashboards and custom reports. There are flow reports and funnel visualizations in the standard reports. All complex reports are newly refurbished in the “hub of the analysis tool.”

    • You can find complex visualization options in the “Analysis Hub,” such as

      • Cohort-, funnel- or path analyses

      • A User Explorer, that can be found in the tab “Target Audience”

  • (+1) In the “Configuration” tab, you have the option to define “Audiences” and “User Properties”

    • Audiences: What are target audiences in “GA4”?: With target audiences, you can segment GA4 users by certain dimensions (e.g. location or medium), measures (e.g. LTV – Life-Time-Value), or certain events (data streams)

    • In a second step, target audiences can be the basis for remarketing lists in Google Ads

    • User properties: Here, you can find user attributes, however, you need to implement them first. You may only define a maximum of 25 distinctly named user characteristics here. One example of a user property is “purchase=true”

    • DebugView: In DebugView, you can see events in your app or on your website in real-time. In order for this to work, you might need to set this up when implementing it in GTM. You can find more on this here.

  • funnel-analysis-ga4-ryte universal analytics Google Analytics 4 property Google Analytics 4 GA4 property GA4

Questions on Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

  • Advantage 1: You can already get familiarized with the new GA4

  • Advantage 2: You can test settings, such as targets, in GA4

  • Advantage 3: Your old data will still be recorded by your old UA Property

  • Advantage 4: You gain new insights into your user’s engagement via the automatic implementation of data streams. Data such as scrolls, video engagement, and downloads are documented automatically as soon as you have finished your setup.

  1. 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:

  • What time period will you choose for data storage in your Property settings?

  • Add the new Google Analytics 4 Property to your cookie opt-out option in your privacy policy. You can find more on this topic here.

  • Check if your opt-out works in the developer’s console.

  1. 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” ““.

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.

Further basic information and introduction to Google Analytics 4 Property

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.

What are interesting blogs and resources concerning Google Analytics 4?

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Published on Dec 7, 2020 by Alexander Holl