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What Is GA4? Why You Should Update To Google Analytics 4 Now
by Jeff Trumble on
What are web analytics? Do you track analytics on your client’s websites? Which ones? Why do you track anything? Honestly, if we can’t measure something, do we even have any KPIs?
Web analytics is the tree in the forest problem all over again: if we don’t track visits and events on our websites, did they even really happen?
Think about that for a while.
We have analytics running in the background of our websites, online shops, and social media channels for two main reasons. Perhaps three.
- Get to know our visitors better so we can respond more precisely to their needs.
- Find out which tactics are bringing us success, and where we have the potential to go further.
- We have proof of concept – or proof of work — in the form of data, to present to our clients.
Yes, there were three reasons.
By the way, if you’re managing high-traffic websites, are they currently running on Enterprise WordPress Hosting? If we’re already talking about analytics, then now may be a good time to think about just that.
“If you want to increase your conversion rate, and boost your revenue, there are a lot of things you need to figure out. Understanding who your visitors are, will help you craft your message to be more relevant to them. Understanding how they interact with your site can help you improve upon your UX and UI. How do you do this? Using web analytics tools – in a nutshell”SEOptimer
What is GA4 Exactly?
Google Analytics has been with us for some time. For many of us, they may be the only system we know. GA started with Urchin.js in 2005, followed by Classic Google Analytics in 2007, and finally Universal Analytics in 2012. Now we have GA4, the fourth iteration.
We remember building websites before there were any analytics tools other than the classic hit counters. Those were cool. We spent time styling them for client’s websites back in 1999.
Google Analytics 4 is now the new Google Analytics standard. Universal Analytics will be discontinued as of July 1, 2023. So what actually changes for you and your client’s websites?
When you create a new property in Google Analytics, “Google Analytics 4” is preselected by default. You can still choose the UA alternative, but at the end of 2023, you will no longer have access to the universal properties. This means you will lose access to your historical data.
With the switch to GA4, you will lose your old, previously-collected data in Universal Analytics and completely restart your data collection in Google Analytics 4. So the sooner data flows into your GA4 property, the faster it will make sense to work with your data from July 1, 2023.
Specifically, if you manage to migrate to GA4 today, you can run (almost) a year-over-year comparison on July 1, 2023. If you manage to migrate by January 1, 2023, you can still perform a half-year comparison.
“Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, Google Analytics 4 operates across platforms, does not rely exclusively on cookies and uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.”Google
Is GA4 Better than Universal Analytics?
That depends on who you ask. GA4 is certainly different from Universal Analytics. That difference begins with the UI (below). Compare UA in the left column, with GA4 in the right column.
We have been using Universal Analytics for so many years, and the first thing you notice is how many of the functions you know and love are no longer immediately visible. Some have been turned on their heads, and some have merged into others.
Three of the biggest changes we found are:
- The measurement model in GA4
- The importance of “Engagement Rate”
- The definition of a “User”
The most important difference between UA and GA4 is the measurement model.
Universal Analytics used a measurement model based on sessions and pageviews. Google Analytics 4, however, uses a measurement model based on events and parameters.
A (UA) session can contain multiple pageviews, events and eCommerce transactions. But any interaction can be captured as “an event.” So, Universal Analytics hit types translate to “events” in GA4. That might make reporting easier or harder depending on what your clients are used to.
This article explains the differences between the UA and GA4 data models.
Instead of “Bounce Rate,” GA4 will focus on “Engagement Rate.”
Engagement rate means the number of engaged sessions divided by the total number of sessions over a specific period of time. An “engaged session” is a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event, or had at least 2 pageviews or screenviews.
In GA4, the Engagement Rate is actually the inverse of the Bounce Rate. Heads up: the numbers will likely be the opposite of what your client is used to seeing. As an example, if your average website bounce rate is around 37%, you can expect to see a 63% engagement rate in G4.
This article compares metrics between GA4 and Universal Analytics.
What exactly is a “User” in Google Analytics?
In UA, we know of two User metrics: Total Users and New Users. In GA4, there are three User metrics. Total Users and New Users are now joined by Active Users. Depending on how frequently users return to your website, your Total Users metric in UA, for example, and the Active Users metric in GA4 might be similar.
In Universal Analytics, the number of users corresponds to the number of individual client IDs. Thus, the client ID technically stands for a unique browser/device combination. In GA4, there is also a client ID.
In GA4, a user as they appear in the reports is an “active user.” An “active user” is defined as follows:
Definition (active) user: all users (client IDs) where the “engagement_time_msec parameter > 0.”
This article explains the difference between how UA and GA4 metrics are reported.
“Analytics and reporting are one of the many agency pain points we all encounter. On the one hand, understanding analytics in regards to performance for us as managers of our client’s website. On the other hand, the reporting of analytics for our clients in a clear, and productive way. Any changes in our preferred tools is another pain point we have to work around.”Rocket.net
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of GA4?
Like every new thing, there is going to be a learning curve, and a period of adjustment. Remember making the switch from Classic Editor to Gutenburg? A new car feels weird at first, as does a new phone. After a while, GA4 will probably become your new best friend.
A lot of people aren’t excited about the change to GA4. 33% of those polled by SEO guru Aleyda Solis said they would move to another analytics tool.
What are the Advantages of GA4?
- IP addresses are automatically anonymized. This makes your analytics conform with EU data protection and privacy regulations.
- A user ID is used, which makes tracking across multiple platforms possible (e.g. on your website & app).
- GA4 uses Machine Learning, which allows the program to develop more sophisticated predictions than its predecessor.
- Anomalies in user behavior are better registered and displayed by GA4.
With GA4, Google offers the possibility of linking with BigQuery. This means that the analyses of individual events can be evaluated in even greater detail — and in real time.
What are the Disadvantages of GA4?
- You will need to migrate your UA to G4 – this may not be for everybody. Find out more about migrating.
- The UI isn’t intuitive. This means a steep learning curve for your clients, and perhaps for your team.
- Custom Dimensions and Custom Channel Groupings are limited (at the moment).
What are the Best GA4 Alternatives?
A tool is only as good as the job it’s meant to do. Google Analytics focus is on measuring the traffic on your website. If you are looking for an alternative, then you should ask yourself – what is it you really want to measure?
- Lead and Customer Analytics: Hotjar or Hubspot may be an alternative.
- SEO and Optimisation Analytics: SEMrush might be better suited to your needs.
- Traffic and Performance Analytics: We’re talking Google & Co.
It’s difficult to find a perfect alternative to Google Analytics. GA is free, we’ve been using it for years, and it easily connects with so much of the web we already know and love. Monster Insights – one of the best-known WordPress plugins – is actually a Google Analytics tool.
Matomo is a paid tool. There is a free, two-week plan so you can take it out for a spin. Matomo is a Google Analytics alternative. Analytics your data is “protected” by allowing you to host the data on your own server.
Matomo offers heatmaps, session recordings, A/B testing, and much more. The monthly cost depends on whether you are hosting it yourself, or using the cloud solution.
Matomo WordPress Plugin
Clicky’s is a GDPR-compliant website analytics service. Clicky is free for up to 3,000 page views for a single website. There is also a range of paid plans available if you want to monitor multiple websites, or if your site attracts a larger number of page views.
“Google Analytics is the biggest player on the block, but it may not be the best for every situation. With data sampling, incomplete data (due to privacy issues), and an interface that comes with a steep learning curve, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed.”Hubspot
How to Set up GA4 in WordPress
You can add your GA code either manually in your theme header, via a plugin, or by using Google Tag Manager.
Manually including the GA code
First, get the latest version of the Analytics tracking code from your Google Analytics account. You can find this code at: Administration > PROPERTY > Data Streams > Web > General Website Tag (gtag.js).
Your tag looks like this, and is placed in the header.php of your WordPress theme:
<!– Google tag (gtag.js) –>
<script async src=”https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=G-##########”></script>
window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || ;
gtag(‘js’, new Date());
Using a WordPress plugin to include Google Analytics
How Many WordPress Plugins Are Too Many? Can we do this without another plugin? The real issue with plugin bloat is twofold: security and management.
That said, MonsterInsights and Google Site Kit are both well-known options when using a WordPress plugin. There is added weight and management of your site when using a plugin, but you don’t need to access your theme.
Simply open the plugin and enter the property number of your Google Analytics. In our example that would be “G-##########”
Using Google Tag Manager
If you are including different tags, then having a collection of tags in the header of your website, or using multiple plugins, isn’t the best way to go. A better option is to use Google Tag Manager. There you can create a container with various tags and triggers for your social media, eCommerce, Google Analytics, and Google Ads.
Google Tag Manager supports Google Analytics 4 properties with two tags that work together:
- Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration
- Google Analytics: GA4 Event
GTM creates a snippet for you to include in your website. One code snippet goes in the head of your theme:
<!– Google Tag Manager –>
new Date().getTime(),event:’gtm.js’});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s),
<!– End Google Tag Manager –>
The other code snippet goes into the body of your theme:
<!– Google Tag Manager (noscript) –>
height=”0″ width=”0″ style=”display:none;visibility:hidden”></iframe></noscript>
<!– End Google Tag Manager (noscript) –>
“Setting up a Google Analytics 4 property after the sunset date of July 1, 2023, will mean starting from scratch. However, you can start sending data into GA4 today while still using Universal Analytics. This way, you’ll have historical data in Google Analytics 4 for comparison and analysis when Universal Analytics closes.”WPBeginner
Google Analytics 4 is Here: What Should You Do Today?
Get familiar with the GA4 user interface. Today. Not June 30, 2023. Get someone on your team to take a few days for a GA4 course. Google’s Skillshop offers a free GA4 course with certification.
Reports in Google’s Data Studio or other tools that access Analytics data are great – but it will take time to find your way around the new tool.
You’ll also want to get your clients onboard. Set up a parallel account in GA4 and start comparing reports with them.
The switch is a profound change, but it offers many new possibilities!
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