Google Analytics 4: The future of analytics


We are living in a new, dynamically developing reality. Everything is changing: users’ behavior, data requirements, the needs of businesses and the ways they work with data. The old approaches to analytics aren’t working anymore, and they definitely won’t work in the future post-cookie world.

That’s why we’re now constantly seeing updates to old services and new product launches.

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What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics is one of the most popular digital analytics software tools that allows you to analyze marketing efficiency and website visitor behavior in depth.

Last year, Google announced the most significant change to Google Analytics ever: Google Analytics 4, a new version that’s very different from the traditional “Universal” Analytics. It was big news, but came as no surprise.

The evolution of Google Analytics over the years has led to the development of Google Analytics 4.

This is not the first time we’ve been introduced to a new platform. In 2005, Google bought the tracking platform Urchin, and since then the company has released several new versions of its analytics service.

However, most of these releases have tracked either websites or app properties — not both.

Previously, businesses needed two platforms — Google Analytics and Firebase — to analyze both websites and apps separately. These products are good ways to get data insights, but it was quite challenging to get a unified picture across apps and websites. 

In 2019, Google took a big step and launched a beta property called App + Website. It was basically Google Analytics for Firebase but with web tracking capabilities. Now it is out of beta, and Google has renamed it Google Analytics 4 (GA4) — plus added tons more new features.

The new Google Analytics 4 comes with a bunch of key features that make it very different from the old version of Universal Analytics, and most people have a lot of questions about the new platform and what it means for the future of analytics.

We answer them in this article.

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Is Universal Analytics going away, and should we switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 right now?

Nowadays, many people are confused: Is Universal Analytics going away for good, and should we switch to the new version right now? What will happen to the old version?

Google’s Universal Analytics isn’t going away yet, and there’s no indication of when the old style of Google Analytics will be shut off. Nevertheless, you need to start making plans now to ensure you’re prepared for the transition to Google Analytics 4.

For now, users won’t be forced to switch over to the new version of Analytics, but any new properties or any new accounts will default to Google Analytics 4.

Data continuity and reporting are important to every business’s success and growth. That’s why we recommend implementing GA4 as an additional analytics tool in your stack and starting to collect data and build out your new Google Analytics 4 property today so you have historical data to properly leverage the platform. This practice is also recommended by Google on their own website.

It’s highly recommended to have both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 running at the same time so you can track your GA4 and Universal Analytics properties in parallel. Even if you don’t plan on using GA4 right away, with parallel tracking you can compare the two platforms, play around with GA4, and learn all the new features. 

Here are the main benefits of parallel tracking:

  • Accumulate historical data, as GA4 doesn’t provide any historical data you’ve tracked in Universal Analytics. It only starts tracking data when it’s set up. The earlier you get GA4 tagging in place, the more historical data you’ll gather and have to work with.

  • Give yourself time to get accustomed to the new interface, data model, and reporting configuration. Everything is different in GA4, as it’s a completely different entity from Universal Analytics.

  • Be future-oriented. Nobody knows when Universal Analytics will be fully deprecated, but it will. You don’t want to waste your time and one day be overwhelmed with a new analytics reality. Protect yourself.

Transitioning to Google Analytics 4 does not amount to upgrading an existing property, as GA4 introduces a new data schema altogether. Google has warned that users shouldn’t expect their data to look the same across Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. 

The migration path isn’t so simple as clicking one magic button and having everything work perfectly straight out of the box. The bigger and more complicated your current tracking system is, the longer it will take you to effectively switch to Google Analytics 4.

What’s new in Google Analytics 4?

So what has changed? In short… a lot.

Google Analytics 4 uses a completely different data structure and data collection logic. Let’s take a more detailed look at the tool and discuss the most noticeable changes.

The main features available in Google Analytics 4 are:

  • Cross-platform tracking (web and apps)

  • Deeper Google Ads integration

  • AI-powered predictions and insights

  • Free BigQuery integration

  • Google Signals

  • Event-based model

Cross-platform tracking (web and apps)

If your business owns websites and mobile apps, you can now conveniently stream data to the same property.

Previously, if you wanted to measure your website data, you needed to work with your Google Analytics property for tracking website data.

If we needed to view traffic in an app, we needed to leverage Google Analytics for Firebase to access the data. Now, all data across your website and app are gathered in one account.

The new GA4 combines web and mobile app traffic usage data into one property in one interface.

This is possible with a new architecture that lets us install cross-device tracking and unify data across devices. Also, this includes being able to track a user across devices.

With the help of GA4 and cross-device tracking, marketers can now holistically view the customer journey across devices.

Deeper Google Ads integration

Google Analytics 4 has deeper integration with Google Ads. You can use data from GA4 to build custom audiences that are more relevant to your customers and target them with paid or organic campaigns.

Besides, GA4 will report on actions from YouTube engaged views that occur in-app as well as on the web.

According to Google: 

With new integrations across Google’s marketing products, it’s easy to use what you learn to improve the ROI of your marketing.

A deeper integration with Google Ads, for example, lets you create audiences that can reach your customers with more relevant, helpful experiences, wherever they choose to engage with your business.

Marketers now can have a more global view of their results with the ability to see conversions from Google and non-Google paid channels, YouTube video views, Google search, social media, and email.

AI-powered predictions and insights

Google is a leader in machine learning, and it’s no surprise that advanced machine learning, as the main form of data measurement, has been applied in Google Analytics 4 to detect trends in data and alert users about them.

GA4 is able to predict user actions and behavior, and it makes planning your next step much easier by making available data that lets you know what to focus on. It’s certainly useful and necessary for knowing where to invest your time and resources to get the best return.

GA4 uses machine learning to help digital marketers through two features: predictive metrics and automated insights.

Google Analytics 4 supports three predictive metrics: purchase probability, revenue prediction, and churn probability.

[GA4] Predictive metrics

These metrics allow you to use all data you collect to forecast your customers’ future actions.

By using AI, Google Analytics 4 can give marketers and users automated insights about their visitors, customers, and customer journeys.

Automated insights are generated automatically and are accessible by default in the GA4 reporting view. With their help, GA4 can automatically alert marketers to data trends.

Free BigQuery integration

One of the most exciting features in GA4 is the ability to access and export raw data from GA to Google BigQuery (BigQuery linking).

Earlier, BigQuery integration was available only for Google Analytics 360 (the enterprise version of Google Analytics), but in GA4 it’s available to everyone at no additional cost. 

You only pay for your actual data storage and data querying when you exceed the limits of the Google Cloud free tier, and exporting data is free.

Sampling was always a problem in Universal Analytics, especially when you worked with really huge datasets. With BigQuery integration, you can do your data analysis on entirely raw, unsampled data. As a result, your analysis will be more accurate and powerful than ever.

Here are more advantages of BigQuery integration:

  • Connect GA4 data with third-party APIs

  • Export all custom event parameters and dimensions

  • Connect data from BigQuery with data visualization tools (Data Studio, Power BI, Tableau, or Qlik)

  • Correct data errors on past data

  • Use cloud infrastructure  

  • Build your own custom Channel Grouping

With this native BigQuery connection without an enterprise plan, Google unlocks many promising possibilities for analytics use cases. 

Now, marketers will have all doors open to work without any limits, having unsampled data at all times and being able to use cloud infrastructure with all the powerful tools provided.

Google Signals

Google Signals is an advertising reporting feature that allows marketers to collect cross-device data on individuals who are signed into a Google account for which they have turned on ad personalization.

Google Signals launched in 2018, but this integration between Google Signals and Google Analytics 4 is a huge update — now, this functionality can be used in all reports, while previously it was applied only to a few pre-built reports.

Data from Google Signals is aggregated and GDPR compliant, as there is no personally identifiable information. 

Here’s what you can gain by activating Google Signals for your property:

  • Gather information on your customers’ age, gender, and interests

  • Create lists of users to be remarketed to on the Google network

  • Get a more integral view of your audience’s behavior across devices

Event-based model

Universal Analytics relies on different hit types such as pageview, event, social interaction, and ecommerce.

In GA4, everything is now an event. An events-based model processes each user interaction as an autonomous event across all web and app visits.

Event building is one of the most significant Google Analytics 4 features. 

There are three categories of events that you can create, track, and receive reports on:

  • Automatically Collected Events (received from the global site tag; no additional configuration needed)

  • Recommended Events (events recommended by Google; must be implemented manually)

  • Enhanced Measurement Events (automatically tracked by Enhanced Measurement in GA4)

  • Custom Events (events that you name and implement yourself)

Historically, Universal Analytics grouped all data into sessions, and these sessions were the foundation of the whole reporting system.

With GA4, you can still see session data, but GA4 groups all collected data as events. 

An event-based data model offers flexibility in collecting data from both web and app platforms. It also supplements a completely new set of reports based on this new data model. 

It might not sound like much, but the event-based model is fundamental. It makes a huge difference and a big problem for old reporting based on session-model data. 

What does this change mean for Google Analytics users? 

Moving to GA4, we’ll all deal with a completely new data structure, session logic, and reporting system. And obviously, all future GA4 users will face the situation in which all reports built on the Universal Analytics session-based data model simply won’t work in GA4 and analysts will be forced to rewrite SQL queries and rebuild all reports. 

But you are not alone in this problem, and OWOX BI can make your migration to GA4 smooth and trouble-free.

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How to get started with GA4 with the help of OWOX BI

If you work with Google Analytics professionally, you have to deal with reports, data integrations and exporting, and custom tracking. It’s not so simple to just switch to a new system at once. 

As we mentioned before, we recommend you start tracking your GA4 and Universal Analytics properties in parallel starting now. Don’t wait until GA4 is well accepted in the market and its features have been studied and explained more thoroughly by visionary businesses and competitors. 

But if you think you can just start parallel tracking now and switch quickly and easily to GA4 when the time comes, that’s not realistic.

Google Analytics 4 is an entirely new analytics tool with a new data model. The UI has changed. Tracking points and metrics have changed. The data schema has changed. Reporting configurations have changed. 

The upgrade path isn’t so easy and simple as clicking a magic button and having everything work perfectly straight out of the box. There is a lot that goes into a bug-free migration to the new platform.

OWOX BI has already walked the upgrade path for a lot of big companies, and we can now offer a perfect solution — OWOX BI Smart Data.

OWOX BI Smart Data is a tool that allows marketing and management specialists to effortlessly build an unlimited number of ad hoc reports to analyze your audience in different slices and get valuable insights.

How exactly can Smart Data help with GA4 migration?

Here are the steps to start working with OWOX BI:

Step 1. OWOX analysts can help you identify, develop, and deploy a metrics system and start parallel tracking.

After setting up parallel tracking and starting to collect historical data, we have to return to the problem of old reporting based on session-based data model, the new event-based data model, the set of reports based on old data model, and the necessity to rebuild these reports. It’s a nightmare for all analysts and leads to an endless process of studying the new data structure, rewriting all SQL queries, and making infinite updates. 

But you can avoid all these tortures, free your analytics department from this work, and enable any marketer to build ad hoc reports in minutes without SQL knowledge with the help of Smart Data.

Step 2. Connect OWOX BI Smart Data which creates your company’s data model and automatically builds ad hoc reports. 

Reports built on any data slices and received with the help of Smart Data are abstracted from any source (Universal Analytics or GA4). They won’t break if you make changes, as all changes are made at the data model level. 

Smart Data automatically generates SQL queries, and they do not need to be rewritten manually.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Book a demo to find out more about Smart Data and how it can help you right now.

Automatically import Non-Google ad cost data into Google Analytics 4 with OWOX BI

Currently, there is only a manual way to import ad cost data into Google Analytics 4. You can automate this process and save valuable time, using the solution from OWOX BI.

Important! If you plan to import advertising costs to Google Analytics 4, then you need to add the required parameter utm_id (campaign identifier) to the links of your advertisement campaigns.

Key takeaways

The world still does not know a lot about GA4, its full functionality, all its new capabilities, and its future evolution.

But we know for sure that GA4 is our future and that we shouldn’t postpone the transition but start down the migration path as soon as possible.

With constant changes in the digital world, all marketing specialists should be able to build reports on their own, improve decision-making, analyze all collected data in different slices, and get valuable insights.

GA4 is the analytics upgrade we all needed. It helps clients understand how users interact in their apps and on their websites in a unified way, it respects privacy and is built to address the needs of a cookieless future, it addresses modern-day marketing needs, and it provides marketers with more flexibility.

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