Introduction to Google Analytics 4

Introduction to Google Analytics 4
Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Google Analytics 4 (formerly App + Web properties) is the newest iteration of Google’s popular web analytics service, billed by many as the “future of analytics.” Google Analytics 4 (often referred to as GA4) brings the website and app experience to a whole new level, eliminating the need for a separate Google Analytics for Firebase property to track mobile app data.

Unlike Universal Analytics (UA), which provides only glimpses of the user journey across different views, GA4 shows the overall user journey through the entire purchase funnel.

The following sections explore the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics—which could be considered Google Analytics 3 with the new nomenclature—along with the benefits your business will gain from GA4 long-term.

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4 aims to address some of the concerns raised in Universal Analytics and introduce new concepts that are both scalable and adaptable. Here are the key differences:

1. Data Processing: Session vs. Event-Based Model

Universal Analytics uses a session-based data model (data is grouped based on a user’s interaction within a given time frame). This results in a structurally-complex and computationally-expensive model to manage. As many analysts have likely experienced, trying to merge unstructured or semi-structured data with structured data can be difficult in UA, especially with the consistent increase in data volume. Moreover, there is a frequent need to streamline, store, and query massive amounts of data without losing any information.

Google Analytics 4 addresses this problem with an event-based schema solution where everything is an event. As a result, GA4 processes the user’s event as a stand-alone model with its unique parameters, ensuring that its database is flexible, scalable, and super-fast when queried.

nonso user-centric event model
Schema difference between Google Analytics 4 (user-centric event model) and Universal Analytics (session model).

[Editor’s note: Want to learn more about the event model used by the properties? Go to this article for an overview.]

2. Audiences Definitions

In Google Analytics 4, you can define audiences using more options (such as “User ID” from your CRM). If you are not capturing User IDs, you can enable Google Signals to leverage anonymous user information captured from users signed into Google platforms. Defining audiences brings the power of remarketing to its optimum. With Google Analytics 4 feeding data to Google Marketing Platform, if a Google user has Ads Personalization turned on, he or she can be served remarketing ads across multiple devices.

3. Identity Specs for Reporting

In Universal Analytics, cross-device and platform reporting is somewhat limited. It’s available in the User ID-enabled views, and uses only the User ID to create cross-device reports. There are also some Google Signal reports that are available in non-user ID views, but the fact remains that all these reports are in isolation in UA.

Google Analytics 4 is truly a cross-device type of property and makes its case as a user-centric report. It combines classic User ID, data from Google Signals, and Device ID so the information is available in all those reports. It can also be de-duplicated to see a single user journey.

Within GA4, you can now answer questions about your users regardless of platforms. (For example, “How much revenue was generated by a user, regardless of the device category?”)

4. Custom Tracking

In UA, custom dimensions are secondary dimensions on top of standard reporting rather than primary dimensions that drive analysis. This is not the case with Google Analytics 4. In the analysis hub of GA4, custom metrics become level-set with standard metrics for reporting and analysis. In addition, GA4 automatically tracks additional events (especially in apps).

5. Reporting UI

Data is pre-organized in some predefined visualizations in Universal Analytics called (standard) reports. However, if you have additional business requirements, you can build custom reports. The major challenge with customizing reports in UA is that the group of dimensions and metrics must have the same scope, which restricts their flexibility and your capabilities when using them. This challenge somewhat confines the user to focus more on KPIs and reporting than analysis.

Google addressed some of these reporting challenges in Google Analytics 4 by only including a handful of standard reports. The details are also simplified to show you summary cards or overviews of a single insight about your website or mobile app. It is now easier to identify the users at each stage of their purchase journey; you also now have the power to use the analysis hub feature to create personalized custom reports and analysis. 

It is important to note that GA4’s analysis hub and reporting UI have machine learning at their core to produce meaningful insights that are important to your business. The new GA4 property gives power to the analyst so that the focus is on investigations rather than reporting.

Simplified reports in GA4 InfoTrust
Screenshot showing some of the simplified reports in Google Analytics 4.

A few of the simplified reports in Google Analytics 4 include:

  • Life Cycle Reports: Help you analyze data by the stage your customers are in their purchase journey.
  • User Reports: Provide insights on user demographics and the technologies they use to navigate through your website.
  • Events Reports: Show data about the default automatic and/or custom tracking that you have configured on your website or mobile app. These reports also highlight the number of times your users perform these actions. It also provides insights into the conversions that you have indicated are most important to your businesses.

[Editor’s note: If you are new to analysis hub reporting features of analysis hub, be sure to check out this article.]

Benefits of the new Google Analytics 4 Event-Modeled Property

Some advanced technologies, such as machine learning algorithms, have been used to create Google Analytics 4. The benefits you can enjoy include:

1. Adaptability and Data-Driven Decisions

As breakthroughs in technology increase exponentially, there are bound to be concerns around user privacy.

GA4’s machine learning algorithms plug the gaps in data noticed from previous analytics platforms due to cookie restrictions. This means that you get smarter insights across devices and platforms that more accurately represents your customers and support your marketing goals.

2. Scalability

If you have Google Signals and user ID (from your CRM) features available, GA4 helps you understand your users’ journey more intricately. In other words, you can see your KPIs at an aggregate or deduplicated level across multiple devices and platforms.

3. Simplified, Organized, and Integrated Reporting

The introduction of data streams allows you to integrate app or website data into a single Google Analytics 4 property so that you have an aggregated view of your business. The reports are also less daunting and more intuitive so that it is easy to find insights by customer stage in the purchase life cycle and/or across devices and platforms.

4. User Properties

These are similar to user-scoped dimensions, and they coexist with event parameters/custom dimensions and metrics, but are defined a bit differently (especially with apps). In GA4, they are used to describe segments of your user base, and some of them are automatically collected. You also have the ability to create your own unique user properties (25, for now) and use them in your report

5. New Metrics and Dimensions

GA4’s new metrics and dimensions can add value to your analysis. For example, you can now see the potential revenue you could earn from a particular group of users. You can also see the churn probability to proactively push marketing budget into customer retention efforts.

GA4 InfoTrust new eCommerce and Predicitive Metrics in analysis hub
Screenshot showing new eCommerce and Predictive metrics in the Analysis Hub.


As you can see, Google Analytics 4 can add value to your business. How?

  • Its machine learning provides more meaningful insights for your business.
  • Its reporting UI is simple, user-centric, and enables you to see the entire user journey at any stage in the marketing funnel.
  • Its event-based schema allows for a scalable, flexible, and a smooth user experience.

If you are an existing Google Analytics user, set up a Google Analytics 4 property alongside your existing Universal Analytics property now to accumulate historical data and start benefitting from the new features of GA4.

Questions about Google Analytics 4?

Contact the experienced consulting team at InfoTrust to learn more about the "future of analytics."
Last Updated: September 23, 2022

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