By Joe Friedlein, is founder and MD of Browser Media, an SEO and digital marketing agency.
Over the past month or so, you might have received an email asking you to sign up to GA4, or upon logging into the Analytics platform, you may have noticed a prompt to upgrade when viewing property settings.
GA4 is the new version of Google Analytics and effectively it’s an expansion and rebranding of the App + Web property available with Universal Analytics. It is now available to everyone and is the default version for new properties.
It’s also very different to the platform we’re used to. The way user data, views and filters are handled is completely new, but what feels most unfamiliar is the interface. It may take a little time to understand the new layouts and features.
To be clear, this isn’t like when they change up the aisles in your regular supermarket, and you’re annoyed at first but a week later you’ve forgotten what it used to be like. The shift is much more significant which is probably why Google is giving us plenty of time to adapt.
How is GA4 different to Universal Analytics?
Alongside new layouts and reporting, GA4 uses machine learning to deliver new insights. The new data modelling feature makes use of AI to fill any gaps in data where the existing version of GA may have been blocked by cookie-consent rules.
In terms of everyday usage though, these are probably the more notable changes:
- No view filters – instead, filters are created and applied inside your reports
- Audiences can be created based on a combination of dimensions, metrics and events
- It’s possible to customise reports by changing the dimension, adding comparisons and adjusting the attribution model
- Attribution can be changed as you view reports
The way conversions are set up and tracked has also been altered. For a start, there is no such thing as a ‘goal’ anymore. GA4 works on event-based tracking only; everything is an event, even a page view.
Do I need Google Analytics 4?
The simple answer is that for most people, there really is no need to rush to GA4 anytime soon.
If you’re a global brand with both a website and an app, or if you’re just keen to take advantage of some of the new, more advanced features, then it might be slightly higher up your list of priorities.
Either way, it doesn’t look as if the current version of Google Analytics is disappearing any time soon. Google hasn’t yet announced an expiration date for the Universal Analytics version, and what’s handy is it allows you to run the new GA4 property alongside your current Universal Analytics without fully migrating. In fact, even if you are completely taken with the new GA4, we’d strongly recommend still sending data to your existing GA property.
Not only does this give you time to adjust to the new interface, reports and features, but it’s quite essential as any new GA4 property you create will essentially be empty. If and when you do upgrade to GA4, it will create a new website property in your account, but it won’t replace your existing properties or views.
How to create a GA4 property
There are two types of people. Those who eagerly check out the latest version of Google tools and platforms as soon as they’re available, and those who keep clicking ‘take me to the old version’ until one day it is no longer an option, and they’re filled with regret over their lack of discipline.
If you fit into the former camp and keen to set up a new GA4 property, here’s how to go about it:
- Click on ‘Admin’ in the left-hand sidebar
- In the ‘Account’ column, check the right account is selected
- In the ‘Property’ column, select the Universal Analytics property currently collecting data for your site
- In the ‘Property’ column, click GA4 Setup Assistant
- Under ‘I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property’, select ‘Get Started’
- Click ‘Create Property’
GA will now create your new Google Analytics 4 property, copying basic data such as the property name, URL, time zone, and currency from your Universal Analytics property.
Once you’ve successfully connected, you should see this:
It can take up to 30 minutes for data to begin appearing, but by clicking on the Real-time report in the menu, you can check to see if this is working.
Though Google isn’t forcing anyone to make the switch straightaway, it is encouraging users to adopt GA4, and will no longer be investing in the current version of GA. It’s definitely not something worth panicking about but do make an effort to familiarise yourself with the new version sooner rather than later as it takes some getting used to.