What’s new in Google Analytics 4? What should you watch out for when switching?
In October 2020, Google introduced the new Google Analytics 4. The previous version is not necessarily known as Google Analytics 3, but rather as Universal Analytics. Since then, Google has marketed the new version very strongly, and so you naturally ask yourself whether you should urgently switch to the new version now. This causes some confusion, also about the question of whether data is transferred (spoiler: no!).
What’s new in Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 is a further development of Google Analytics for Web and App. It differs both technically and visually from the old version. The new data model is intended to provide more relevant analyzes and visualizations, using machine learning algorithms. Data protection has also been improved. The anonymization of users’ IP addresses is already included as standard.
The most important new features include cross-platform tracking so that websites and apps can be tracked in the same property, as well as event tracking. This makes it easy to measure events such as scrolling events or clicks on external links and do not have to be created through code adjustments. What is also interesting is the cross-domain tracking. If your company has a main domain www.example.com and a subdomain for the blog (blog.example.com), the corresponding tracking, for example, via the Google Tag Manager, had to be set up a bit tedious. This now works directly in GA4.
You have to get used to that the analysis no longer focuses on sessions, but on users. Because users not only trigger page views but click on something, etc. In addition, there are no more data views and filters, as you can now filter the reports yourself. Goals are also easier to set up than before.
Make an “upgrade” to Google Analytics4 now?
Because Google is making such a hype about GA4 and “Upgrade” suggests an improvement, one gets the impression that one just has to switch, and the previous data would be adopted. But that is not the case. When upgrading, the data is not imported from the old version to the new one. A new property is created, which means that no data is available, and data collection only begins when the code is implemented on the website.
Therefore, the recommendation is to create a new property when upgrading and to run both properties in parallel. You can recognize a Universal Analytics property by the fact that it begins with UA-, GA4, however, with G-. In parallel operation, you can familiarize yourself with the new environment, but you still have the old version’s data.
How to create a new Google Analytics 4 property
Go to the administration of your Google Analytics account and click on “GA4 setup assistant”.
Create a new Google Analytics 4 property:
Click on “Create property” in the assistant. You can also use the setup wizard later and change settings if necessary. If you call it up later and a data stream has been created (see below), it says “Set up assistant” and “connected”.
If you now click on the arrow next to Tag Installation, you will get to the data stream, or you can click on it in the menu on the left. A data stream for the website has already been created, but additional data streams may need to be added. No data is coming in yet, because the code has not yet been implemented on the website.
If you click on a data stream, you will receive the details and the new measurement ID, the equivalent of the UA code. You can also see which optimized analyzes have already been created automatically.
Now, of course, the new GA-4 property code has to be implemented on the website. The easiest way to do this is with the Google Tag Manager, which also has a new tag for GA4. All you have to do is copy the measurement ID. Alternatively, the gtag.js can also be implemented manually on the website as usual.
Go back to the administration. What is noticeable now is that there are no more data views, only properties (and of course the account settings). Check the property settings to make sure that the property is properly named so that you can easily distinguish it from your UA property. You can also set the industry, time zone and currency.
If you now call up your new Google Analytics property, you will come to the new interface (where no data exist yet). It still takes some getting used to, since everything is now based on the data streams or events, including goals and conversions. There are a lot of new features, but it’s also all a little more complex than before.
You must remember that users must also be able to object to tracking here. The switch may not be technically trivial, depending on how much you are already tracking in Universal Analytics. The best thing to do here is to get support from an experienced tracking specialist.
Google Analytics 4 is certainly the standard of tomorrow and will replace Universal Analytics in the long term, but you have to keep in mind that GA4 is still at the very beginning and Google will certainly test a lot. The best thing to do is to familiarize yourself with GA4 by creating a new property, as the data will not be transferred. In this way, you can already build up a data history.