What is Google Analytics 4? What Do Marketers Need to Know?

Jonathan Stanis
Posted by Jonathan Stanis on January 27, 2022
google-analytics-4 setup

Effectively retain website visitors. Drive more website traffic. Improve marketing campaigns. You likely already know the benefits of capturing website visitor behavior by using Google Analytics.

After collecting visitor insights and tracking website performance, you can better discover and identify trends and patterns in how visitors engage with your website. And then you can adjust campaigns accordingly. Basically, that’s how you use Google Analytics for marketing.

Google Analytics as most marketers likely know it is technically referred to as Universal Analytics. Now, however, things have changed a bit, since they introduced Google Analytics 4 in 2021. You might think there isn’t a big difference, but making the change could have a significant impact on how you track and report on marketing metrics. 

Fear not. We’re here to give you a basic overview of the difference and answer questions like: 

  • What is Google Analytics 4? 
  • How will your marketing efforts need to change to take advantage? 
  • Should you delete Universal Analytics and replace it with Google Analytics 4?

Let’s dive in. 

What is Google Analytics 4?

Formerly known as the beta tracking property “App + Web,” Google Analytics 4 (GA4) can be used for a website, an app, or both of them together. GA4 has officially replaced Universal Analytics as the default for digital analytics measurement in Google Analytics.

What’s Different About GA4 vs Universal Analytics?

The biggest change for marketers is that GA4 is an engagement-based model, not a session-based model.

The “time on page” metric has been replaced by engagement time. You can still see session data, but engaged sessions are what’s important. In this event-based data model, what’s an engaged session? 

In GA4 an “engaged session” is a session that lasts 10 seconds or longer, has one or more conversion events, or has two or more screen or page views.

Events now more fully see what action a user took and can add context to the event, capturing specific pieces of information. It captures the amount of time a user spends actually engaging with the page (scrolling, for instance) and if that page is the primary window being viewed.

Bounces do not exist in GA4 (although you could get a similar number by subtracting engaged sessions from overall sessions). Instead, engagement ratethe ratio of engaged sessions to total sessions — shows if users are interacting with your content. How do you calculate engagement rate? If you have 1,000 total sessions and 110 of them are engaged sessions (see definition above), the engagement rate is 11%.

engagement metric in google analytics 4

What Are the Benefits of GA4?

OK, so GA4 focuses on events instead of sessions, which gives you, as a marketer, more control over the kind of data you collect. What other benefits does GA4 provide?

GA4…

  • …can measure data from both a website and an app
  • …supports cross-domain tracking
  • …has enhanced reporting and visualization
  • …can use machine learning to predict user behavior
  • …is designed to work without cookies or identifying data; it’s nearly “future proof”

GA4 also makes it easier to set up conversion tracking. Here’s how. With Universal Analytics, data is tracked based on page views/hits. If a user’s action doesn't open a new page on the tracked domain — such as a click to play a video — it cannot be tracked. (There is the abilty to also do event tracking in UA, but a Google Tag Manager setup is required to do so.) GA4’s tracking protocols are different, so it easily handles event tracking. GA4 is completely event based, though different from the events you can track in UA. A user does not need to change pages for the event to happen. For example, sitting on a page for 10 seconds will trigger an engagement event. These events can also be used in apps, which do not have page views.

As an inbound marketer, you need to know how GA4’s benefits affect you. Well, start thinking about your website metrics differently. Now, as you define your marketing goals, think about engagements, conversions, and custom metrics instead of just what Google Analytics has always measured.

Lastly, because Universal Analytics is no longer being improved, you’ll definitely need to move to GA4, and likely soon.

Should You Delete Universal Analytics and Replace it with Google Analytics 4?

We’re not going to cover how to add Google Analytics to a website or setting up G4. You know how to search on Google, and there’s no shortage of Google pushing GA4 (it’s now the default when you create a new property). Yet, it’s important to know that it is still possible to create Universal Analytics properties. So, the short answer is “no,” don’t delete Universal Analytics; you can run it in parallel to GA4. 

Is making the switch on your website time intensive? It doesn’t take long to add a GA4 installation to your website and the default events it can collect. What will likely take more time is understanding the difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics, and then creating goals and the custom events to capture that data.

Remember, there are ways to leverage both Google Analytics and HubSpot to get a complete analytic view of your website’s performance.

There you have it! GA4 provides marketers with a more complete cross-channel view of the customer lifecycle and offers more data and smart ways to act on those insights.

Since you care about the effectiveness of your website, you may want to read more about improving your website and company performance. Get the checklist by clicking the link below.

Checklist: how to prepare your website for inbound marketing

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Marketing Metrics & Analytics

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