Google Analytics has provided valuable insights to businesses for years. For some businesses, GA is the only ‘source of truth’ when it comes to data insights.

The new Google Analytics (GA4) property builds on the foundation of the App and Web property introduced in Beta in 2019.

GA4 has a new user interface. It also has new privacy features, and utilises machine learning. This automatically surfaces insights to give you a complete understanding of customers across various platforms and devices.

Digital analytics has evolved. With changing restrictions or approaches to cookies, and identifiers that create gaps in data collection, this AI approach fills the gaps. This ensures that essential insights are ready to utilise.

Google analytics dashboard
GA dashboard

To understand how far the Google Analytics platform has come, let’s take a brief look at its 15-year history.

Google Analytics 1: Urchin. The first version on-premises log analyser

Google acquired the log analysis program and analytics system, Urchin.

Developed on the Urchin on Demand service, Google used the system to deliver detailed, insightful, and intuitive reporting. This enabled businesses to easily analyse the traffic to their website(s).

Google Analytics 2: Classic

The classic version of Google Analytics was a shift away from Urchin. There were, as yet, no custom dimensions/metrics, online/offline data synchronisation or multiplatform tracking. However, the foundation for Universal Analytics was already set.

Behaviour, conversion, and acquisition reports became available. Another notable improvement was the ability to integrate Google AdWords and create custom variables.

The table below summarises the differences.

Google v1 and v2 differences

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Google Analytics 3: Universal Analytics

The standard free Google Analytics gave 5 custom variables, while GA Premium users could use up to 50.

This was fine as users found clever ways to use these 5 custom variables. Then Universal Analytics was introduced in 2005. This brought in several major changes that proved to be extremely beneficial to its users.

  • Custom variables became custom dimensions, and the limit was increased to 20 (on the free plan) and 200 (for Premium users)
  • Users were able to send data with the help of measurement protocol
  • Reduction of set cookies from 7 to 2
  • The ability to track the same user across different devices (laptop, smartphone, etc.)

Google Analytics 4 : App and Web property

Google Analytics 4 is a new version of GA that uses Firebase Analytics. It provides better insights on visitor behaviour.

Google Analytics 4 property measurement is event-based, with the principle that any interaction can be captured as an event. As such, Universal Analytics property hit types translate to events in a Google Analytics 4 property. Google

The table below, compares the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4.

Differences between UA & GA 

In GA4, events fall into four categories:

  1. Automatically collected
  2. Enhanced measurement
  3. Recommended
  4. Custom

Google Analytics 4 events have no notion of Category, Action, and Label. When a website visitor views a web page, a page_view event parameter is triggered.

Unlike Universal Analytics reports, GA4 reports don't display Category, Action, and Label. So instead of porting your existing event structure into GA4, it's recommended you align your data streams to the GA4 model.

GA 4 example screenshot
Example of web stream details

GA4 makes it easier to track events such as page scrolls, site search and video engagement automatically (*YouTube embedded videos). These events were tracked in as custom events in Universal Analytics and will have required developer involvement or configuration in Google Tag Manager. This approach reduces the time needed to get up and running to measure metrics essential to your business. *Custom events are created to track events from other video players.

Advanced debugging view

In GA4 it is also easier to debug tracking implementation. For example, to create internal filters and to test whether they’re working, enable the debug mode. This filters the events from the session outlined below. Pay particular attention to the variable traffic_type which is set as internal.

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UI example

What does GA4 mean for your business?

Google Analytics 4 provides more user centric capabilities, enhanced reporting, and data visualisation – all with a focus on customer journeys. This is great for marketers!

The introduction of GDPR and privacy laws make it increasingly difficult to track users. Using AI and machine learning, GA4 fills the gaps left by the removal of cookies. As more browsers block third party cookies, this feature is a great benefit for tracking your visitors' entire cross-platform journey.

Your business will be able to dig deeper into visitor behaviour, track cross domains as well as tracking apps.

GA4 overview

  • Has platform for both website or app
  • Customer journey focus
  • User friendly interface
  • Gives you predictive analytics capabilities
  • Enhanced reporting and analysis reports
  • Easy conversion and event tracking set up
  • Automatic event tracking
  • Efficient cross domain tracking improves ROI metrics
  • Access to more custom dimensions and metrics
  • Quick data validation and audit built within the user interface

Because historical data isn’t yet tacked in Google Analytics 4, we recommended to continue using Universal Analytics alongside it. This will give you the advantages of both UA and the enriched features of GA4.

Over time though, UA will be deprecated and GA4 will become your new ‘source of truth’ for data insights.

At Codehouse the GA4 property is already implemented alongside Universal Analytics enabling us to benefit from features provided by both tools.

Learn more about analytics and visualisation.

If you want better customer insights our Digital Experience team is ready. We’ll implement your upgrade to GA4 and help you get the best from Google Tag Manager and Data Studio.