GA4: The Granular, Cross-device Tracking Solution That Respects Users’ Privacy

Here’s all the GA4 essentials you need to know and why you should make the move from UA really soon.

GA3 or Universal Analytics (UA) will be out of the picture as soon as July 1st, 2023, and it’s not without good reason. UA’s website-only tracking is a bit outdated, considering people nowadays engage across multiple platforms at once. Thus, the conversion tracking is not as accurate as it should be. Moreover, users are also more aware of their privacy, something UA is not designed to deal with. 

This is where GA4 came in, to address these specific issues. It was launched in the fall of 2020 and will replace UA as the default and only available option for digital analytics measurement in GA. With this said, it is recommended to upgrade your tracking to GA4 as early as now, so that when UA sunsets, your business will not have to start from scratch.

What is GA4 and why was it developed?

GA4 is a win-win measurement solution that not only optimizes cross-device tracking but also answers customers’ demands for privacy. GA4 also takes a granular approach which will definitely improve the customer experience for the better. 

GA4 was developed to address 4 areas: cross-device tracking, privacy regulations and updates, advanced insights, and data activation.

Cross-device tracking

Although UA was launched in 2012, it was designed with the same tracking principles as Urchin which was created back in 2005. Simply said, UA was designed only to track website activities and not apps. GA4 on the other hand, was purposely built to track activity across both websites and apps—adapting to the current browsing behaviors where users are constantly engaging across devices. 

Privacy regulations and updates

GA4 is compatible with Google’s Consent Mode or when users opt out of being tracked on a website. But, marketers don’t need to worry as GA4’s Conversion Modeling will bridge the data gap, allowing marketers to measure conversions while also respecting users’ privacy.

Advanced insights

GA4 came with notable tools and collaborations that allows for advanced insights such as:

  • Explore: a tool to perform advanced data science techniques to extract meaningful insights and get the most out of your data
  • ML: a built-in tool to forecast on your data to predict future trends and user behavior (ex: predictive purchases) and generate audiences based on these insights 
  • Native integration with BigQuery: allows you to get a more precise and multilevel data analysis of your users so you can understand their web activities. Also, integration with the full Google Cloud Platform Suite for advanced machine learning techniques and data analysis

Data activation

GA4 is integrated with the full GMP stack. This means all generated and tracked audiences and conversions are automatically shared across the linked platforms for activation in your campaigns. 

What is the difference between UA and GA4?

There are  a lot of differences between the two as GA4 is a major update in every sense, but the most notable difference will be: 

GA4 enables more robust cross-platform and cross-device tracking

Marketers can track and combine website and mobile app usage data into one GA property. The results are more accurate and reliable as both use the same schema to measure the conversion. GA4 also provides a platform where marketers can see each separate result as well the cross-device insights. 

GA4 uses more granular measurement metrics

Instead of sessions and bounce rate, GA4 measures conversions in a more granular way with the use of events and parameters. Any actions users take, be it pageview or user timing, can be counted as events and thus, conversions. 

And aligning with modern browsing behavior, GA4 uses tracking metrics that accurately measure user engagement. GA4 engagement metrics include: engaged sessions, engagement rate, engaged sessions per user and average engagement time. 

To note, GA4 counts sessions differently. Unlike UA, when the session would end in 30 minutes of inactivity, there is no limit to how long the session would last. A GA4 session can also start with or without a pageview or screenview. 

GA4 allows for complex conversions

GA4 lets you create conversions that satisfy multiple conditions instead of one. To create complex conversions:

  1. Create a new audience in GA4 with one or more conditions (visiting website via newsletter, watching a video for at least 5 minutes, etc.)
  2. Create an audience trigger that logs an event when a user becomes a member of this audience
  3. Mark the event as a conversion

GA4 gives users better control of their privacy

In GA4, IP anonymization is built-in and enabled by default. Aside from that, GA4 also does not log IP addresses and allows users to disable collection of Google signals data on a per-region basis. Instead of 50 months, user and event data retention in GA4 can only be kept for a maximum of 14 months before getting automatically deleted. 

To sum up, the GA4 measurement model is more flexible and superior compared to its predecessor as it is designed to adapt to modern browsing behavior. The granularity of the measurement not only gives better insights for the marketer, but also let them craft a better user experience for the customers. And what’s better, customers can enjoy this without sacrificing their privacy and personal data. 

Benefits and key features of GA4

Here are the top 4 features that we think make GA4 the absolute winner. 

Easier event-tracking setup

GA4 does not track events with the category-action-label-value schema. In GA4, additional information to an event is delivered via parameters. An event can hold up to 25 custom parameters with each value consisting 100 characters long. 

Events automatic tracking

In GA4, the event is divided into 4 categories: 

  1. Automatically collected events
  2. Enhancement measurement events
  3. Recommended events
  4. Custom events

Out of the four, only automatically collected and enhancement measurement events do not need code changes on the web page or app. These events are automatically captured if the gtag.js is implemented on the web page. 

Events that can be auto-tracked:

  1. Scroll tracking
  2. Outbond clicks (exit tracking)
  3. Site search tracking
  4. Video engagement (video tracking)
  5. File downloads tracking

As for Recommended events, they have predefined names and parameters which are used for specific business verticals like retail and ecommerce, travel, games, jobs, and real estate.  

Predictive metrics

GA4’s predictive metrics are derived from machine learning algorithms that enriches your dataset and allow you to identify users and their actions which will likely lead to purchase. 

The metrics are: 

  1. Purchase probability: the probability that a user who was active in the last 28 days will generate a purchase event within the next 7 days. Currently, only purchase/ecommerce_purchase and in_app_purchase events are supported in GA4.
  2. Churn probability: the probability that a user who was active on your website within the last 7 days will not be active within the next 7 days. 
  3. Revenue prediction: the revenue expected from all purchase events within the next 28 days from the users who were active in the last 28 days on the website.

Debug feature within reporting

With GA4’s DebugView report, you can quickly debug your implementation setup and validate your analytics configurations. In UA, this would take days, and even that depends on your skill and experience. 

DebugView lets you monitor your web’s event data in real-time with its custom parameters and user properties set. Through this report, you can isolate and see data only from a specific device where debug mode is enabled. 

DebugView looks at: 

  1. A device used for debugging
  2. Minutes stream: details of events happening every minute
  3. Seconds stream: details of events happening every second
  4. Top events: displays events in real-time from debugging device
  5. User properties: debugging device’s user properties

GA4 top tips and best practices

The first thing that you should do is run GA4 in parallel with UA for at least 13 months to build historical data. Next, set up custom events and dimensions and make sure they can be processed by GA4. This is so you can track your customers’ entire user journey and determine which event does or doesn’t work. These insights will be essential in optimizing your future campaigns. 

Also, keep your data accurate by filtering internal traffic coming in to your website from you or your employees. You can do this by finding IP address match type in Analytics, choose “IP address equals” and fill in your IP address as the value. 

Lastly, adjust your retention settings. There are two ways to do this: 

  1. Switch event data retention time to 14 months. You can find this in Dashboard -> Settings -> Data Settings -> Data Retention -> Event Data Retention.  
  2. Link GA4 to BigQuery so you can keep your user event data until it is manually deleted.

Wrap up: GA4 is the tracking solution of today’s highly-digital age

GA4 is the cross-device tracking solution designed to generate more accurate and reliable data from today’s modern browsing behavior without sacrificing users’ privacy. With its granular metrics, marketers will be able to understand their customers’ actions more, resulting in a better customer experience. 

Want to apply GA4 to your campaigns, but don’t know where to start? Jump on a quick call with us and let us help you set it up so you can hit the ground running when UA sunsets. Contact us here and see you soon!







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