Top 10 advancements of Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

February 02, 2023 // Research + Analysis

AUDIO: Top 10 advancements of Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Heard rumblings about Google Analytics 4 (GA4) yet? By July 1, 2023, all standard Google Analytics Universal (GA3) properties will no longer process new data. This means that your business must have a GA4 property set up to continue collecting online data.

Why the change?

GA4 is the latest Google Analytics property replacing GA3 that tracks and helps analyze the performance of your business’s online data. GA4 is built using a more privacy-friendly data model, and it provides a more holistic understanding of the user journey across devices and platforms.

There are three notable differences between GA4 and GA3:

  • GA4 does not rely heavily on cookies. By default, GA4 has IP anonymization enabled, which allows it to use machine learning to fill in data gaps and provide insights on user behavior.
  • GA4 can collect more than just website data. It can also gather app data or both website and app data simultaneously.
  • GA4 has an event-based measurement model, which processes each user interaction as a standalone event. GA3 has a session-based measurement model, which groups user interactions within a given time frame. The change to event-based measurement will enable you to collect comprehensive insight on how users are interacting throughout their journey on your site and/or app.

Keep in mind, because GA3 (Universal) and GA4 capture data in entirely different ways, data may vary between the two properties. For example, the number of sessions will vary because GA3 counts a new session for the same user after a period of inactivity or campaign source change, whereas GA4 does not.

The latest, game-changing GA4 features.

GA4 is chock-full of new and improved features — and while still under heavy development, Google continues to release more and more. Here are the top 10 features worth mentioning:

1.      Enhanced measurement
Once enabled, GA4 will begin automatically collecting some interaction and content on your site (e.g., page views, scrolls, outbound link clicks, file downloads and video views). No tags or code will be needed to collect these events. TIP: To gain the most insight from GA4, enhanced measurement parameters may need to be adjusted and custom event tracking built.

2.     Free BigQuery linking
What was once a paid feature in GA3 is now free in GA4. You can export GA4 data to BigQuery (a cloud data warehouse) to perform queries and run advanced analysis methods.

3.     Audience Builder
GA4’s Audience Builder allows you to segment users by dimensions, metrics and events then use the data to segment reports by audience. You can also export audience data to Google Ads to target campaigns at existing or previous users. Additionally, GA4 has an audience trigger feature, where events only trigger when a user matches a pre-defined audience. TIP: Only 100 audiences are allowed in GA4 and the audience conditions cannot be edited once built. We recommend thinking through those audience definitions before set-up begins. 

4.     All-new predictive analysis
GA4 is enhanced by machine learning to analyze your data, predict future actions people may take and even build target audiences based on the results. GA4 can predict the following metrics:

  • Purchase probability — The likelihood that a user who has visited your app or site will convert in the next seven days.
  • Churn probability — The likelihood that recently active users will not visit your app or site in the next seven days.
  • Predicted revenue — The revenue expected from all purchase conversions within the next 28 days from a user who was active in the last 28 days.

TIP: For predictive models to be successful, it’s important to have specific purchase events and parameters in place to ensure you’re collecting enough variety and volume of recommended events and meeting the minimum of purchasers and churned users.

5.     24/7 DebugView

DebugView is a report within GA4 that is handy for testing your tracking implementations or debugging issues. It allows you to monitor your incoming event data in real-time alongside your custom parameters and user properties. Unlike GA3’s real-time reports, DebugView gives you the ability to drill down into specific device or web browser data. TIP: DebugView will need to be enabled before the report can be populated. There are three ways to do this

6.     Re-imagined data-driven attribution

In addition to providing last-click, first-click, linear, position-based and time-decay attribution models, GA4 supplies a data-driven attribution model. This model uses AI based algorithms to determine which user touchpoints (source, medium or campaign) had the greatest impact on conversion. It factors in time from conversion, device type, number of ad interactions, the order of ad exposure and the type of creative assets.

7.     Deep dive explorations

Beyond standard and custom reports, GA4 provides a collection of advanced techniques (called “Explorations”) that allow you to examine your data in greater depth. There are several different types of Exploration reports available with various levels of pre-built and customizable functions. TIP: By default, GA4’s data retention is only 2 months. We recommend changing this setting to the maximum 24-month historical view.

8.     Improved funnel tracking

A major improvement from GA3, the funnel exploration report allows you to see the sequence of steps users take to convert and identify the biggest drop-off areas. You can add your pre-established events into each step of the funnel and review by device category, number of users, completion rates and more.

9.     Expanded pathing reports

Path exploration is a useful tool for seeing how users navigate from one webpage to another and the actions they perform. Unlike GA3, you can create a report that views the path from a user’s starting point (e.g., homepage) or from their ending point (i.e., from the conversion point looking back).

10.   User lifetime reports

The user lifetime report provides a better understanding of user behavior on your website or app. While this GA4 report estimates a lifetime value (LTV) like GA3 did, it goes beyond by using machine learning to predict future behaviors. For example, it can identify which marketing campaign helped you acquire users with the highest conversion probability. With that information you may decide to reallocate more of your marketing budget towards that high potential campaign. That is some powerful insight!

When to implement GA4.

If you haven’t done so already, set up your GA4 property now to begin collecting data simultaneously with your GA3 (Universal) property. The historical data in GA4 will provide insight when you analyze website performance after June 2023. Plus, you can start taking advantage of the new and improved features immediately. But remember, implementing the default version of GA4 might not best serve your business. Most businesses will need to add some level of customization to get the most out of GA4.

This transition is also an ideal time to revisit your analytics strategy, customer journey map and tag implementation plan. If you need assistance, Anthologic can use the insights gleaned from GA3 to better understand your users’ journey, assess which events should be tracked and help implement a fully customized GA4 on your behalf. Our goal is to help you gain new audience insights and streamline your users’ path to conversion — ensuring you’re armed with advanced data and the right metrics to optimize ROI and exceed your marketing objectives.

This article was published before January 2024 and does not reflect the consolidation of Performance Marketing, Vector Haus, and Blue Traffic into Anthologic.