As you may know, Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics and will no longer provide the resource as of July 2023. Instead, they will use GA4 (Google Analytics 4), which you can start working with now (to get used to it!). Initially, it may be a pain in the ass, but since we all need some help with changes, we created this article to help you with the transition!
We love changes and improvements, but it is more challenging when changes are made to the tools we are used to using every day. This change is an improvement to the website analytics ecosystem, and it is more mindful of user privacy overall. You can either love it or hate it, but either way, it will take some time to adapt and create a new workflow. Shall we start?
While Universal Analytics and GA4 show the same information, they are presented in different ways. Yes, that’s what you’ve probably heard.
Some of the changes include, but are not limited to, a higher number of options to create custom reports.
The sections of GA4 are divided into four main categories: Reports, Explore, Advertising, and Configure. The Recently Viewed section provides links to the specific reporting metrics you've recently looked at; the real-time reports are more sophisticated; and the biggest one that will probably blow our minds is: GA4 uses a measurement model based on events and parameters. This means they track interactions as events instead of pageviews or sessions.
Also, a big thing to take into account is that the new GA4 tracks App+Web visits together. So for the ones tracking both web and app data separately, now you’ll notice an increase in pageviews.
You’ve probably heard that they are also changing the way they measure users, and that’s correct! This is where GA4 becomes better, or not! UA used cookie-based tracking to get data. So, UA sent a cookie into the user’s web browser, and Google could track what this user was doing during this session. According to Google:
"In UA properties, Analytics groups data into sessions, and these sessions are the foundation of all reporting. A session is a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. During a session, Analytics collects and stores user interactions, such as pageviews, events, and eCommerce transactions, as hits. A single session can contain multiple hits, depending on how a user interacts with your website.”
GA4 has changed and now uses multiple forms of identity, not only cookies. This includes first-party data and Google signals from users who have opted into ad personalization. Instead of tracking sessions, these events will be called an "event-based data model." Let’s also see how Google defines it:
“In GA4 properties, you can still see session data, but Analytics collects and stores user interactions with your website or app as events. Events provide insight on what’s happening in your website or app, such as page views, button clicks, user actions, or system events. Events can collect and send pieces of information that more fully specify the action the user took or add further context to the event or user. This information could include things like the value of the purchase, the title of the page a user visited, or the geographic location of the user.”
There are a lot of small changes, but to not lose focus, let’s check the 4 Google Analytics metrics you MUST track that we shared in our last article, Top 5 Google Analytics metrics to track, and see how these new changes affect these sections.
Pageviews are not a major change in GA4 from Universal Analytics.
You can track them by going to "Reports > Engagement > Events". You can choose “page_view” as an option to look at these stats.
Another quick go-to option is to search for “page views” in the search bar at the top of the page, and it will take you to this section.
Generally, it’s good to have an average of multiple pageviews from your visitors, as it shows that they are interested in a greater depth of the content you have provided.
What are the main changes?
The main difference is that GA4 combines in “Views” the total number of app screens and web pages from a user, while UA only tracks web pages from a user, and track screen views are shown in separate mobile-specific properties.
Also, GA4 properties do not support the same filters as UA (and we hope they change them soon). As Google says:
“If you use a filter to exclude certain geographic regions, then your pageview counts between UA and GA4 may differ more. Google Analytics 4 properties currently do not support filters, while data in Universal Analytics reporting may be subject to view filters that exclude data."
Maybe we just need to get used to it, test it out, and find the exact match for each filter!
Acquisition channels in GA4
It is important to know where your visitors are coming from to get to your website.
Typically, the biggest contributors to web traffic are direct, organic, and paid traffic (if you are running SEM campaigns). However, there are others in the mix as well: display, email, referral, and social. If you want to refresh this, check out our Google Analytics Metrics post.
You can see your acquisition channel breakdown in GA4 by going to "Reports > Acquisition > Overview."
What has changed?
The data is presented a bit differently than in Universal Analytics. This is, as we explained, because GA4 has an event-based data collection model, while UA has a session-based model.
In "Acquisition," we won’t be able to measure levels of user engagement or average session duration.
Now there are 3 new engagement metrics:
Engaged sessions: the number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event or had 2 or more screen or page views.
Average engagement time per session: the user engagement duration per session.
Engagement rate: the ratio of engaged sessions relative to total sessions.
More changes: some of the channel names have changed. "Organic" is now “organic search,” and "social" is now “organic social," but that’s not that relevant!
Also on GA4, you can find 2 different reports:
User acquisition: to track the first campaign/source/medium from the user.
Traffic acquisition: to track the campaign/source/medium of the session. This will be more like UA.
Here is an article explaining this in depth.
Conversion rate in GA4
"Conversions" are an extremely important metric to keep an eye on, as they actually define an action of value from your website.
In GA4, similar to UA, you define the conversions you want to track. In order to add them, you go to "Configure > Conversions." You can mark events as conversions for tracking purposes.
From there, you can check on the conversions that are taking place by going to "Reports > Engagement > Conversions."
In order to get a better understanding of this concept, you can have several events, such as page views, sessions started, etc. However, you want to define the most valuable action and define it as your conversion or goal.
What is the main change here?
GA4 makes no difference between goals and e-commerce; you measure all conversions with GA4 events. You can flag all events that help drive conversions and track them to see whether they come from a special e-commerce landing page or a form action.
As Google states:
“Universal Analytics supports five goal types: destination, duration, pages/session, smart goals, and event goals. GA4, in contrast, only supports conversion events. It may not always be possible to use GA4 conversion events to precisely duplicate some UA goal types. For example, it’s not possible to duplicate a smart or duration goal using GA4 conversion events.”
Bounce rate in GA4
Here, we can see a huge change. It is considered a bounce when a non-engaged visitor only goes to one page on the site during their visit and spends 10 seconds or less in the session, or if they did not convert during their time on the site. (Once again, highlighting the importance of conversions.)
The bounce rate is calculated and defined by combining a few actions for a single visitor to the website in GA4.
The bounce rate is actually not shown by default in GA4, and you have to customize a report for it to appear. In order to add it, go to "Reports > Engagement > Pages > Screens". In the top-right corner, you’ll see an option to “Customize report”. Select the option and click "Metrics > Add Metric > Bounce Rate" (you can move it up or down the available data columns), and lastly, remember to save the changes.
We consider bounce rate to be a very important metric, as it is another sign of overall engagement from the visitors to your site. Generally, you want to have a lower bounce rate. SEMRush, Hubspot, and other blogs report that the average bounce rate range is anywhere from 30% to 70% (Semrush article) depending on the industry.
As we mentioned in the intro, there is definitely a lot for us to learn within this new Google Analytics system. As we discover important tools and resources within them, we will be sure to shed light on them.
Have you found any new tips while using GA4 to improve the monitoring of your marketing? If so, let us know! We are happy to learn with you and discover new ways that can help all of us get the most out of this new system!