4 Biggest Changes in Google Analytics 4

You’ve heard it right: Google Analytics 4 is out now!

Right now everyone is focused on the new shiny features like event tracking, funnel analysis, and more.

But before you get too involved in the new features of Google Analytics 4, are you aware of the fundamental shifts that are going on under the hood? Understanding these fundamental changes in Google Analytics 4 will save you time and energy when it comes to explaining this new paradigm to your clients and stakeholders.

Google Analytics 4 was announced and launched rather quickly. And so there are so many questions: How do you install it? Where can you find the various reports? And the most important one: should you switch to Google Analytics 4 right away? 

Now, it’s important to note that Universal Analytics is not going anywhere soon. It will probably be around for many years to come, but it’s also clear that Google Analytics 4 is the future of Google Analytics. 

Looking beyond the new details of the tool, there’s actually a lot going on. So let us take a more detailed view of the tool and discuss the fundamental shifts. 

Thus, here are the four big changes that I see happening with this tool:

So let’s dive in.

Device Support – Track Multiple Devices on One Platform

Tracking mobile devices was always a tricky thing to do with Google Analytics. Because of the different technology, we needed a different approach. 

There was always a different version of Google Analytics to track mobile apps, for example, Google Analytics for Apps, Firebase Analytics, and the latest being Google Analytics for Firebase

The big issue used to be that these versions looked quite different from Google Analytics tracking for websites. They were so different that it could be difficult to implement tracking across both platforms.

A mobile device, a tablet, and a desktop each show a view of the business app or website, each with a tracking graph above it

So the first big change that we need to mention is that you can now send multiple streams of data into Google Analytics 4. You can now track not only your website but also your mobile devices all in one account.

There’s an SDK for iOS and Android, as well as a JavaScript library, based on the Gtag to track your website. And you can now measure and store the incoming data in one reporting interface and analyze it across devices.

This is possible with a new architecture that lets us install cross-device tracking and unify the data points across these different devices. Also, this includes being able to track a user cross-device. 

The three tracking graphs from the previous image are overlaid to show all data simultaneously

Now, tracking page views, bounce rate, or time on site doesn’t quite fit into tracking a mobile application. This brings us to the second change, the new data model. 

A More Unified Data Model

Now, to unify all these data collection methods and the data that comes into the systems from different devices, there needed to be a complete rethinking of how Google Analytics works. This is because a mobile app produces completely different data than a website.

Mobile device with several different graphs and charts for tracking data on either side

So, Google Analytics 4 got rid of page views, transactions, social interactions, etc., and unified them under one concept. These are called events. 

Now, this is very useful and quite smart. That is because an event can be anything you’d like it to be. You could name your event as a pageview, screen view, or app view.

An event named page_view in Google Analytics 4

And then you can send in any data that you want. With each event that gets triggered, you can also send extra information that describes the event more closely. These are called event parameters.

Mobile device with simplified tags for a variety of events

You might know parameters from Universal Analytics as dimensions. For example, a purchase event could have properties like the order ID, revenue, items bought, etc. And these are written in key-value pairs so that you can use them later on to segment, filter, or search through in the analysis stage. 

Event parameters with key-value pairs in Google Analytics 4

Also, these properties can occur in other events. So you can query them together and compare them against each other. This makes things way more flexible in the long run. It also future proofs the system for any other kinds of devices that you might want to track. This includes devices like the IoT (Internet of Things) devices or Point-of-sale systems or Smart Purchases. 

But it also means that you need to put more thought into setting up your events in order to be able to analyze them later on. Proper planning is therefore a crucial component of working with Google Analytics 4. 

New Views for Reporting

The next big change with Google Analytics 4 is how you can view the data that comes from different streams into the property. The new views in Google Analytics 4 will help you make sense of this event data. 

You might remember that Universal Analytics had a broad spectrum of reports to answer the questions that you might have for your data. But now that event data could be anything, it may be harder for the tool to make assumptions of what data is coming into the system. 

That’s why you see less standard reporting at least right now, inside of Google Analytics 4. Instead, you’ll be working with the Analysis Hub which lets you query your data in a more flexible way.

Google Analytics 4 analysis view with a chart displaying user locations distributed by device type
Analysis hub for reporting in Google Analytics 4

Here, you can do quick ad hoc analysis, build funnels, and create cohorts. 

Google Analytics 4 is making a switch here from being less of a reporting interface where you simply view your data. It is moving towards providing the Do-It-Yourself tools for your reporting so that you can build it yourself. 

Thus, it provides more customization.

Custom analysis tools provided in Google Analytics 4

But if you want to go even deeper into your data, Google Analytics 4 lets you export your raw data to Google BigQuery. Google BigQuery is its data warehousing solution. Here, you can work with your data even further, combine it with other data sources, run custom analysis, and more. 

Google BigQuery to analyze data

If BigQuery is something where you want to get started, we also have a BigQuery tutorial for you.

And of course, you can also export data from Google Analytics 4 to Google Data Studio and then visualize it and build reports for your client and stakeholders. That’s a very useful tool if you want to present your data effectively. 

Google Data Studio for data visualization

The fourth change is more of a summary of the other three. Let’s take a look.

Changing How We Think about Analytics

As we can see, Google Analytics 4 is unlike anything we know from our previous Google Analytics experience. It’s actually a new tool that has a whole new perspective on data and how it represents the new digital world.

The simplified data model allows you to be more flexible in the information you send into the system. It also allows Google to plug that data into their existing machine learning systems to come up with predictive insights for us. 

Thus, we don’t need to ask questions; rather, Google Analytics 4 gives us the insights right away. In fact, there are new predictive metrics already available in Google Analytics 4 today.

Google Analytics 4 insights sidebar
A simplified data model for insights in Google Analytics 4

Apart from this, Google Analytics 4 is less opinionated about which device or which business we are tracking. This makes it independent of the assumptions about what type of business we have in front of us or which website we are using. 

This opens up plenty of opportunities for customization as your Google Analytics 4 setup won’t be the same as anybody else’s. 

And lastly, there’s also a new perspective of the place of Google Analytics in the tool mix of the Google Marketing Platform. They have multiple tools in there and it’s shifting the focus of Google Analytics 4 towards measurement and analysis, leaving some of the functionality of reporting to tools like Data Studio or BigQuery. 

Tool mix of the Google Marketing Platform

Thus, all these changes make Google Analytics 4 more future proof and allow us to be more flexible with our measurement needs in the future. 

Summary

All right, these were the four big changes that I saw with the shift to Google Analytics 4. Here, we have not discussed the various features inside Google Analytics 4 because they are changing on a day-to-day basis. 

But these are the fundamental changes in Google Analytics 4. These changes explain to us the paradigm shift that is happening with Google Analytics.

Its features like device support for multiple streams of data and a unified data model make it future-proof and flexible. What other big revelations are you discovering in Google Analytics 4? Leave us a comment to let us know!

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