Google Analytics 4 Properties – The Future of Google Analytics

October 21, 2020

Last week, Google announced that Google Analytics 4 properties are the future of Google Analytics. In this post, we will showcase the new updates, review previous announcements and provide recommendations for how and when to get started. 

Introducing Google Analytics 4 Properties

The biggest announcement is the new name for App + Web properties, which have been in beta since July of 2019: Google Analytics 4 (GA4). GA4 properties will no longer have a beta label, although you will still see various alpha/beta features. Google also shared that there will be more information on the enterprise (360) version available later, which will include advanced integrations and BigQuery SLAs (one of the most requested features for current GA).

What is New in Google Analytics 4 Properties

Last year we posted our favorite new features for App + Web properties. Now, there are a number of newer ones, so here is an update on our top ten favorite GA4 features:

  1. BigQuery Export: GA4 includes a free integration with Google BigQuery for the first time ever. I strongly believe this is the biggest update to Google Analytics ever. Previously, this integration was only available for Google Analytics 360 (enterprise version). The BigQuery integration allows you to get your raw event data directly into a data warehouse, which opens up the ability to do predictive analytics, machine learning models and near-endless customization. It includes a new streaming export within seconds, which is significantly faster than the current export for GA360 that is updated every 10-15 minutes. You also have the option to choose where you want to store your data to comply with your data governance frameworks. Google also ensured the export works with the BigQuery sandbox, allowing you to get started for free.BigQuery Linking - GA4
  2. Funnels: Also, for the first time, Google Analytics now has funnels available for everyone. Previously, Google Analytics had very rigid funnels in the standard version, with only GA360 providing meaningful funnels. GA4 properties now provide that funnel feature previously available in GA360 to all users. You can build custom funnels on the fly that are retroactive, segmentable and allow you to create audiences for deeper exploration or activation.
    Funnels - Google Analytics 4
  3. Time: Answering questions about how long it takes your users to take actions in the standard version Google Analytics can be very challenging. Universal Analytics was really only designed to easily answer how much time elapsed between pageviews or how long an entire visit was. With GA4, we can now easily answer how long it took your users to do almost anything. Check out this new elapsed time feature in the new funnels report. There are also other changes with the introduction of engaged sessions, engagement time and other metrics.
    Elapsed Time - Google Analytics 4
  4. Improved Identity Management: The reporting identity in GA4 properties is completely different than what exists in Universal Analytics. GA used to force you to choose between analyzing your users based on their anonymous IDs in one place or using a different view where you could use your own UserIDs. GA4 takes a completely new approach and also provides a huge upgrade. By default, it now uses all identities at once, taking a waterfall approach. GA4 uses your own UserIDs first. If those aren’t available, it will use Google Signals (Google’s Identity Graph). And if those aren’t available, it falls back to the anonymous device IDs. The huge addition is Google Signals, which can now power all your reports and will be beneficial to users who don’t have their own UserIds (logged in users). You can also change between the reporting identities in the screenshot below at any time since the setting is ad-hoc, retroactive and doesn’t make any permanent changes to your data.Default Reporting Identity - Google Analytics 4
  5. New Pathing Capabilities: GA4 properties can now create meaningful pathing reports and perform analysis that was not possible in Google Analytics. Here is an example from Analysis, where we are creating a backwards pathing report. You can select any event/page as the endpoint and then work backwards for the most common paths.
    Backwards Pathing - Google Analytics 4
  6. Measurement Protocol Updates: A new version of measurement protocol for GA4 was just released. Measurement protocol can be used to send data from any connected device, including your own servers, Apple TVs or a smart refrigerator. The best update so far over Universal Analytics is the addition of the new secrets, which should help avoid spam that was heavily used in sending spam to GA. In addition, dispatching now allows for up to 48 hours to send late-arriving data.Measurement Protocol - Google Analytics 4
  7. Realtime Debugging: DebugView, carried over from Google Analytics for Firebase, is now available for all users. You can easily enable this by simply using the Google Analytics Debugger Chrome Extension or setting the debug_mode parameter in Google Tag Manager or gtag. You can drill into any event in DebugView to see all the relevant event data and properties, which will make it easier to track down implementation issues.
    DebugView - Google Analytics 4
  8. Simpler Configuration Settings: Many GA4 features are designed to be simpler and reduce the time it takes to implement. The image below shows the new cross-domain tracking feature for GA4. Previously, you couldn’t enable cross-domain tracking without doing a code update on your site or within Google Tag Manager. With GA4, you can fully enable cross-domain tracking directly in the UI. You simply list the domains you want to link and you can move on with your day. How awesome is that? 😃
    Cross-Domain Tracking - Google Analytics 4
  9. Automatic Measurement: GA4 introduces new automatic measurement through the enhanced measurement features. Previously, the Google Analytics tracking code would only track pageviews when you implemented it for the first time. In GA4, enhanced measurement is enabled by default, which will give you additional tracking for scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement and file downloads without needing to do anything other than implementing the base tracking code. The benefit is that all GA4 users will have more than just pageviews tracked by default.
    Automatic Measurement - Google Analytics 4
  10. Server-side events: This is one of my favorite new features in GA4. You can use this feature in two ways. First, you can use it to modify existing events you have implemented without needing to go back and update your web/app tagging. This can be used to fix casing issues, spelling mistakes or even prevent events from being collected if they are broken or malformed. Additionally, you can use this feature to create new events from an existing event. This would let you set up custom conversions by creating a new event from something you care about, like a video engagement, form fill or any other important conversion event that happens. Server-side Events - Google Analytics 4

How to Get Started with Google Analytics 4 Properties

If you want to begin using Google Analytics 4 properties, take a look at Google’s upgrade guide for Universal Analytics and its new user guide. It is important to note that the only true upgrade exists for Google Analytics for Firebase/Firebase Analytics users. Most users who see “upgrade” probably think this upgrade will carry over all of your current/historical GA data. The upgrade for GA4 only carries over data from users of Firebase for Mobile Apps. For current GA (Universal Analytics) users, there is no current or planned ability to carry over your current data into GA4. This means the upgrade is actually implementing the tags/tracking code side-by-side with your existing GA properties.

Upgrade Recommendation for Google Analytics Standard (Free) Users

If you use the standard (free) version of Google Analytics, GA4 is a huge addition. You can immediately unlock features never before available for you, including the BigQuery linking, funnel tools and the new pathing components. You can learn how to upgrade/dual-tag by following the available guides.

Upgrade Recommendation for Enterprise / Google Analytics 360 Users

If you are an enterprise user, you should consider implementing GA4 properties on a small portion of your site or even a staging server, but you may want to hold off on doing any large deployments. There are numerous features for GA4 that are currently on the roadmap that have not yet become available. 

These features include things like data governance components for managing user permissions, data deletion tools and contractual agreements. Other features like roll-up reporting needed for flexible account architectures are still in the works. Google has shared that more information about the enterprise version of GA4 properties will be coming soon. We will post more on that as that information becomes available.