The Future of Analytics Is Here: Welcome to GA4

How important is privacy? For consumers, it’s important. For marketers, however, it’s been a back-and-forth battle. 

 

The economy is dependent on entrepreneurs’ ability to advertise their products, and targeted ads have shown to be the best tool in this regard, but there is the issue of user privacy to consider. Targeted ads have so far been a massive breach of user privacy.

 

That’s why, in order to navigate this increasingly complex system of analytics and measurement that doesn't breach privacy, Google officially released the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020.

 

Now, almost two years later, they announced they’ll also be shutting down Universal Analytics completely and shifting everything to GA4.

 

In this article, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about GA4. Most notably, what it is, how it differs from UA, and we’ll talk about all the cool new features. 

 

We’re also more than excited to tell you how you can take your tracking and analytics further by using data analytics tools like Amplitude so your tagged events can communicate with other product tools—not just within GA4.

What Is GA4 Exactly?

GA4 is the next generation of Google Analytics, which Google has completely reconstructed to keep pace with the modern market and the contemporary digital world. It is the new name of the App + Web platform, which Google released back in 2019. 

 

This first version was focused solely on cross-channel data, which is a way for marketers to track users on both the web and in apps. It was a way to change the way marketers could use data to focus on the users themselves, from the first visit to the final conversion.

 

Now that GA4 is out, it’s all about “events.” which gives it a lot more flexibility with how the data can be passed and presented. Furthermore, the plan for GA4 is to start growing more independent of cookies by using machine learning to “fill in the gaps” for data lost when a user denies tracking.

 

Here’s how it works:

Cross-Platform

GA4’s cross-platform capability is based on its User-ID feature. This enables marketers to assign each user a custom ID, which they can then use to track their behavior across different sessions and on various devices and platforms, including apps. GA4 also interprets each user ID as a separate user, which gives marketers a much more accurate user count and comprehensive view of the user’s relationship with the marketer’s business. 

 

Secondly, marketers can also use GA4 to compare the behavior of users who are signed in and have a user ID and those who aren’t and don’t.

 

Third, you can also see detailed information about individual users: how and when that user was acquired, summary metrics for that user, and a timeline of their activities on your site or app.

Finally, you can use user IDs to create remarketing audiences.

Predictive Metrics

GA4 allows you to use Google’s powerful AI and machine learning to predict how your users will behave in the future. You just have to collect structured event data, and Google will tell you more about your customers than ever before.

 

It has three key features:

1. Purchase probability: how likely a user that was active in the previous 28 days is to log a specific event in the next week.

2. Churn probability: how likely a user that’s been active on your site in the previous week is to not be active in the following week.

3. Predicted revenue: how much revenue you can expect within the next four weeks from any user that’s been active in the last four weeks.

Privacy

First of all, GA4 has kept all the privacy settings that UA already had, and the new system is just one more step in the right direction when it comes to ensuring user privacy. 

 

→ Users now have the ability to turn ad personalization off entirely. 

→ Consent mode allows website and app owners to adjust how Google tags behavior based on whether the user has given consent or not.

→ Google now completely anonymizes IP addresses. The last octet of any collected IP address is dropped, so it can never be connected to a specific user. 

→ Data retention policies are stricter. You can now only retain data for up to fourteen months. 

→ Any and all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) sent to Google’s system is automatically deleted, and a user can send a deletion request if they somehow do encounter any PII themselves.

How Is it Different From UA?

While Google has announced that GA4 will completely replace UA eventually, it’s not ready to do so just yet. However, right now is the perfect time to experiment with GA4 while still having the backing of your old UA system.

 

With that in mind, here are four major differences between the two:

 

1. Event Tracking

 

By default, UA uses a session-based model, where they track only page views across your properties. This means all user interactions are set within a limited timeframe. It’s not impossible to customize the program to track additional interactions, but doing so requires a more advanced knowledge of events tracking and Google Tag Manager. 

 

GA4’s properties are far more flexible in this regard, and Google programmed it with the intention of it being able to collect additional data. GA4 uses an event-based model, which lets it report much more accurately and allows additional information to be passed into Google Analytics with each interaction. These can include purchases, page titles, and user location, among others. 

 

Enhanced measurement lets you customize your event data based on your specific needs. These events fall into four categories:

 

1. Enhanced Measurement events

2. Automatically-collected events

3. Recommended events

4. Custom events

2. No Hit Limit

UA had a monthly limit of 10m hits before you had to pay, which a lot of users were finding an issue. You often couldn’t collect all the data you needed while not crossing the limit.

That feature is gone.

 

GA4 is using a system where the limit is in the number of different events you can capture, which is currently at 500. There is no limit to the volume of hits that can be collected.

3. Time-Based Actions

GA4 allows you to exclude users, either temporarily or permanently, based on their actions, behaviors, and conditions.

 

Time measurements have also been improved significantly. GA4’s “Elapsed Time” feature can show you how long, on average, it takes a user to do a predefined action, like read a survey or move on from a blog to a product page. 

 

In comparison, UA only measured how much time a user spent on a certain page. 

4. Goals vs. Conversions

The free version of UA had a system of “Goals,” where you had a maximum of twenty goals to hit. UA allowed these goals based on Duration, Destination, Events, and a custom setup. 

 

GA4 changed that to what is now called “Conversions,” of which there are thirty. GA4 only allows conversions based on events, which means that any page view needs to be set up as an event before GA4 will allow it to be used as a conversion. 

Use Amplitude to Manage Your Analytics

While you could go through all the hassle of setting up and managing analytics, you can always do what we do and let Amplitude take it to the next level.

 

Amplitude is a digital optimization system that enables organizations to see and predict which combination of features and actions translate into business outcomes—from loyalty to lifetime value—and intelligently adapt each experience in real-time based on these insights.

 

Amplitude Analytics lets you:

 

1. Explore behavioral data — Go beyond surface-level data like page views and clicks to analyze detailed behaviors, user attributes, channels, and more.

a. What are our most-used features?

b. Who are our high-value customers?

c. How many people engaged and converted?

2. Measure key metrics — Know where to double down with insight into how features, A/B tests, and campaigns are impacting your KPIs with real-time, out-of-the-box reporting that’s flexible to your needs.

a. How many active customers do we have?

b. What is the lifetime value of each user segment?

c. Which acquisition campaigns are our top performers?

3. Monitor for change and friction — Teams can proactively surface important trends, see how new features affect user behavior, and decrease the time to detecting issues. 

a. Which variants in our A/B testing are performing best?

b. Why did we see a spike or drop?

4. Analyze any digital journey — See any user path across multi-devices and multi-products at an aggregate and individual user level to understand the context and intent behind every action.

a. How many users sign up on mobile and switch to desktop?

b. What do users do after sign-up or before purchase?

c. Where do people get stuck in flows between products?

5. Identify retention and conversion drivers — Prioritize product and marketing investments by answering why your users engage, convert, and retain with the industry’s smartest funnel and retention reports.

a. Where and why do users covert?

b. Which features have the greatest correlation to revenue?

c. How do behaviors impact retention rates?

6. Predict future outcomes — Use the power of machine learning to forecast results over time and determine users’ likelihood to buy, churn, or any number of outcomes.

a. What is our forecast for growth over the next quarter?

b. What is the likelihood this user will churn?

c. How likely is this audience to convert from this campaign?

 

They make our lives much easier, and we’re certain they will make yours, too.

Conclusion

While GA4 sounds like a great new system, it’s not ready to be standalone quite yet. There are some kinks to iron out and some bugs to get rid of, but we foresee a bright future for it. At Vokal, we’re already using a combination of GA4 and the current UA, and we’re eagerly awaiting the standalone release of the GA4 system.