On 14/10/2020, Google released a whole new world of reporting platform – Google Analytics 4 or GA4 in short. For many years, Google Analytics (GA) has been playing a crucial part in helping businesses make essential decisions.
Despite the rise of many similar web analytics platforms, still the marketers prefer GA as the foundation when it comes to data mining. Simply because it is developed by Google, stable, and it basically tells us everything with its enormous data habitat.
It seems now is the time for a big change as the Google Analytics that we used to know, has crossed the line of a new era. This era Google had prepared for a while, to make sure the data is being used in an efficient way.
People have come across and been aware of this new feature for a year but in a different name – App + Web property which offered the marketers the ability to track their apps if available. Not everyone has an app and therefore, not many people were really keen to make a change for their report. But Google had a greater plan for this line item, app tracking is just a piece of the bigger system.
Built on that foundation, GA4 can be a game-changer but how much is a big question mark for all of us. In this guide, we will learn about GA4 inside out to see if it’s really a gem or a “meg” of pressure it casts on us. Also, I will walk you through how to setup GA4 property or upgrade your ordinary GA to GA4 from scratch. Let’s dive into the details.
What is GA4?
GA4 stands for Google Analytics 4, an upgraded version of the former Google Analytics. GA4 is built with fewer concepts than GA however it will be much more powerful with an AI algorithm that helps you forecast your data in which the old GA could not perform in any way.
GA4 interface is much cleaner, faster while the data visualization is being tailored to suit all levels of expertise. I personally like the first look of it although it’s incomparable with Tableau or Data Studio. The suffix number 4 represents four major concepts:
- User Property
- User ID
While the previous GA has 8 concepts, Google had shortened the GA4 in half with 1 laser-beam purpose – the customer-centric data. That means we won’t be able to see a lot of metrics in the new property.
However, with the involvement of User ID moving onward, this is really a game-changer. Back in the days with the old GA, it was a real challenge to intervene in the report with User ID. Now Google has backed you up with the built-in feature and ready to capture your User ID once it’s being deployed on your site.
With that said, the tracking data for cross-device/platform will fill in the gaps in your report from now on and help you complete the picture as you no longer need cookies to do that like in the old time. If you set up your new GA property after 14/10/2020, GA4 is your new default property so whether you like it or not, it’s part of your life now.
As far as my understanding, if GA4 was planned to be at the front line, Google will slowly deprecate the previous generation of GA. It surely will not happen in one night but it will eventually, so I strongly recommend thinking about migrating and reconstructing your data in GA4 as soon as you can.
Now let’s see how the set up looks like.
Setup GA4 for the first time
There will be 2 types of first-timers, those who never used GA before and those who are familiar with GA. I presume you have had the basic account and at least one active property for your client/business.
Step 1: Upgrade from GA to GA4
- Log in to your Google Analytics account
- Select an active Property and View
- Select Admin
- Under Property panel, select Upgrade to GA4
As a new user, you should have only 1 available option, click on Get Started to create a new GA4 property then follow through to Create Property at the end.
The upgrade will not affect your existing GA data so it’s safe to proceed. Once done, you now can see a separate property has been created under the same account.
Mind the property ID if both the names are identical, GA4 does not have the prefix UA- with it.
Step 2: Deploy GA4 tracking with Google Tag Manager
After created the GA4 property, it will load up the interface and send you to the Setup Assistant tab with a whole bunch of configurations. We will cover some of the items later down the guide but for now, all you care about is the Data Streams, or you can also access by clicking on Tag Installation.
Either way, you now can view and obtain your Stream details in conjunction with GTM. The most important part is the Measurement ID which will be used in conjunction with the GTM tag.
Further down the middle is the Tagging Instructions, there are 4 types of implementations, 2 for a new on-page tag, and 2 for the existing on-page tag.
Now let me explain a bit before we choose which one to use.
The majority of us have the traditional GA running right now unless you prefer to use a double-tracking code otherwise I cannot find any reason to use the plain Global Site Tag (gtag.js) on your site as this is not a good practice.
If this is your first time installing GA4 and no GA had been operated then select Add new on-page tag > Google Tag Manager and follow the instruction within the drop-down.
For most of our cases (non-fresh tracking), select the tab Use existing on-page tag > Google Tag Manager, because we don’t want to use redundant scripts that could kill the speed performance.
- In Google Tag Manager, create a tag and name it anything you want
- select Tag Configuration > Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration
- Enter the Measurement ID acquired in GA4 Web Stream Details
- Set the Triggering to fire on All Pages
Preview the tag and double-check if it’s being fired correctly then Publish.
Finally, go back to the GA4 live report, you should see the live data starts pulling in.
Step 3: Define and Create Conversions
How to access and enable the events in GA4
To create a conversion, you must first create an event similar to the traditional GA process. But the set up is slightly different.
With the GA4 tag deployed to every corner of your site, the GA4 will track down every single activity from the user and map them to a suitable event.
This process is fully automated thanks to the AI. After 24 hours, when you come back to the property and click on All Events under the Events tab.
Whatever events you receive in the table is varied for different businesses. Some sites may not able to see the file_download because there is no downloadable PDF asset and so on.
Overall, these are the default events that Google assigned to your website.
So what about the custom events that you want to track such as contact form, phone calls, and so on?
It can be done with GA4 Event Tag via GTM.
Create a custom event for GA4 with GTM
- Create a new tag in GTM
- In Tag Configuration select Google Analytics: GA4 Event
- Configuration Tag > Choose your live GA4 Tag which had been done in step 2 as a requirement.
- Event Name > here you can set your desired name. Google recommends using its built-in events which can be found here. Mind the event format to keep it consistent if you go for your own convention. But for this practice, I’m just going to use sign_up.
- In Event Parameters > set method (as in the table in the link in the previous step) for Parameter Name > and assign a descriptive Value as this value will appear in the report. I set it Via Contact Page because I needed to know the method that the lead had used to submit the form or you can set a currency value if that is what you prefer.
- Set the Triggering to fire at a specific URL, I set the page path equals to the thank you page that means when someone submitted the form and landed on this Thank You page, the hit will be recorded.
- Publish the tag.
Match up the custom event in GA4 with custom dimensions
- From GA4 > All Events > Manage Custom Definitions
- Under Custom dimensions > Create custom dimensions
Event parameter name has to match with the one in your GTM tag, custom dimension name is purely for the report so give it a descriptive one.
Once done, the custom event should appear in All Events within 24 hours.
Turn your custom event into conversion
The last thing you need to do is to mark your custom event as conversion by clicking on the switch associated with it. Otherwise, this event will not be reported as conversions.
If you followed correctly, the custom event – conversion will show up in the Conversions tab.
Create a custom event from GA4 itself (without GTM)
You may not be able to see the built-in buttons to create custom events on the platform. However, it will show up shortly.
Without GTM you still can create custom events but it has some limitations when it comes down to a complex outcome. But overall, it should solve most of the common tracking activities such as thank you page or simple interactions. To do this:
- From All Events > Create Event > Create
- Custom Event Name: We record the people who so select generate_lead ( I highly suggest to use premade convention from Google unless you cannot find any relevant behavior)
- Under Matching conditions > select page_location ends with the page where will be used for recording the successful submission and publish.
Refine the property data
GA4 offers much more than you can imagine, but when we initialize the report, these features were not activated.
Let’s find out some major perks that can help value the data at its best.
Harness the power of Google Signal
- From Admins menu > Data Settings > Data Collection > click on Get Started to activate the Google Signal data collection.
That’s it, it will enhance all the insights especially for cross-device audiences as introduced as one of the massive upgrades worked without cookies.
Google Signal has been an essential feature for a while, this concept is activated by default when someone signs up for a new account. It can be disabled in your Google account if you prefer not to be a part of the Google machine.
However, having Google Signal enabled helps Google to serve the ads more accurately and relevant when you make a query. So it’s a win-win and there’s no reason to switch it off.
Given that, the signal can utilize this gigantic database with the help of AI, your GA4 data will produce the most accurate insights more than ever.
Maximize the GA4 value by extending Data Retention
Unlike GA, the default data range for GA4 is 2 months when you first created the property. The good news is we can maximize it to 14 months as followed:
- From Admin panel> Data Settings > Data Retention > Event Data Retention > Select 14 months from the drop down menu.
Link Google Ads to GA4
GA4 will not automatically detect Google Ads source in the report. In order to see the Paid Ads channel, you have to link it as followed:
- Admin > Product Linking > Google Ads Linking > click on Link button > choose Google Ads accounts > select Account Name > Confirm
- Under Configure Settings > make sure you have Enable Personalized Advertising feature and Enable Auto-Tagging on for best results.
Understand the superpower of User ID
User ID makes GA4 unique and possibly the most powerful analytics platform in the world. Don’t take my word for it.
Did you know in the past everything relied on cookies, some complex ecom business had faced a difficult time with GA tracking due to the limitation of the User ID.
For instance, when someone went incognito or different devices, change the platform to make a purchase, etc…those behaviors manipulated the data accuracy and nearly impossible to track back and correlate with the existing data. This resulted in a big gap in the report that led to weak decision makings.
With the existence of GA4, it allows us to define the User ID from the client-side while Google has everything ready to respond to the subjects and return all information in relation to that user via a unique ID. So even without cookies, when users travel between platforms and devices, the identity is always exposed and recognized by Google.
Sounds awesome and scary at the same time?
If privacy is a thing to you, Google offers an alternative option to keep you sleep well at night by not using user ID at all. This applies to large businesses, more like an eCommerce kind of thing but it’s totally worth the trouble.
You can toggle this feature any time in Default Reporting Identity from the Admin menu, select By User-ID and device and Save.
If you are tech-savvy, implementing User-ID is pretty much you can inject any data you want under one ID and pass onto GA4 dimensions.
Despite the appealing features, I flagged that GA4 still has some bugs such as the data that has a huge gap when compared with the traditional GA property or Paid Ads data is not being recorded after linked the account.
I’m sure Google is still doing their best and this GA4 formerly knowns as Web + App property will change the way we use and execute data.
GA4 has fewer concepts than the GA, which means fewer things to look at but in return, it helps us forecast the trend with its powerful AI and cross-device tracking ability.
If you are wondering whether or not to upgrade your GA to GA4, you should and you do it now. It needs some time to pick up enough data and make the first suggestion so the benefits are priceless.
This guide only covers the foundation of it, next time we will dig down to the interface and its magnificent new features. What else did I miss during the setup don’t be shy to drop a comment? Let’s discuss it together down below.