If you’re a business owner or an entrepreneur, you know it’s important to stay ahead of the curve with technology—and that includes using the latest and greatest tools for collecting and analyzing data.
Google Analytics 4 is the next generation of Google Analytics, and it’s packed with features that can help you with Search Engine Optimization, better understanding your customers, and growing your revenue.
SEO relies heavily on data—reliable, in-depth analytics reports are crucial.
And the state of SEO is always changing. What worked yesterday may not work today, and what works today may not work tomorrow.
By analyzing data, SEOs can identify trends, assess which tactics are working, and determine where to focus their efforts.
Without data, SEO would be guesswork.
And while there’s no substitute for an experienced SEO professional, the best SEOs are always the ones who are willing to experiment, test “crazy ideas,” and adapt to change—rather than stick with older tools and methods that worked in the past.
Enter Google Analytics 4.
Google Analytics 4 has improved data collection and reporting features that can give you a better understanding of how your site is performing—along with some especially robust tools that should appeal to e-commerce site owners.
While Google Analytics 4 (formerly known as “App + Web”) has been the default setting for new analytics accounts for a while, Google is officially sunsetting the Universal Analytics platform we’re all familiar with next year.
How many users will be affected by this?
Just about everyone who set up their analytics before October 14, 2020.
That’s a lot of sites. A lot of businesses.
While many people who use analytics extensively (i.e. marketers and SEO professionals) have already migrated to GA4, business owners who monitor their own analytics through Google may be surprised when Universal Analytics stops collecting and reporting data next year.
For business owners, who rely on data to make informed decisions, this updated platform presents a wealth of new features—and new opportunities. Are you ready to take advantage of them?
Without further ado, here are some things you need to know about Google Analytics 4.
A Quick Note
Somewhat confusingly, Universal Analytics (UA) is the same thing as Google Analytics 3 (GA3).
I’ll be using the name Universal Analytics in this article to avoid confusion—but just know that they are the same thing.
How to tell whether you have Universal Analytics or Google Analytics 4
Look at your Property ID to see which type of property you have. (If you’re questioning whether you’ve ever had something called a “Property ID,” know that this number used to be called your Tracking ID.)
Your property ID will start with “UA-” if you’re on Universal Analytics. It’ll look something like this: UA-XXXXXXXXX-1
To find your property ID:
Click the drop-down button near the top-left corner of the screen to open the property selector.
In the column furthest to the left will be a list of your accounts. The column next to it will have a list of your properties.
The name of the property that is currently open will be highlighted in gray.
The number below that property name will identify the property type.
New Things in Google Analytics 4
#1 – Ecommerce Tracking
One of the biggest selling points of Google Analytics 4 is its enhanced e-commerce tracking capabilities. If you sell products or services online, this is something you’ll definitely want to take full advantage of.
Universal Analytics had some decent e-commerce tracking features, but GA4 takes things to the next level with new custom funnels.
With custom funnels, you can build your own funnel using a wide variety of interactions/events and page views, filtered by some more in-depth “custom dimensions” about user behavior (ex: customer’s lifetime spending in your store, how long it’s been since their last purchase, etc.)
If this all sounds like gibberish to you, just know that it’ll help the person manning your analytics account get a lot more information out of your analytics, which can be used to refine sales funnels, SEO campaigns, and PPC ad targeting.
#2 – Automated Analytics Intelligence Insights
This section contains a lot of suggested questions to choose from relating to your site’s traffic, demographics, user acquisition, and e-commerce performance
Whether you’re focused on local search engine optimization or are trying to optimize across several countries, you’re guaranteed to find some very interesting insights on this screen.
Here are some examples of the styles of questions you’ll find in this section of GA4:
- What are my most popular pages by views?
- How many users did I have last week?
- On what days do I get the most users?
- What is the average order value for mobile users?
- What are my top cities by users?
- What are my top countries by revenue?
As you can see, all of these questions are things that any business owner would want to know about their site’s visitors.
You might expect to spend a long time setting up custom views and filters to get this type of information, but the Automatic Analytics Intelligence Insights section makes answering these questions a lot easier. And for site owners, it might prompt you with a lot of questions you wouldn’t normally have thought to ask.
#3 – Faster Loading Screens/Reports
If you’ve used Universal Analytics extensively in the past, then you know it’s not uncommon to wait several minutes for a huge report to load.
This was always one of the biggest gripes with the platform—but it looks like GA4 has addressed this issue. Large reports can now be downloaded almost instantly. We’ll see how long this lasts as more and more people migrate to GA4, but it’s a great start.
Part of the reason for those long UA load times is, well, when you consider how long we’ve been using Universal Analytics… we’ve been using software built on 10 year old data processing. (Remember how long you used to sit on an Xbox loading screen 10 years ago?)
Universal Analytics saw the birth and death of Google Glass, Ello, the 3D Amazon Phone, StumbleUpon, those elevator buttons you could stick on your cabinets to re-order Tide from Amazon, and Quibi. In other words, it’s no spring chicken. So, it’s good to see Google has made an effort to speed things up in their new platform.
#4 – A More Intimidating Interface
At first glance, the Google Analytics 4 interface will be more intimidating than Universal Analytics to a lot of site owners.
It’s not that it looks more complex, or that there’s a lot of things going on; it’s that many of the familiar reports you’re used to pulling up simply won’t be there—they’ve been either removed or replaced.
In fact, you’re not going to see as many reports.
If you’ve ever used a Mac for work, it’s a little like when an app you rely on gets updated with an uber-streamlined, minimalistic interface the day before a project is due. “We removed the 7 menus you’ve been using for the last 5 years and replaced them overnight with 1 multi-function toggle switch that just works.”
Or if you’ve ever been forced to upgrade an iPhone, “we removed the headphone jack, the home button, the charging port, and the screen.”
Anyway, it feels a little like that.
We’ll get used to the new UI in time; just keep in mind that GA4 will look very different from what you’re used to with UA. So it’s a good idea to dive in and start familiarizing yourself with GA4 now before the upgrade is pushed to your account.
#5 – An Advanced Segment/Audience Builder (That You Can Also Use for PPC)
GA4’s advanced segment and audience builder feature is a great way to target specific groups of users.
The exact differences between “segments” and “audiences” are way too complicated to get into here—that’s an entire article in itself. But as you might infer from the names, they do serve similar purposes.
With both of these features, you can create groups of users based on common attributes and behaviors. This makes it simple to target the subsets of users that make sense for your business.
You can also use the audiences you’ve built in GA4 for targeting via Google Ads, making them just as useful for PPC ad campaigns as for SEO campaigns.
Keep in mind that the audiences you’ve already built in UA can also be migrated into GA4—here’s a guide to doing that.
As you can see, there are some big changes coming with Google Analytics 4. Google has made GA4 more user-friendly, customizable, and intuitive.
Their new platform is also much faster and more reliable than Universal Analytics—especially when it comes to reports—which is a huge plus.
On the downside, the interface can be a bit intimidating for less-“techy” users who are used to UA, and some of the familiar reports you’re used to seeing will be gone.
Overall, though, Google Analytics 4 is a big step forward for the platform, and it’s definitely worth upgrading to when the time comes.
Why wait? You can start using GA4 now or any time before the discontinuation of UA if you like.
If you want to learn more about upgrading your site’s analytics to Google Analytics 4 before you take the plunge, take a look at Google’s GA4 documentation.
P.S. Google has also provided a small (1 hour or so) beginner course on GA4.