Google Analytics 4 – The beginner’s guide

In March 2022, Google confirmed that it will be replacing the current Universal Analytics/Google Analytics 3 with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) next summer.

Universal Analytics properties (i.e. websites, mobile apps or blogs, etc., that have a unique Google Analytics tracking ID) will stop processing new hits on 1st July 2023.

While this sounds like a long way off, we all need to set up Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible in order to compare year over year data. This is because Universal Analytics data won’t be migrated to Google Analytics 4.

You can read the initial response to the announcement here – as you can see, many are concerned about data not being migrated as part of the switchover.

Google Analytics 4 Guide

The Google Analytics 4 timeline

Google says that the key dates to keep in mind are:

  • Until 1st July 2023, you can use and collect new data in your current Universal Analytics properties instead of or as well as in Google Analytics 4.
  • After 1st July 2023, you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in your Universal Analytics properties for at least six months. Google recommends exporting your historical records during this time.
  • Google has yet to confirm when access to existing Universal Analytics properties will end or if there will be some kind of legacy view. They have promised a date will be announced soon.

What’s different about Google Analytics 4?

I’ll be walking you through some of the key features of GA4 later in this article. For now, let’s just say that it differs significantly from its predecessors!

The biggest change is that everything is now built around users and events, rather than the sessions and page views we’re all used to.

Google believes that this switch will help marketers and SEOs to better predict user behaviour and that, using GA4, you should be able to answer questions such as:

  • Which of our marketing methods are bringing in the most customers?
  • Which marketing methods lead to the most purchases?
  • How many touchpoints does a customer experience before they buy?
  • Which touchpoints are most popular?
  • And many others…

How to migrate from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 is already up and running and you can currently view your properties in Universal Analytics or GA4 with the following steps:

  1. If you already use Universal Analytics and haven’t switched to Google Analytics 4 yet then you should see this prompt at the top of your main dashboard when you log in:

    Google Analytics 4 prompt

    If you’re ready to make the switch (or run the two Analytics in tandem), click on Let’s go.

  2. Next, you’ll see the Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant screen:

    Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant screen

    Click on Get Started.

  3. The following pop-up message will appear:

    Create a new Google Analytics 4 property

    Make sure the “Enable data collection using your existing tabs” tick box is selected, then click on Create property. The wizard will set up all the basic settings for you.

    (As noted in the pop-up above, Google isn’t able to migrate any tag customisations you might have made in the past, so you should consider how this might affect your data collection.)

  4. You should now see via the Property Setup Assistant that your web property has been connected to Google Analytics 4:

    GA4 property connected

    And that’s (potentially) it! 

    If your tags have carried across, GA4 is now set-up – at least with all of the most basic tracking done for you – and, for now, can be used alongside your existing Universal Analytics accounts. 

    However, you may have a fifth step to complete before your GA4 property is up and running. If you do, you should see the following message on the Home page of your GA4 dashboard: 

    No data recieved

  5. To track your GA4 property data, your site needs to be tagged using something called the Measurement ID

    This may be given to you in the message pictured above. You can also find this ID by going to Admin>Property>Data streams

    Data streams


    This will bring up a panel like the one pictured below. 

    Data streams available

    Click on the version of the GA4 property you want the Measurement ID for – in the example above from Google’s demo site, you can see I want the ID for the North America & Canada website web data stream. 

    This will open a new screen called Web stream details:
    Web stream details

    The Measurement ID is at the top-right of the screen and will be in the format: G-XXXXXXXXXXX 

Adding the Measurement ID to your website or app

On the Web Stream Details page (see above), there’s a section called Tagging instructions. As you want to be running GA4 alongside Universal Analytics for the time being, I recommend choosing Add new on-page tag.

GA4 Tagging instructions

Below this, you will see two options: Global site tag or Google Tag Manager. Clicking on the downward arrow next to each of these options will give you more information and instructions about the next step. 

If you’re using a website builder or CMS-hosted site, then the Global site tag option is best. You can click here to find out how to set up data collection through your particular CMS: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10840722 

If you have a WordPress website, Site Kit is the recommended plugin to apply the global site tag for your site. I’ve used this successfully for all of my clients using WordPress as their CMS. 

You can find the Site Kit plugin for download here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-site-kit/ and a full walkthrough to set it up here:  https://sitekit.withgoogle.com/documentation/using-site-kit/ga4/ 

Confirming the tracking is working

To confirm that the appropriate tracking tags are in place once this is done:

  1. Browse your website
  2. Open Google Analytics 4 and choose Reports>Real-time in the menu on the right-hand side of the screen (when viewed on a desktop)
  3. See if the real-time report recognises your activity (it can take a few minutes to work)

If data is appearing, you’re ready to start exploring GA4.

If, on the other hand, you still can’t see any data about your traffic in GA4, you can find troubleshooting tips from Google here.

Setting up Google Analytics 4 if you’re new to Google Analytics

If you haven’t used other versions of Google Analytics before, then you can set up Google Analytics 4 with the following steps:

  1. Go to google.com/analytics and click Get started today to create an account. (If you already have a Google Analytics account, click Sign in to Analytics.) New Analytics accounts default to GA4.
  2. If you want to add multiple properties to your account, perhaps because you want to track traffic to several websites or apps, you should go to Admin in the Account column and click Create account.

    Give the account a name.

    Click Next to add the first property to your account.

    Create account screen
  3. To create just one property, rather than multiple, check you’re in the right account in the Account column (see screenshot above) and then click on +Create Property.
  4. Enter a name for the property (e.g. <Your business name> website) and select the reporting time zone and currency. This will ensure you receive data as it relates to your time zone rather than the time zones your visitors are in.
  5. Click Next and then select your industry category and business size.
  6. Click Create and then accept the Analytics Terms of Service and Data Processing Amendment.
  7. At this stage, you will need to set up data streams (e.g. iOS, Android or web) and data collection for your new GA4 property. As there are several options for this depending on the property type, I would recommend that you follow the steps for the best option for your property as explained in Analytics Help.

Using Google Analytics 4

Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the main features of GA4, where to find them and an overview of how you might use them.

You’ll see that the main navigation menu has been dramatically pared down from the options available in Universal Analytics and now consists of:

GA4 main menu

You’ll also find the link to view your Admin settings at the bottom on the main navigation menu (bottom left of the screen on a desktop).

What are conversions and events in Google Analytics 4?

As I’ve mentioned above, something to be aware of with GA4 is that the data is built around conversions and events, so you’ll noticed these are mentioned a lot in the various set-up guides.

What does Google mean by these terms?

Customers may interact with your website or app in different ways; some of these interactions will be important to your business, others less so.

In GA4, important interactions are called conversions.

  • For a marketing or lead generation site, a conversion could be when someone gives their contact information.
  • For an ecommerce site, the conversion might be a purchase.
  • On a mobile gaming app, there could be a conversion each time a player completes a level.

Conversion events are actions people might take to be able to complete a conversion. For example, in order to make a purchase (a conversion on an ecommerce site), the conversion events leading up to it could include:

  • Page views
  • Adding to cart
  • View cart
  • Go to checkout

Events replace the Goals you might be familiar with in Universal Analytics.

For a step-by-step guide to setting up conversions and events in GA4, I recommend using Google’s support information on these topics.

About conversion modelling

As there are growing restrictions around user privacy and data protection, it may not be possible to observe every conversion or conversion event. To address this, GA4 uses sophisticated modelling to predict conversions without identifying users.

Google says that modelled conversions are only included in reports when there’s a high confidence of quality.

To give some examples, conversion modelling might occur when:

  • Interactions are happening across multiple devices
  • Browsers limit or time-restrict cookies
  • Cookie consent regulations differ from one country to another
  • App-tracking policies require developers to obtain certain permissions

Experiment with the Google Analytics 4 demo account

To help you get to grips with using GA4, Google offers free training and the use of a demo account. This is a great way to explore the different features, so I recommend checking it out and having a ‘play’.

Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find:

· Home screen

GA4 Home view

As you can see from the screenshot above (taken from the GA4 demo site), the Home screen gives a quick overview of your users, average engagement, total revenue (if you’ve set this up to track), where the users have come from and the most successful campaigns.

You’ll also see a number of key insights about what’s working well in terms of engagement (or anything else you want to track) and what you might want to improve.

If your site is relatively new and/or has a low amount of traffic, you may not see insights on the Home screen straightaway. In this case, you’ll be shown a panel where you can click to See suggested insights:

Suggested insights

GA4 will present you with a list of things you might want to track that you can activate or ignore by clicking on the appropriate checkboxes.

You also have the option to set custom insights. These could be things such as:

  • Monthly – When the 30-day total number of users increases by 25%
  • Daily – When the revenue is less than 100
  • Weekly – When the average engagement rate changes (up or down) by more than 10%

It’s up to you what you choose to see in your insights and there are a large number of possible permutations – the above are just examples.

·  Reports

Under the Reports tab, you’ll find the following menu options:

Reports menu

·  Reports snapshot

As the name suggests, the Reports snapshot gives you an overview of all the key data from all the reports available via the Reports tab.

You can see how many users your site has attracted in the past month, as well as revenue (if set up) and average engagement time. There is also information about:

  • The traffic to your site over the last 30 minutes
  • Key insights
  • Which marketing channels new users come from
  • Your top campaigns
  • Users by country
  • User activity trends over time
  • How well you retain users
  • Which pages and screens get the most views
  • Your top events
  • Top conversions
  • Bestselling products (on e-commerce properties)
  • How activity differs across platforms

You can access all of the main reports from this screen.

Customising reports

Although you can’t see this in the demo site for GA4 because it doesn’t give us permission to edit it, in your own GA4 properties you should have the ability to customise any of the reports in the Reports section.

To do this, click on the pen icon on the top-right of any of the reports screens.

You can find out more about customising reports here.

·  Real-time

This report shows you what’s happening on a GA4 property in real-time. This includes valuable information, not only about geographical location or channels by which people enter your site, but also:

  • Audience segments
  • Which pages are being viewed
  • What events and conversions are taking place
  • The total number of active users

Audience segments, for example, could tell you which users have viewed two or more pages or which users viewed a particular product or campaign before making a purchase. The information you see in these reports will depend on how you have set up your audiences, events and conversions.

About audiences in Google Analytics 4

Audiences enable you to segment users in ways that are important to your business. GA4 automatically creates audience groups for All users and Purchasers.

To see the existing audiences set up for your property, go to Configure>Audiences.

In the GA4 demo site, this is how the existing audiences look:

existing audiences

The first time you go into this screen on your own site, if you haven’t created audiences before, it will look like this:

New audiences

To create a new custom audience, click on New audience (the blue button on the top right of the audience table). This will bring up a screen where you can either build new audiences from scratch or choose GA4’s audience suggestions to create segments.

Build new audience

As you begin defining an audience, if there’s enough available data, you should see a Summary card that shows how many users fitted into that audience criteria within the last 30 days. This is a helpful way to assess potential audience sizes.

Once you’ve created an audience, its data should start to show up in reports.

You can also add up to 20 triggers to your audience reports. A trigger event might be becoming a high value customer (i.e. whenever someone has spent more than £1,000 on your website) or making multiple purchases over three months, for example.

You can read more about audience triggers here.

One other feature of GA4 is that it can predict audiences. For example, it can determine which customer actions are likely to lead to a purchase or which customers are likely to buy from you within the next seven days.

Click here to find out more about predictive audiences.

New real-time feature
View user snapshot

There’s a new feature in the real-time report where you can click on View user snapshotin the top right-hand corner of the Realtime overview screen (see above) and watch how a randomly picked user is moving through your site.

·  Life cycle reports

Next, you’ll see a series of Life cycle report options in the main menu:

Life cycle reports

These reports aim to show you how users enter the conversion funnel and how they behave once they’re in it.

There are various reports here focused on:

  • Acquisition (e.g. overview, user acquisition, traffic acquisition)
  • Engagement (e.g. overview, conversion, events, pages and screens)
  • Monetisation (e.g. overview, e-commerce purchases, in-app purchases, publisher ads) – Currently, the Publisher Ads report just covers revenue made from ads in a mobile app
  • Retention – This focuses on the behaviour of returning users

Note: GA4 replaces the Life cycle collection of reports with the Games reporting collection when either your industry category is set to Games or at least 50% of your app streams are associated with apps that are categorised as Games.

·  User reports

While the Life Cycle reports above are about user behaviour, the User reports focused on Demographics and Tech are there to help you learn about the people who visit your site or app.

As you would expect, the Demographics reports can give you an overview of user location, age, gender, language and (where this data is available) interests. Low-traffic sites may not be able to access full demographic information.

The Tech reports give you information about users by platform, operating system, device, browser, screen resolution, app version, app stability and more.

·  Explore

Google says that the Explorations feature (found in Explore>Explorations) in GA4 is a collection of advanced techniques that go beyond standard reports to help you uncover deeper insights about your customers’ behaviour.

When you want to explore data in more detail, you can use explorations to:

  • Quickly perform ad hoc queries
  • Easily configure and switch between techniques
  • Sort, refactor, and drill down into the data
  • Focus on the most relevant data by using filters and segments
  • Create segments and audiences
  • Share your explorations with other users of the same Google Analytics property
  • Export the exploration data for use in other tools

When you go into the Explorations main screen, you will see a choice of Exploration report templates for you to use and edit:

Explorations

The Explorations templates can help you explore data in the following ways:

  • Free-form exploration (including pie charts, geo maps, line charts, etc.)
  • Cohort exploration – find out about the behaviour and performance of groups of users based on common attributes
  • Funnel exploration – learn more about the steps people take to move through your sales funnel (as well as how different audience segments perform)
  • Segment overlap – find where your audiences overlap with each other
  • User exploration – find out much more about your visitors including individual activities on your GA4 property
  • User lifetime – learn more about user behaviour and value over the lifetime of their relationship with your business

You can also create your own custom explorations.

These reports can look daunting at first because there are so many options for how you filter and present the data.

You can find Google’s Getting started with Explorations guide here.

The GA4 demo site gives you the opportunity to experiment with different combinations of data and the various Explorations templates.

Understanding the Exploration “canvas”

Exploration fields

The screenshot above shows the fields you might come across when creating an Exploration in GA4. This is a broad overview of what each section means:

  1. Variables Column: The variables column is where you will select the data you want to use in your analysis. This covers the date range, audience segments, dimensions and metrics (see the points below to understand more about these).
  2. Tab Settings Column: The tab settings column is where you will specify the analysis technique (e.g. pie chart, line graph, etc.) and any data you want to compare (for example, behaviour of different audience segments)
  3. Segments: Segments are different groups of users. Drag and drop different groups of users to your report to compare and contrast how they are behaving. If you don’t see the segment you want to use, you can add your own by clicking on the plus icon.
    Here, you pick up the segments you want to look at and drop them in the Segment comparisons field in the Tabs Settings Column.
  4. Dimensions: Dimensions are the things you want to analyse. This could be things like events, country or devices customers use, as just a few examples. Again, if you don’t see the Dimension you want, click on the + sign, choose the appropriate Dimension from the list of options and click Import.
    You can drag and drop Dimensions as rows or columns in the Tab Settings area.
  5. Metrics: Metrics provide the numbers in your analysis. Add metrics to the Values area in Tab Settings. (You’ll find Values below Columns (8) in the Tab Settings area.)
  6. Visualisation: Choose what the report will look like. Exploration options include table, pie chart, line graph, and more.
  7. Rows: Note: The name of this section will change, depending on what kind of visualisation you choose. For many of the charts/graphs, this section would be called “Breakdowns”.
    Drag the metrics that you want to display in the report (for a table, this would be the data to want to appear in the rows). Cell type can be displayed as a bar chart, plain text, or heat map.
  8. Columns: Note: Again, the name of this section will change depending on which type of visualisation you choose.
    For a table, drag and drop the Dimensions you want to appear in the columns.
    Below this, you will also find the Values section where you can drag and drop the Metrics you want to explore. Below this, you can drag and drop any Filters that you want to apply.
  9. Tabs: The tabs at the top of the screen display your visualisations. For example, you could visualise the data as a line graph on the first tab, then as a Cohort Exploration in the second tab, a Segment Overlap in the third tab and so on.
  10. Display: You can interact with the data by right-clicking a data point in the visualisation. This enables you to create a new segment from the data, for example, or view the users that make up that group.

·  Advertising

The reports in the Advertising section should help you to understand the ROI of your media spend across all channels so you can make informed decisions about budget allocation.

You’ll find three different reports within Advertising:

  1. Advertising snapshot
  2. Attribution>Model comparison
  3. Attribution>Conversion paths

You can find a Get Started with Advertising guide from Google here.

Linking to a Google Ads account

To get the most out of these reports, Google recommends linking your GA4 property to your Google Ads account(s).

To do this:

  • You will need to make sure that you have the right permissions in both Google Analytics and Google Ads. To link a property to Google Ads, use a Google account that has the following permissions:
    • In Google Analytics, you need to have Edit permission for the property that you want to link.
    • In Google Ads, that same Google account needs administrative access.

The steps to link GA4 to a Google Ads account are then:

  1. In Analytics, click Admin.
  2. In the Property column, use the menu to select the property you want to link.
  3. Under PRODUCT LINKS, click Google Ads Links.
  4. Click Link.
  5. Click Choose Google Ads accounts, then select the Google Ads accounts you want to link.
  6. Click Confirm.
  7. Click Next.
  8. The option to Enable Personalised Advertising should be on by default.
  9. Expand the Enable Auto-Tagging option to enable auto-tagging or to leave your auto-tagging settings as they are. If you enable auto-tagging when you link to a manager account, then auto-tagging will be enabled on all Google Ads accounts directly linked to the manager account.
  10. Click Next then review your settings.
  11. Click Submit to link your accounts with the current settings.

Google Ads conversion tracking starts importing the data from your Analytics account starting from the day you clicked Import. Historical data from before this date isn’t added to conversion tracking.

About attribution and attribution models

Some of the advertising data in GA4 uses attribution and attribution modelling.

What is this?

Well, when tracking customer behaviour and conversions, businesses often make the mistake of attributing a successful conversion to the last thing the customer did/saw before acting. For example, the credit might go to the last Facebook ad or Google ad the person saw, or the last Google search they made.

But the picture of customer behaviour is more complex. Every touchpoint along the customer journey is likely to have had some impact in moving a person along the sales funnel.

This is where attribution modelling in GA4 comes into play.

Essentially, an “attribution is the act of assigning credit for conversions to different ads, clicks and factors along a user’s path to completing a conversion”. Not only can all the touch points be given credit but the credit can also be weighted according to how much contribution to the conversion the data suggests it made.

You can find the attribution settings in Admin>Attribution settings. Google explains more about how to use attribution settings here.

The Attribution reports within the Advertising workspace are designed to help you better understand how all of your advertising efforts are working together.

Now, let’s take a quick look at what all of the Advertising reports are about.

·  Advertising Snapshot

Google says the Advertising Snapshot should give you an “at-a-glance view of your conversion performance and help you to better understand your customers’ journeys”.

There are three summary cards in this snapshot:

  1. The Conversions by Default Channel Grouping panel highlights which channels (e.g. organic search, direct visits, referrals, etc.) led to the most conversions.
  2. The Insights panel pulls out key insights from your advertising campaigns, such as users who are more likely to make a purchase than others or likely to spend more, for example.
  3. The Conversion Paths panel gives you an overview of which touchpoints your customers take to convert.

·  Model comparison

The Model Comparison report compares how different attribution models impact the valuation of your marketing channels.

For example, you might want to see how different campaign initiatives are working in different regions or whether people behave differently on different devices.

Google has a guide to using the Model Comparison report here, including how to customise the report for your business.

·  Conversion paths

Use this report to see your customers’ paths to conversion, and learn how different attribution models distribute credit on those paths.

Conversion paths report

The visualisation at the top of the screen (marked in red on the screenshot above) is a quick view of which marketing channels initiate (early touch points), assist (mid touch points) and close (late touch points) conversions.

The data table below this shows you the paths users take to complete conversions, as well as the following metrics: ConversionsPurchase revenueDays to conversion, and Touchpoints to conversion.

You can find a guide to using the Conversion Paths report here.

·  Configure

The Configure menu on GA4 is where you go to configure the events, conversions and audiences you want your reports and explorations to track.

To create an audience, for example:

  1. On the left, click Configure > Audiences > New audience.
  2. You have three options for creating an audience:

Similar steps apply to configuring events and conversions.

Again, Google’s help guides are invaluable for walking you through the many options and permutations available here.

My personal thoughts about Google Analytics 4

There’s no doubt that Google Analytics 4 represents a huge learning curve, even for Universal Analytics pros. I know I will personally be referring to the GA4 help guides for some time to come to understand more!

Given that privacy and data protection are so important and people do work across multiple devices these days, GA4 represents the next generation of analytics, designed for this ever-evolving landscape. It’s a big change but probably a necessary one.

For now, my advice is to keep your existing Universal Analytics properties running but to set up a GA4 property ASAP to start collecting data in parallel.

The demo site I’ve linked to in this article is an excellent resource for experimenting with the various GA4 features. Here’s that link to it again.

Are you using GA4 yet? What do you think of it? Are there any features you’re struggling with? What do you love? It would be great to hear your thoughts!

If you’d like someone to set up your Google Analytics 4 for you, we’re currently offering this service for WordPress and Squarespace users. Cost £70. Contact us here to get the ball rolling.

Need some help?

Let’s chat… book a free 20-minute call with me here and tell me about your business and your goals and we’ll take a look at the best way to help you achieve them. Alternatively, see our packages and training below and click for more information.

1 thought on “Google Analytics 4 – The beginner’s guide”

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

SEO+