Google Analytics 4 (GA4): What it is and How To Set up the Basics

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been available since October 2020 and, if you go to set up Analytics for your business, this is the default profile you will now see. Though it hasn’t yet completely replaced Universal Analytics (UA), it’s a good time to learn a little bit about GA4 and set up a new profile for your website.

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What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4Google Analytics has long been used to measure customer behaviour and preferences, helping businesses improve their websites and user experience. GA4 is a future-proofed version of Analytics that utilises machine learning and in-depth data to really dig into user behaviour.

As with many new products, GA4 can seem a little overwhelming at first. For those familiar with Universal Analytics, there are some big changes to get used to. And for those who’ve never used Analytics at all, it’s a whole new system to learn. However, don’t let this put you off. Take things slowly and start getting to know the interface and the options available. With a bit of time and learning, GA4 will offer a huge amount of value and insight that can help you improve sales and customer retention.

Features and Benefits of GA4

User retention graphs on Google Analytics 4

Google states that GA4 offers “a more complete understanding of how customers interact with your business.” Not only does advanced machine learning help fill data gaps and provide useful behaviour predictions, you can really get into the nitty gritty of your user demographics and behaviour based on very specific criteria.

As a relatively new platform, Google is still regularly adding features to make GA4 more useful to business owners and SEO experts. If you’re used to using a certain report in UA, but can’t yet find it in GA4, chances are that it will arrive soon. It’s also recommended that you run both GA4 and UA on your site at the same time until GA4 becomes the only Analytics platform. More on this below.

There are lots of available features on GA4. You may not need all of them, but here are some of the best options to help you dive into user behaviour.

Trend alerts and anomalies. By notifying you to significant trends and anomalies in your data, GA4 highlights potential changes or current fashions to help you identify new customer needs and predict future behaviour.

Churn probability. Identifying churn probability – or how likely a customer is to stop doing business with you – can help with budget forecasts, developing future marketing plans, and improving user experience.

Potential revenue. How much are your customers likely to spend on your business? You can delve further into data to identify higher-spending customers, who you can then use to create audiences to target high-value users.

Google Ads integration. By including a deeper integration with Google Ads, GA4 helps you transfer data between the platforms in order to target granular user groups with paid ads.

Unfragmented data. Whereas UA splits audiences by platform or device, GA4 brings all that information together so that you can get a more comprehensive look at actions your users take.

Life-cycle reports. UA’s focus on customer acquisition is helpful, but only to an extent. With GA4’s life-cycle reports you can see a much more rounded customer journey.

Cohort analysis. Create user groups based on certain actions or attributes, and see how they use your website. This can help, for example, with identifying the time between first visiting your site and making a purchase.

How to Set Up GA4

Upgrade to Google Analytics 4At this point in GA4’s development, it’s a good idea to have both GA4 and UA set up on your site. That way, you can benefit from the different data sets and reports currently available. This will mean you’ll need two separate tracking codes on your site. Speak to your developer if you don’t know how to add these yourself, or use a suitable plugin if you use a WordPress site.

If you already have Universal Analytics

  1. Log onto Google Analytics and select your Universal Analytics property
  2. Navigate to Admin (shown via a cog symbol).
  3. Under the Property column, select GA4 Setup Assistant.
  4. You’ll be asked to either create a new Property or connect to an existing one. Select Create a new property(unless you do already have an existing one under a different account).
  5. Select Create Property.
  6. You’ll be presented with a list of things to do in order to setup GA4. I go into these in more detail below.

If you don’t have Google Analytics at all

  1. Navigate to Google Analytics and follow the instructions to set up an account.
  2. Choose a name for your account and select any appropriate account data sharing settings.
  3. Select
  4. Enter a name for your Property and choose your time zone and currency.
  5. Select Show advanced options.
  6. Toggle the button on the right to Create a Universal Analytics property.
  7. Enter your website URL.
  8. Select the option Create both a Google Analytics 4 and a Universal Analytics property.
  9. Select Next, answer a few questions, and then click Create.

Setting up the Basics of Google Analytics 4

Once you’ve installed the GA4 tag on your site, there’s a bit of setup required to start collecting data.

Add data streams

Setting up streams on Google Analytics 4If you didn’t already do it during setup, Google will prompt you to set up a data stream, so select Go to stream setup at the top of the page. You can choose any and all the platforms that apply to you: web, Android app, or iOS app.

Google will tell you what it measures by default. For now you can leave these as they are. Enter your website URL and stream name, then click Create stream. You’ll be provided with a tag to add to your site.

Check your tag works

In order to track data, your tag needs to work correctly. A developer can quickly add this to your site, or you can do it yourself if you know how and have the right level of access.

To check that it’s working correctly, open your GA4 property and navigate to the Realtime report. This tells you about users currently on your site and those that have been there in the last 30 minutes. If you don’t see any data, make sure you’ve got your website open in a separate tab.

If you still don’t see any data, speak with your developer about troubleshooting and make sure the tag is properly installed.

Track events

Configure events on Google Analytics 4GA4 will automatically track a number of events including page views, outbound clicks and video engagement. However, you may find that you want to track other events, or be more specific about the events you’re already tracking. Fortunately, GA4 allows you to create and edit events within the platform.

First, navigate to Configure on the far left menu and make sure you have Events selected on the sub-menu. Here you will see a list of existing events that GA4 tracks automatically. You can toggle these to mark them as conversions if you like.

To create a completely new event, select Create event and then Create. You’ll then have the option to add a number of conditions that will record an event every time a user completes them. You could, for example, create an event that indicates when a user searches for a certain product on your page, or when they click a button on your Contact page.

You can also edit the parameters of current and new events. This is useful if, for example, you want to change the name of a certain event so that it’s more easily identifiable or matches other properties you manage.

In summary, Modify overwrites an existing rule whereas Create triggers a new event based on certain set conditions.

Conclusion

Big changes can often seem intimidating, but they don’t have to be. Although Google Analytics 4 will certainly require you to take on board a lot of new information, it should ultimately give you more flexibility and insight into your data. It’s advantageous to run both Universal Analytics and GA4 on your site at the same time while you learn the new platform and while Google continues to update GA4 and add new features.

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