Google Analytics 4 (GA4) marks a major shift in thinking about how web and app properties are tracked. Formerly called “App + Web properties” in beta, Google Analytics 4—announced in October 2020—builds upon the foundation of cross-device unified measurement introduced in July 2019.

March 2022 Update: Google announced that Universal Analytics will be sunset on July 1, 2023. Learn more here about that announcement, and the increasing importance of adding GA4 to your site.

Acknowledging the increasing overlap between web and mobile app development and content, as well as answering marketers’ needs for unified data, Google Analytics 4 seeks to eliminate the need for manual stitching and workarounds between platforms.

GA4 is not simply a redesign of Universal Analytics (UA); it’s an entirely new product that can be installed in addition to your existing UA profile. That said, if you’re setting up GA for the first time, GA4 is indeed the “new Google Analytics” that will be available by default. You will still be able to install both, but GA4 is to be considered a Google Analytics update.

Previously, Analytics was divided between web properties (traditional Google Analytics) and Analytics for Firebase to specifically cater to app needs. Perhaps most importantly, Google Analytics 4 seeks to set property owners up with flexible, yet powerful analytics tools within the bounds of cookieless tracking and consent management.

In other words:

Google Analytics 4 is ready for the future.


Top 3 Benefits of Google Analytics 4


1. Unified Metric and Dimension Scopes

The single biggest advantage of Google Analytics 4 is the unified view between app and web.

Collection methodology is united to “events” with traditional pageviews on a more even scope with behavioral events. Prior versions of Google Analytics required separate tagging and separate properties, with inconsistent (by default) metrics and dimensions. 


Keep in mind there won’t be historical or 24h+ data when you first get into the new GA 4, but you’ll start to see data populate over time.


2. Updated User Interface

Perhaps more importantly to marketers and web analysts, with the rescope of methodology, GA4 has brought several new reporting tools. The existing web and app reports have also been reorganized in the platform UI. Of course, the biggest benefit is the unified user view between app and website, but Google has also revamped their custom reporting tool to an “analysis hub”, which offers a bit more flexibility with custom and ad hoc reporting. 


second example of google analytics 4

3. Embracing the Future of Data Collection and Analysis

Unified user journey and reporting across platforms has been a difficulty since the dawn of app and web development. Google has answered (finally!), and seems to understand that these needs will continue to increase, especially with the challenges of data collection.

As 3rd-party data collection is criticized by privacy advocates (and we observe certain platforms implement tracking restrictions), Google is prepared to shift towards using anonymized first-party data, along with consented tracking. By unifying properties, collection scopes, and announcing significant server-side capabilities, Google is shifting away from client-side dependencies.


When to Migrate to Google Analytics 4

As of October 14, 2020, Google Analytics 4 is now the default analytics platform, superseding the previous “Universal Analytics”.

The good news is that you can run the two in parallel, and Google has not yet announced deprecation dates for Universal Analytics. So, you’ve got time and your data isn’t going anywhere. However, many strategic questions need to be asked:

  • Should you migrate to server-side tracking?
  • Is your existing Tag Manager or gtag integration collecting all of the data it should?
  • Is your app running the latest version of the Firebase SDK?

That said, since there are so many changes to the user interface and methodology, the sooner you start planning, the better. Even if basic code is set up on the site/app in parallel, it will allow users to familiarize themselves with the nuances of the new platform. 

5 Reasons It’s Beneficial to Setup a GA4 Profile Now

1. Data is forward-facing from the date of install, so the sooner you add GA4, the more historical data you’ll have to work with. Adding GA4 to your site now—even if you don’t yet have the time to learn the layout, or decide how you’ll use the insights—is so important because it will start capturing data immediately. GA4 will keep running in the background so that when you are ready to explore its capabilities, you’ll have some statistically significant information to work with.
2. We don’t know when Universal Analytics (UA) will be retired. When Google does announce the deprecation date for UA, site owners who haven’t yet installed GA4 will be scrambling to get it implemented. Avoid the panicked rush by getting your site set-up well ahead of time, especially because GA data is so important. Proper implementation—with time to work out any potential kinks—is crucial; you make a lot of decisions based on GA data, so you need to be sure the information you’re working with is accurate.
3. You can keep your existing Google Analytics profile. GA4 implementation does not necessitate removing your existing GA setup. You’ll want to keep that in place for all that valuable historical data, with the insights you garner from GA4 working in complement with it.
4. You’ll have more time to familiarize yourself with the available insights, and how to use them in your performance marketing initiatives. Historically, Google Analytics data has been very pageview-driven, providing information on familiar metrics to include the number of sessions and their average duration, the number of users and new users, bounce rate, and more. The data GA4 provides is more oriented toward understanding the customer lifecycle, to include information regarding acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention. In short, it provides an entirely new way of looking at things. And a new way of looking at things can be both wonderful and overwhelming, especially if you’ve been using Google Analytics daily for many years.
5. As we mentioned—at least as long as Universal Analytics is still available—you don’t have to choose. For the time being, you can have your data cake and eat it, too. While you still have 2 profiles—UA and GA4—we recommend using them individually and in tandem, understanding which metrics are related, or influence one another. Chances are new connections between dots will present themselves, and those enhanced understandings of how A can impact B can impact C can be invaluable.


Requirements for Migrating to Google Analytics 4


Web Properties

A separate tracking code needs to be added to properties. This can be done within existing Google Tag Manager integrations, and there is no immediate need for code development on sites that are already running Tag Manager successfully.

Sites without Tag Manager will need to upgrade their site from analytics.js to gtag.js. We recommend considering Tag Manager if this is the case, for ease of implementation for all site tags (not just Analytics). 


Mobile Applications

Existing Firebase SDK integrations will need to be updated to the latest version for Google Analytics 4, and apps without Firebase will need to be implemented.

If you already have the Firebase SDK on your site, make sure you have the latest version and link the app. If your app doesn’t yet have the Firebase SDK, get started in Google Analytics

Get in touch now to see how Tinuiti can help you assess readiness and migrate to GA4. 
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Tom Clinton in November 2020 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.


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