Google Analytics 4: A Guide For Marketing Managers

Published on September 3, 2023 by Chris Ainsworth

Suffering from GA4 headache? Find out everything you need to know here – including new features, setup tips and how it compares to Universal Analytics.

To save you time, click on the question you want answered to find the relevant information in the blog. 

This guide contains:

When was GA4 released?

What is GA4?

How does GA4 work?

Has GA4 replaced Universal Analytics (GA3)? 

Will Universal Analytics keep my historical data?

Is GA4 better than Universal Analytics?

What are the main differences between GA4 and UA?

What features is GA4 missing? 

What new features does GA4 have? 

How do I setup GA4?


When was Google Analytics 4 released?

Before GA4 was GA4, it started off in a beta testing mode as an  “App + Web” system released in 2019. GA4 was then announced by Google back in October 2020. Google gave the following 4 reasons behind launching a new Google Analytics: 

  1. Business Need. The pandemic (amongst other things) caused a significant shift in business going online, meaning insights into online consumer behaviour are more important than ever.
  2. Data Privacy Changes. The demand for data security, and updates in data privacy for consumers, meant that Universal Analytics had become outdated.
  3. Responding to Requirements. Google reacted to marketing surveys where respondents were saying that improving their use of analytics was their top priority. 
  4. Evolution of Intelligence. Google wanted to provide a more intelligent analytics experience, using machine learning, and putting marketing ROI front and centre.


What is GA4?

GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics, allowing you to measure your website/app’s user traffic and engagement for free. Google say it provides:

Smarter insights to improve your marketing decisions and get better ROI.’

How does it work?

GA4 makes use of advances in machine learning to automatically provide you with insights and a clearer understanding of your customers across multiple devices (mobile, tablet, laptop, etc.) and platforms, including apps. Google says that GA4 gives ‘customer-centric measurement’ (rather than measurement of separate devices or platforms, which doesn’t give you the whole picture).


Has GA4 replaced Universal Analytics?

The short answer to this is – yes. We may have known about GA4 for a few years now, but it wasn’t until March 2022 that the industry learned of Google’s plans to retire Universal Analytics completely. Google have summed it up much better than we ever could so here’s the statement straight from the horse’s mouth:

“On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will no longer process data. You’ll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023. However, new data will only flow into Google Analytics 4 properties”. 

Whilst this did cause some panic at the time, it’s important to remember that we’ve been here before – and there was a time when Universal Analytics was the new kid on the block! It wouldn’t make sense for Google to keep both of these platforms running in parallel, so we were prepared for this to happen. Now that GA4 is fully switched over, we can help take the hassle out of migrating too. Get in touch to find out how we can help, whether you’re looking for Google Analytics 4 training or just help with your GA4 migration


Will UA keep my historical data?

Yes, Universal Analytics data that’s already been processed will be available until 21st July 2024. 


Is GA4 better than UA?

In some ways, GA4 is better than UA and definitely more powerful:

  1. Data Privacy. GA4 is set up to work in the brave new world of data privacy. There’s no denying that we’ve moved towards greater protection over online data. This is fantastic for users who may not want their data shared, but it’s not so great for marketers (like yourself) who rely on this data to understand your target market. Google states that GA4 is ‘privacy-centric by design’ so as the industry changes and more restrictions are put on things like cookies, GA4 helps to fill in those data gaps.
  2. Integration with Google Ads. Google Analytics 4 offers better integration with Google Ads to help you maximise the performance of your PPC campaigns. The platform lets you run campaigns that target specific audiences, delivering better experiences and more relevant offers on all devices.
  3. Integration with YouTube. GA4 is closely integrated with YouTube. It can measure both app and web interactions, meaning it can include conversions from YouTube-engaged views in the app as well as on the web – making measuring the success of a campaign more effective. 
  4. Hit limit removal. Whilst this only applies to websites with enormous amounts of monthly traffic, a big plus of GA4 is that the hit limit of 10 million hits per month has been removed. 
  5. Change to bounce rate. There’s been a slight change to how it calculates bounce rate. Now, if a user is on a page for more than 10 seconds and bounces, GA4 will incorporate this into ‘engaged sessions’ (instead of a traditional bounce). 


What are data streams in GA4 and how do they work?


GA4 vs Universal Analytics

The measurement model

This is one of the biggest changes in GA4 and a key reason why GA4 can’t retain data from Universal Analytics – it sees events, sessions and hit types very differently. Trying to see a like-for-like comparison simply won’t work. GA4 offers different metrics, levels of engagement and different data.

“Events represent a fundamental data model difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 properties”  Google 

Instead of focusing on sessions and page views, GA4 looks at events and parameters. Any interaction can be an event. In Universal Analytics, an event is something that has to be actively triggered by clicking on something or downloading something. In GA4, it can be something passive, like a page view. Everything in GA4 is an event, and then parameters are added to these. 


Has GA4 engagement rate replaced the need for bounce rate? Find out here.


Look and feel

GA4 looks different, which can be daunting if you’re not familiar with it. If you’re looking for your trusty e-commerce report, for example, you won’t find it in GA4. Instead, you’ll now see a monetisation overview: 

Universal Analytics: Conversions > E commerce

GA4: Monetisation > E commerce purchases

You can slice and dice the data and almost recreate the interfaces you’re used to – but the chances are you’ll struggle to find the reports you’re used to seeing in Universal Analytics. 

Data segmentation

This is significantly different. In UA, you can simply select a segment from a dropdown list of predefined segments, but in GA4 you’ll need to use the ‘build comparison’ tool to compare different sources/mediums. 

Conversion tracking

The principles of conversion or goal tracking are very similar between the two systems, but configuring them is very different. The terminology has changed (everything is now based on events) and the setup is different. You now need to specify which events are conversion events – before you can mark an event as a conversion, that event needs to have occurred. We can set up the event, but until somebody ‘fires’ it, we can’t mark it as a conversion. 


GA4 missing features: What features are missing?

  1. Graph annotations. Google Analytics 4 doesn’t have an in-built annotations feature like Universal Analytics. We’re hopeful this will be added, but until then we recommend using Looker Studio to combine data from GA4 and mark important dates (such as a piece of content being uploaded). Alternatively, in the Chrome Web Store search for ‘Automated Google Analytics Annotations GA4-UA.’
  2. Views. Another problematic loss – GA4 doesn’t use data views (which we often used in Universal Analytics to filter out internal IP addresses, spam, and to set up things like a Staging View, Raw Data View or Filtered View of the data).


Ga4 new features

Enhanced measurement automation

One really cool new feature that we love in GA4 is enhanced measurement automation. GA4 can automatically measure certain interactions – like file downloads, scroll depth, outbound clicks and site searches. These would’ve been set up manually in Google Tag Manager previously. (However it currently doesn’t track click to call or mail-to links which still need to be manually tagged in GTM). 

Conversion tracking

Whilst conversion tracking in GA4 is trickier than in Universal Analytics, it’s more powerful as it allows an unlimited number of conversions to be tracked. In Universal Analytics, you could only track 20 goals or conversion types per data view – plenty for some websites, dismally low for others. 

How do I set up GA4?

Setting up the tracking code for GA4 is pretty simple. It’s not really any different to Universal Analytics – it’s just a different type of code. If you’re using Google Tag Manager you can set it up with ease. However, it gets more complex when trying to set up all of your goals, as these can’t simply be moved over from Universal Analytics.


Ready to get started?

If you’re a current client or a marketer who needs help understanding GA4 or setting it up, then please do get in touch. Our technical team are on standby – all ready to help you make the most of your data with GA4!

Get help setting up GA4