Overwhelmed with GA4? You’re not alone.
Since the sunset of Universal Analytics on July 1st, marketers have been scrambling to get their reporting up to standards as before. According to the Search Engine Land x MarTech survey, only 23% of marketers have fully set up GA4 and are using it. Many have set it up (54%) but are still navigating the pits of the platform—and some are even swearing off GA4.
If you have yet to set up GA4, or are struggling to get the most out of the platform, we’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll take you through:
Throughout the article, you’ll also hear from real marketers and Head of SEOs what they think about GA4, and learn from their experiences too.
Let’s get into it.
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GA4 brings significant changes to Google's analytics suite compared to its predecessor, UA, primarily through its shift from a session-based to an event-based model. Now, every user interaction, not just clicks or form submissions, are treated as events, offering a more holistic view of user behavior.
Another critical change lies in the expanded options for attribution models in Google Analytics 4, so marketers can enjoy more flexibility and precision in analyzing the impact of different marketing channels.
Let’s dig deeper into:
Before we go into the key scopes on GA4, it’s first important to understand the distinction between scopes and metrics as it informs how you gather, measure, and analyze data.
In GA4, scope determines the level at which that data should be related or grouped. In other words, the scope defines the context or level at which a particular piece of data is applied when processing your reports.
On the other hand, metrics are quantitative measurements of data, showing you how the users’ interact with your website or app. Examples include the number of users, sessions, pageviews, revenue, conversion rate, and much more.
According to this documentation, Google Analytics organizes acquisition information into user, session, and event groups (or scopes) and adds prefixes to some dimensions so you can understand which groups the data applies to.
Here’s what’s changed compared to UA:
Google Analytics 4 presented a fundamental shift in how we evaluate website traffic. Once we got our heads around the shift from user-based to session-based reporting—it’s been a fantastic improvement.
Our agency team has come to love the platform. When paired with the data visualization of Google’s Looker Studio, we can deliver a very detailed marketing performance report that is easy to understand and even easier to share with management.
GA4 introduces several new metrics and data models that were not available in Universal Analytics (UA). Here are some of them:
These new metrics and features in GA4 provide a more comprehensive and user-centric view of how individuals interact with your website or app, offering marketers enhanced insights and the ability to make more data-driven decisions.
Ilaria Pignalosa, Head of SEO at Bobble Digital loves these new metrics. She comments:
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think GA4 is way better than GAU. The tracking system makes more sense and is smarter and more creative!
GA4 introduces several new features, including:
However, new features don't necessarily equate to better user experience.
The biggest challenge with GA4 has been with our clients is that they don’t understand why the historic data is not compatible and didn’t get carried through into the new platform. While there are workarounds to providing historic data, the need for personnel familiar with BigQuery or very comfortable with build-your-own databases.
Attribution models are rules or sets of rules that determine how credit for sales and conversions is assigned to touchpoints in conversion paths. Here are the different attribution models, according to this Google documentation:
Each Data-driven model is specific to each advertiser and each conversion event.
See examples of how conversion value is allocated:
Note that the calculated Conversion Value (and the number of conversions) for each of your marketing channels will vary according to the attribution model used.
With GA4, selecting the default attribution model is now possible. The default one for UA was the last non-direct click, except in some reports.
Judging from these changes, GA4 does bring a lot more advantages compared to UA. What are they and how do they compare?
According to the 60 marketers and Head of SEOs we talked to, here are the pros and cons of GA4 over UA:
Unlike UA, where event tracking often required additional code snippets or Tag Manager setup, GA4 is built to recognize a multitude of interactions right out of the box, without needing extra configurations.
Jared Tangir, Founder of Elevated Audience, a PPC agency in the US, says:
With the proper configuration, GA4 provides extremely valuable and nuanced data, often surpassing the insights available from Universal Analytics. The event-based tracking model and the enhanced audience-building capabilities are genuinely helpful.
Google Analytics 4 recently rolled out “data redaction” to minimize the risk of unintentionally transmitting Personally-identifiable IDs (PIIs).
This means you can now set up your web data streams to execute client-side text redaction on email addresses and user-defined URL Query Parameters. Email redaction is automatically enabled by default for new web data streams. Check out this documentation for details.
GA4 is also designed with a strong emphasis on user privacy and data compliance. It provides more robust and flexible user data control options, ensuring that businesses can more easily adhere to data protection regulations like GDPR and CCPA.
GA4 offers the unique capability to exclude specific demographic and interest data from reports, especially those derived from signed-in, consented users. This is not available on a Universal Analytics property.
If you already have Google Signals, you can simply disable “Include Google Signals in Reporting Identity” on the Admin’s Data Collection page. If you are currently using a server-side Google Tag Manager set up, you’ll first need to activate Google Signals on your GA4 property.
But here’s the kicker: even with this option turned off, GA4 continues to collect Google Signals data. This means your audiences and conversions still benefit from a wealth of data, without cluttering your reports with potentially non-strategic information.
Plus, sharing this refined data with linked Google Ads accounts not only boosts your remarketing efforts but also fine-tunes your bid optimization.
If you have set up a Google Analytics 4 property, you’ll get free access to the Google BigQuery, a fully-managed, serverless data warehouse that enables super-fast SQL queries. With BigQuery, marketers will be able to easily join and visualize data from different sources to create custom reports.
GA4 and UA diverge significantly in their data measurement models, resulting in noticeable discrepancies in reported metrics.
While UA employs a session-based model, focusing on user sessions and page views, GA4 adopts an event-based model, which organizes data around user interactions or "events." This foundational difference in data collection and processing can lead to discrepancies when comparing user metrics side-by-side between the two platforms.
The data discrepancies, especially between User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition reports, are a significant point of frustration. The frequent attribution in Traffic Reports as Unavailable is a source of frustration for both our data analysts and clients.
One substantial drawback of GA4 concerns the lack of historical data when making the switch from Universal Analytics.
Upon migration to GA4, marketers and analysts are met with a blank slate, as GA4 does not import historical data from the UA properties. This absence of past user engagement and performance data means that businesses lose the ability to compare new data and trends with previous performance directly within the GA4 platform.
According to Shawn Cagle, a fractional Marketing Strategist, this is a significant pain point for eCommerce marketers.
The biggest problem I continue to face in the ecommerce business I manage is comparing year-over-year analytics. Unfortunately we’ve more or less given up comparing GA4 to UA. I look forward to when we have a complete year of data so we can see YoY trends again.
Transitioning to GA4 from Universal Analytics introduces a steep learning curve for many marketers and data analysts. The shift from a session-based to an event-based tracking model, alongside a redefined interface and feature set, demands a re-education.
Also, new terminologies and functionalities, such as AI-driven insights and privacy-centric features, require a fresh knowledge base.
Susan M. Staupe, Owner & Director of Beyond SEO, voices her concerns.
Even though I have a GA4 specialist who is helping me every step of the way, it’s still too hard to track legit numbers and data, hard to set up destination based conversions, goals and events. Once Google can work out all of the kinks, I believe it will be better, but I expect more from a company of this size. What a nightmare of a rollout it was too!
In the end, there’s no such thing as whether one platform is better than the other.
Amanda Sexton, Founder of FocusWorks, puts it perfectly when she says:
It’s not about which platform is better or worse–it’s about evolution. GA4 feels like the future, especially with its emphasis on predictive metrics. However, Universal Analytics still holds its ground regarding familiarity and ease of use.
But if you’re looking for a GA4 dashboard with zero-hassle and learning curve, try Adriel.
A ready-made GA4 dashboard like Adriel can save you hours on visualizing your website performance data–without needing to re-learn Google Analytics 4 or tinker around with Looker Studio and Data Studio.
On Adriel, you can not only build an accurate and stunning GA4 dashboard in minutes, but also map out your website data with paid media data. It’s 100% code-free, incredibly easy to use and shows real-time data.
You can then design your dashboard your way using drag-and-drop widgets or just get started right away with ready-made templates.
Your Google Analytics dashboard should track all the important metrics for
Here are the common site-centric data that marketers track:
1. User metrics
The behavior and characteristics of individual users on a website or app, such as the number of active users, user retention, and user engagement. Examples include:
2. Session metrics
User interactions within a specific visit to a website or app, offering insights into user engagement and website/app usability.
3. Event metrics
Specific actions or events that occur within a website or app, providing insights into user interactions and behavior.
4. Conversion metrics
The success of specific goals or actions that are important to a business, such as purchases, sign-ups, form submissions, or other desired outcomes, providing insights into the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and user behavior in achieving those goals.
The channels through which visitors are finding your website, such as organic search, social media, or referral traffic.
6. Bounce rate
The percentage of sessions in which a visitor left your website after viewing only one page.
7. Top landing pages
The pages on your website that visitors are landing on most frequently.
8. Exit pages
The pages on your website that visitors are exiting from most frequently.
Start tracking these metrics in seconds on Adriel's GA4 dashboard template. 14 days free, no credit card required.
Or talk to us for custom integrations and dashboards!