Getting Started with Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4

As marketers and website owners, we like to analyze every possible data point we can. This helps us to best define customers, understand where people are leaving a website or discover roadblocks that might cause conversion issues. To do so, we use Google’s signature analysis tool.

The final quarter of 2020 saw Google release the newest version of its web analytics platform, aptly dubbed Google Analytics 4. As with all Google releases, there is plenty to unpack and numerous features to explore.

Now that the platform has been available for long enough to test and become familiar with, we decided to see what other marketing experts had to say about the improvements, what tips and tricks they have discovered, and what their favorite features are so far.

But first, let’s cover the basics of Google Analytics 4.


What Is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics ConsultingGoogle Analytics 4 is the newest version of Google’s Analytics reporting tool, and while it is based on the same platform as the previous iteration, GA4 is a completely new experience, complete with all new tools and a much improved user interface.

Contrary to the long-running version of Google Analytics, GA4 tracks a data stream through a Measurement ID that is similar to the traditional Universal Analytics (UA) tag.

What is the Difference Between a UA Tag and a Measurement ID?

A UA tag is used to track websites with the existing version of Google Analytics. The tag is installed as as snippet of javascript or via Google Tag Manager and may contain certain customized variables.

Conversely, a Measurement ID is the tracking snippet that is required to enable Google Analytics 4. Once installed as a snippet of javascript or through Google Tag Manager, a user will then have access to new reports, features and insights in Google Analytics.

Reasons to Consider Upgrading to GA4

At their root, both versions of Google Analytics exist to track website traffic and help website owners understand their users’ behavior. The major difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 is how granular the platform tracks data and the type of reporting a website owner can now view.

Advanced Analysis

With all new reporting in GA4, website owners will now be able to see “enhanced analytics” like file downloads, outbound clicks, video interactions, site search and scroll events. These interactions are tracked automatically, which is a major upgrade from using event tracking.

Users will also be introduced to new areas of analysis to better understand their users’ website behavior. In GA4, users are now able to see a variety of new sections to support in-depth data analysis:

  • Lifecycle: a section with insights about user and traffic acquisition
  • Engagements: a section with data on website events like clicks and interactions
  • Monetization: a section with data on e-commerce orders, in-app purchases and publisher ads
  • User: a section with info on demographic and device data
  • Events: a section to provide data about any events or interactions a website may be tracking
  • Explore: a section featuring the Analysis Hub, a premium feature users may have previously seen with Google Analytics 360
  • Configure: a section where users can create audiences and track in-depth information
Google Analytics 4 Analysis Hub

Google Analytics 4 Analysis Hub

It’s Google

Generally speaking, when Google makes a platform upgrade to any of its products, it’s for the benefit of the user. Like Google Search Console and Google My Business updates, this new version of Google Analytics is for the sole benefit of getting a better understanding of website behaviors and patterns.

We also know from historical products that the company will eventually end support for legacy products. It’s best if you start the migration sooner than later and become familiar with GA4’s interface.

How to Get Started with GA4

First and foremost, use the setup assistant to your advantage. Google wants to make the transition to GA4 as easy as possible, and provides you with the exact step-by-step process you need to follow. Whether you’re a seasoned Google Analytics expert or a novice, the setup guide is a great tool.

Existing users of Universal Analytics will have an option to upgrade to GA4 from within their account settings. Upgrade the account, create the Measurement ID and install it accordingly on your website to be up and running in no time.

If you are creating tracking for a new web property, Google will now default to GA4 for you. You will have a handful of new options to look out for when setting up a tag for the first time, and will need to decide if you need both the Measurement ID and the UA tag.

Continuing to Use a Universal Analytics Tag for a New Web Property

If you wish to use a UA tag to track your traffic and you’re setting up a new property, you’ll need to look for “Advanced Options” in the tag set up. Here you will be provided with an option to create a Measurement ID for GA4, a Universal Analytics tag or both.

Using UA Tags with GA4

Why Continue to Use a Universal Analytics Tag?

For new web properties, you may want to create the UA tag in addition to the Measurement ID to be able to view traditional reports in Google Analytics. It’s worth noting that the entire user interface of GA4 is different and requires a bit of a learning curve, so running both versions in parallel will benefit you to ease into GA4.

Another reason to use the UA tag is because of platform limitations. For example, we recently discovered Squarespace only supports a Universal Analytics tag and won’t allow for a Measurement ID for GA4. This will likely change with enhancements to Squarespace, but you’ll need to use a UA tag in the meantime.

Check your website platform to see if you are able to upgrade to GA4. If not, you’ll need to continue using Universal Analytics until your platform upgrades its compatibility. You’re also welcome to contact us about moving your site to an open source platform like WordPress.

Installing the Measurement ID

If you have previously created and installed a UA tag for your website, you’ll have no problem with a Measurement ID.

To install the tag, you’ll have a couple of different options; you can install the Measurement ID through an existing tag on your site (what is likely holding your existing Google Analytics tag) or set it up as a brand new tag on your site. Alternatively, you may set up the tag through Google Tag Manager:

Google Analytics 4 Tips

We recommend using Google Tag Manager for any and all tracking on websites. A Google Tag Manager container is easy to install, user friendly and you can add in new tags like the GA4 snippet without digging into a website’s code.

Is Upgrading to GA4 Mandatory?

Upgrading to GA4 is not mandatory at this time, nor has Google announced an end date for Universal Analytics support. It is important however to begin familiarizing yourself with GA4 as it will likely become the only supported version in the not-so-distant future.

In the meantime, if you prefer to use the existing version of Universal Analytics, you may still continue to do so.

What Does GA4 Cost?

With features from Google Analytics 360, users have been wondering, “what does GA4 cost?”

Similar to Universal Analytics, GA4 is free for marketers and website owners. While you may need to hire an analytics consultant to set everything up for you, the platform itself is free.


Now that we’re familiar with the fundamentals of Google Analytics 4, let’s get into what we’re hearing from other marketers and analytical experts about the platform.


Eleanor Bennett, Digital Marketing Specialist at Logit.io

Do you prefer the old version of Google Analytics or the new version of Google Analytics, and why?

I much prefer using the older version of Google Analytics as there are preset reports in the places where I would expect them (the event report springs to mind).

When I recently assisted a new user in setting up their Analytics account, by default they were led to create an Analytics 4 profile with no opportunity to go back to the older version and previous tracking setup.

This meant that they were unable to access many of the reports readily available in the previous edition, and they had to install Google Tag Manager. For their website, Tag Manager would be seen as unnecessary as they were not planning on adding extensive third party code in the future. The addition of this added unnecessary code and led to slowing down of the site.

When installing Google Analytics, do you prefer using Google Tag Manager, installing the code directly or using a plugin?

I prefer to install the code directly onto my website. I’ve used a mix of sites from pre-built templates through to sites built from the ground up and being able to add the code myself saved on complexities and running into tracking issues down the line.

For example; I had previously tried to install Tag Manager on a Shopify hosted site and ran into numerous issues due to the fact that supporting installation documentation wasn’t up to date with the current version of Tag Manager.

In 2017, Shopify saw Tag Manager implementation as a premium feature and only allowed for installation of this for their “Plus” users.
By being able to bypass Tag Manager or other external tools I save myself from running into blockers such as these.

What tips and tricks can you recommend in the new Google Analytics?

New Google Analytics users may find scroll events and general click activity of interest as part of this edition of the platform. The focus on real-time activity is very strong in this version of Google Analytics so if your business goals or metrics align with real-time metrics then you may find this useful.

Overall, I would recommend that users run both new and old analytics views for their sites, otherwise they could be losing out on vital custom event data (due to how the parameters are now tracked) and the typical views many marketers have come to rely on for reporting.

Noemi Chavez, Founder at Chavez Web Design

Do you prefer the old version of Google Analytics or the new the version of Google Analytics, and why?

We love the new version of Google Analytics because we can now get a clearer picture of what’s driving engagement and purchases for our clients. Here are our top three favorite features:

a) App+ Web Analytics – In the past, we weren’t sure if customers started with the website and then went to the app. Now we know that for one of our clients 21% start with the app and then go to the website to make a purchase.

b) Funnels – The best new feature we like is the way it tracks the different funnels. We can clearly see where they enter the funnel and where they drop off. This way we can double down on what works and replace what is not working in our funnel.

c) Funnel Actions – Finally, we can now see the exact actions that were taken in the funnels. This way we can better understand why they converted or did not convert.

When installing Google Analytics, do you prefer using Google Tag Manager, installing the code directly or using a plugin / 3rd party tool of some sorts?

The advantage of using Google Tag Manager is that we don’t need to install multiple tracking codes. The other thing we like about Google Tag Manager is that we can get really granular on what we can track. We can customize the data that will be sent to Google Analytics. For instance, we can set up and track basic events like document downloads, scrolling percentage for a specific web page, outbound link clicks, or button clicks.

However, there is a definite learning curve, and we sometimes get stuck with Google Tag Manager; thus, we often have to reach out to Google support. The good news is that the new Google Analytics has a new feature that allows us to do this without using Google Tag Manager. If we need to install more than three tracking codes, then using Google Tag Manager is a must. Having too many tracking codes will often slow down the website speed of a website. Moreover, if we know that the client is going to be doing a lot of online marketing, then we make sure to use Google Tag Manager.

This way we can get very detailed insights into the behavior of their users and we can get better at driving conversions. However, if it’s less than three tracking codes, then we often prefer to use a 3rd party plugin called Tracking Code Manager.

This plugin makes it easy to copy and paste the code that we need on the website. Thus, allowing us to complete our work faster than with Google Tag Manager. The majority of our customers don’t need more than three tracking codes. As a result, we only use Google Tag Manager if we really have to.

What tips and tricks can you recommend in the new Google Analytics?

a) App + Website – This new Google Analytics now lets you see combined data from both your website and app. However, it’s important that you also separate the data by clicking on the “Add Comparison” button. This way you can see which marketing channel is working best to help you acquire new customers. This is a critical distinction to make.

b) Enhanced Measurement – In the past, we would have to use Google Tag Manager to track scroll percentages, downloads, and video views. Now it’s just a matter of turning on the feature. As a result, make sure to turn this feature on.

c) Ad-hoc Analysis – You are no longer limited to pre-defined reports. This new feature allows you to drag and drop multiple variables. This way, you can visualize the data on the canvas.

d) Custom Funnel Analytics – You can analyze your closed funnels and your open funnels. In a closed funnel, you enter the funnel from the very beginning. In an open funnel, you might enter the funnel in steps 2, 3, or etc. Which users are converting better for you? In your closed funnels or open funnels?

Kristina Azarenko, SEO Consultant at Marketing Syrup

Do you prefer the old version of Google Analytics or the new version of Google Analytics, and why?

I upgraded a few of my websites to Google Analytics 4 right after it was announced. Though I like some GA4 features such as automatic event tracking (of clicks, video, site search, etc.), I still prefer using Universal Analytics for the main reporting. I think GA4 will roll out more features and will need to have more guides before marketers will be able to fully switch to it.

When installing Google Analytics, do you prefer using Google Tag Manager, installing the code directly or using a plugin?

I used Google Tag Manager for installing a GA4 code to my websites. It’s very easy there as GTM has added new event types – GA4 tag and GA4 event. Even though they’re currently in beta, they work pretty well from what I can see.

What tips and tricks can you recommend in the new Google Analytics?

One thing that I found really interesting and counter-intuitive is that you need to add event parameters as custom definitions so that they’re reported on your specific Event page. I’d definitely recommend saving at least ‘page_location’ as a custom definition as this way you’ll know where your event actually happened.

Colleen Harris, Product Manager, Business Intelligence at Sincro

Do you prefer the old version of Google Analytics or the new version of Google Analytics, and why?

The initial look at Google Analytics 4 was a shock, since so much of the interface and user experience changed. As I have worked with it more, I have come to like the version of Google Analytics 4 with its pivot to a focus on the engagement of website customers, not just straight traffic numbers. GA4 is going to force all marketers to rethink attribution and reporting, which in the long run is a good thing. Every website is going to have to change their digital strategy with the move to a cookie-less world, and GA4 will become the key piece to understanding data. GA4 also means that every website has access to different modeling of sales attribution. This fundamental change to how you approach data will be a shock for a lot of websites, but the sooner you embrace the change, the easier your transition will be.

When installing Google Analytics, do you prefer using Google Tag Manager, installing the code directly or using a plugin / 3rd party tool of some sorts?

I prefer installing directly on the page – it’s an easier install for anyone, even a novice installing GA for the first time. Since GA4 is allowing people to edit events within the GA interface, GTM isn’t a necessity for event tracking like it was before. GA4 allows people to troubleshoot tags right in GA, which is a huge timesaver and one less reason to use GTM. This accessibility to editing data should help people customize data without having coding skills. If your website has a lot of complex events to tag and you have resources, then GTM remains the perfect solution. For most businesses, the native on the website install will do all the things they need. You shouldn’t be using a third-party tool to install Google Analytics. You have no control over if that tool breaks, which means you may lose data you can’t get back.

What tips and tricks can you recommend in the new Google Analytics?

Before clicking the upgrade button in GA, create a new GA4 property that can run in parallel. This allows you to play around in the new system without ruining your data. Make a list of the 10 places you visit in the standard Google Analytics account, and then work to find those same data points in GA4. Google isn’t forcing upgrades right now, so use this time to become comfortable with the new interface with a property you are going to throw away so you don’t have worries about messing up historical data. Then when it’s time to upgrade you’ll know where to find data right away.

Dimitris Tsapis, Head of Marketing at Coara

Do you prefer the old version of Google Analytics or the new version of Google Analytics, and why?

While I was quite used to the old version of Google Analytics I must say the new GA4 is better due to improvements in reporting, a full cross-channel perspective on the client lifecycle (really missed this one before), and having a more in-depth view of the customer behavior thanks to additional variables.

When installing Google Analytics, do you prefer using Google Tag Manager, installing the code directly or using a plugin / 3rd party tool of some sorts?

I used the Google Tag Manager to set up my tags so I’m only using the UA ID of my property, and didn’t touch the gtag.js. While in the transfer phase from Universal Analytics to GA4 I still kept the old version running including the old properties for the meanwhile until the full transfer was made.

What tips and tricks can you recommend in the new Google Analytics?

There are still some getting used to the new update, so it might be best to keep the old version still running in parallel as you adapt to the new one. By doing so you can cross-check information within both versions.
Explore the pre-built events, and try to create/edit events. This can now be done straight from the UI without the need to go into the code.

Try out the “enhancement measurement” feature” (new in GA4). It increases the functionality and decreases the number of custom tagging for you to keep up with – great for those who often experience information overloads.

So Should You Upgrade to GA4?

The decision to upgrade your Google Analytics version is completely up to you. If you are comfortable with the existing version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics), you don’t have to upgrade right away. As of this writing, Google is still supporting UA tags and we’ve provided the steps required to set up a new web property with a UA tag instead of a Measurement ID.

You’ll want to keep in mind that Google will likely deprecate Universal Analytics at some point. For this reason, we suggest you set up Google Analytics 4 sooner than later to get familiar with it while running it parallel to Universal Analytics. GA4 is full of new reporting and data analysis, and definitely has a bit of a learning curve.

If you have recently set up GA4, what obstacles did you run into? Or did you find the upgrade seamless? Let us know in the comments!

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