• Sibel Akcekaya

How New Google Analytics G4 different than old Universal Analytics?

New Google Analytics GA4 is approaching some of the capabilities Adobe Analytics is offering. For many years Google Analytics users claimed that Adobe Analytics is unnecessarily complex and less user friendly but it was always other way around. Google Analytics have always been weaker and too basic with its standard reports.That's why it looked like user friendly. GA users did not understand the need to add many different parameters, relational data analysis and kept using only standard events. Now finally Google Analytics brings more complexity to its platform with GA4. But in order to switch you need to be careful and work with an expert.

I always favor Adobe Analytics over Google Analytics because Adobe Analytics is much more advanced tool. On this article I try to see If new Google Analytics G4 can offer some of the Adobe Analytics capabilities. I will also compare new and old Google Analytics and will try to create a plan for transition.

Is it Easy and Automatic to Switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics GA4?

This depends on what data you collect and how. If you are not collecting any custom data then you can start using new GA4 right away for standard Google Analytics events and metrics that is created by the platform. But if you are implementing custom data, then transition needs planning.

You also have to realize that reporting interface changes, so all your dashboards and reports have to change, you also have to train your users.

Most of the analysis methods and terms is changing.

Before you move on to the new GA4, you need to work with a good digital analytics consultant who is expert in technical implementation and data design because GA4 data model is different. You will need to rethink how you collect data and get rid of the old data collection model. Please work with a good analytics consultant rather than standard GA analysts who only creates tags without thinking any data design. You can reach out to me through Linkedin to redesign your Google Analytics implementation.

One of the things that made Google Analytics worse than Adobe Analytics how it was built initially. People always tell me that Google Analytics is easier and simpler than Adobe Analytics but actually it is not. If you understand how data is collected and how the relationships are built within database. Google Analytics has this weird event set-up where you have to set category, action, label and hit type. Google Analytics implementation is actually more development work than Adobe Analytics. In Adobe Analytics all you need to is to set variables, and then Adobe makes all the connections and relations between parameters.

That has always been the biggest difference between Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics. Google Analytics software required you to set up data relations in the code, on the client side, while Adobe did that connections in the backend after data collection.

So this cumbersome data collection is going away with GA4 and is replaced with simple and standard data layer. This is the biggest difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics :events. You will see that you would need to change how you capture and report events. Google Analytics events Category, Action, and Label and hit type attributes are all going away. In Google Analytics 4 , every "hit" is an event; there is no distinction between hit types. See the code difference below and here you can see how reporting will be different

For example, the following event in a Universal Analytics property implemented via gtag.js: Here you can see that in order report an event, we have to add lots of different attributes. Problem here these attributes belong to 1 event, you can't mix them with other events. That makes the old Analytics very cumbersome, and that's the reason we can't

1: gtag('event', <action>, {

2: 'event_category': <category>,

3: 'event_label': <label>,

4: 'value': <value>

5: });

Is translated to a Google Analytics 4 property using this generalized event signature. And here you can see that you only set variables, and you can relate them to each other.

1: gtag('event', <event_name>, {

2: <parameter_1>: <parameter_1_value>,

3: <parameter_2>: <parameter_2_value>,

4: <parameter_3>: <parameter_3_value>,

5: ...

6: });

In this new version Google Analytics finally realized every business is different and giving you more resources to customize your digital analytics data like Adobe.

For example, when someone views one of your website pages, a page_view event is triggered.

In order to understand how you need to redefine your events, we need to understand

Google Analytics 4 event types.

There are 4 different event types:

1-Automatically collected events: These are the events that are collected by Google Analytics automatically from the client. Such as page views, location, visitors, browser used etc.. Please see the list of all the GA4 automatically collected events here. You don't need to add any code or so anything else.

2-Enhanced measurement events

These events also collected by Google Analytics automatically and does not need any code change or addition. But these events are not appear in the interface automatically. You need to enable them in the Google Analytics admin panel. See the list of events here . Some of the events: Scrolling data, site search tracking and exit links (outbound links), video tracking and download file tracking. As you can see these events will not be used by every organization, and that's why they are not enabled automatically. If you don't have any video on your site or app, you would not want an empty report showing up under the interface. It will confuse your users.

3- Recommended events

These are the events Google recommends for you to capture with your GA4 code. These are recommendations and you would need to do technical implementation to add these parameters to your GA4 code. Google also recommends specific events per vertical. See recommended information here. Recommended events have predefined names and parameters.

Adding recommended events will help you to do more detailed analysis but also will help you to get more benefit out of Google Analytics. Google says that "Implementing recommended events along with their prescribed parameters provides maximum detail in your reports and enables you to benefit from the latest features and integrations as they become available". In this statement Google basically states that it will keep adding new features based on recommended events.

However, these events are not automatically logged; you'll need to add code to your web pages or app. Google recommends different events for different verticals. Google Analytics is finally recognizing the fact that different businesses need different reports and analysis. And Google does a good job to help businesses to figure out what kind of different reports they can create. While some companies already tracking these reports, there are many companies out there who only implements base tag and only looks at very basic data like visitors and funnels.

If you were tracking these parameters before, with GA4 you would need to change how you track them. Google wants to relate everything to each other and this requires some kind of pre-defined variable structure. Defining everything in page name makes analysis options limited. Here Google recommends some parameters for all properties. These are the parameters every digital business should track if it applies to them: such as login, sign-up etc.. For instance here Google recommends select_content event and to create this event Google wants you to use parameter names of content_type and item_id. It looks like Google would recognize these variables names and would be able to relate these variables to other data to create insights. This is the difference between pre-recognized variables versus custom variables.

Google defined 4 verticals

4-Custom events

Implementing custom events is the next step after we make full use of automatic, enhanced measurement, and recommended events . Make sure that you don't create a parameter as a custom event where it should be implemented or used as automatic, enhanced measurement or recommended event. Before determining to create a custom event, review all other event types and reports and make sure that you can't create particular event under those events. I have seen over and over that teams creating redundant variables all the time. Also with new GA4 ,all events except custom events are defined in GA, they are smart parameters. This means Google know what they are. If you implement "login event" as custom event instead of recommended event , Google would not know that it is a login event, for Google that custom event will be a parameter with no meaning. And recommended events provide forward-compatibility with future functionality. In contrast, custom events do not provide these benefits.

In short, if you are using old Universal Analytics, you should definitely switch to Google Analytics G4 as it is a better platform for the future. But switching to GA4 requires careful consideration and digital analytics expertise.

Please reach out to me on Linkedin if you need help to design your new GA4 data suite.

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