Google Analytics 4: what changes from Universal Analytics

Published : 11/8/2021 09:03:19
Categories : Our E-commerce advice


A year ago, Google announced a big change in the way it collects data and analyzes it, with the release of Google Analytics 4. Compared to the old system, Universal Analytics, this new type of property has brought simplification, security and innovation in data analysis.


In this article we present the main novelties brought by the new generation of analysis tool: Google Analytics 4.


A simplified data collection model


First of all, unlike Universal Analytics, the new Google Analytics 4 property can be used not only to analyze data from a website but also to study data from a web application. Most importantly, Google Analytics 4 can combine data from different platforms and display the results in a single view.

Between Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the data model is radically different. While Universal Analytics uses an old data model based on a distinction of "hit types" (page view, event, social network interaction, e-commerce transaction, etc.), Google Analytics 4 considers any interaction, including a simple page view, as an event, which brings it closer to modern tracking systems such as the Facebook pixel for example. This makes things much simpler. Indeed, thanks to this event structure, the laborious nomenclature and naming conventions that had to be set up with Universal have disappeared and are replaced by pre-defined event parameters, delivered by Google in a standardized library.

Another simplification is that, while Universal Analytics only records page views by default and then requires a custom configuration to be able to track certain interactions in a more advanced way, Google Analytics 4 automatically collects a whole series of events, without the need to add any code to the tag. Some of the so-called "enhanced metrics", such as outbound clicks, internal search engine use, embedded video engagements or file downloads, can even be enabled and disabled directly through the user interface. Cross-domain tracking, which used to require adding code with Universal, is now native in Google Analytics 4 and is set up directly through your Analytics account interface, without modifying your tag.

Thus, Google Analytics 4 allows you to benefit natively from a large amount of information without any intervention in the code. Google Analytics 4 is therefore much more accessible than Universal when you don't have any technical knowledge, and also saves a lot of time.


Better management of personal data protection


With the tightening of regulations on the use of personal data and the increasing development of online commerce and cross-platform web activity, Google has decided to completely rethink the way it collects data and uses it.

Indeed, a user in 2021 requires much more transparency in the use and storage of his personal data than a user in 2012, the year Universal Analytics was launched. Google has long been criticized for the way it collects data and uses it without real consent from its users. The entry into force of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has finally convinced Google to radically change its way of doing things.

Therefore, one of the main novelties of GA4 compared to Universal is that it has been designed to work in a way that respects data privacy. For example, one of the major innovations is the systematic anonymization of IP addresses, which was not the case with Universal by default.

Unlike the old system, GA4 works without systematically using cookies or identifiers. Thanks to the use of other signals, such as the login of users to their Google account through different platforms (the "Google Signals") but also to a good dose of artificial intelligence, Google assures that it is now able to generate reliable reports on the journey of a user, even in case of data anonymization or deletion of cookies.

Google Analytics 4 also contains a consent mode (still in beta phase at this time) that allows to adjust the data collection according to the consent status of the visitors. It is therefore possible to send only non-identifying data or even to authorize the use of only a certain type of cookies (statistics and not marketing for example) depending on the type of consent given.

If you have a PrestaShop store, you should know that the combination of the Google Analytics: GA4 and Universal Analytics module from BusinessTech and the Advanced Cookie Banner module from Presta-Module allows you to take into account the type of cookies authorized by the users.

The Google Analytics 4 tag therefore has the ability to dynamically adapt to users.

Another important new feature of Google Analytics 4 is that it is possible to ask Google to delete the data of a particular user, if he or she requests it, for example. Such granularity in the consideration of consent was not possible with Universal Analytics.

This flexibility shows Google's willingness to take into account the new demands of consumers regarding the use of their personal data.


The customer journey and machine learning at the heart of the GA4 model


Under increasing demand from businesses to have a complete view of the customer journey in order to gain insights, Google has also transformed the way it compiles data.

With Google Analytics 4, data collection is no longer based on sessions and identifiers but centered on the "unique" user and his or her journey through the various platforms. Moreover, artificial intelligence is at the heart of the new data model's functionalities and allows a better understanding of the customer and a better anticipation of his needs.

First, with the new model, it's no longer about analyzing customer behavior in a fragmented, platform-by-platform, or device-by-device way, but looking at how they interact with your business holistically, bringing together data from different sites and apps in one place. You have the ability to see, side by side, conversions from YouTube videos, Google ads, Facebook ads, or organic channels such as Google search or marketing emails. This helps you know the effectiveness of your marketing strategy by analyzing how and where your customers discovered your products and then what led them to make a purchase.

The reports have also been reorganized so that you can simply find information based on the part of the customer journey that interests you.

So Google Analytics 4 gives you a more complete view of how your customers are engaging with your products, a better understanding of the customer journey from acquisition to conversion and retention. 

In addition, thanks to its artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning models, Google Analytics 4 systematically provides you with recommendations, called "insights", when you browse your reports and data, to guide you in your analysis and decision making. For example, Google can inform you about trends in your data, such as a growing demand for certain products, based on the observed needs of certain customers. This allows you to anticipate your inventory. Or it can alert you to possible customer losses so you can take action by implementing a new advertising strategy. Google's predictive models allow you to set up relevant marketing actions at the right time and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Google Analytics 4 also has the great advantage of having a direct link with Google Ads. It is therefore very easy to use what you learn from your customers with Analytics to create more relevant audiences and optimize the effectiveness of your ads and therefore your marketing budget. For example, you can create custom audiences in your Analytics account based on the potential revenue that certain customers could generate and they will automatically be imported into your Google Ads account.


Associate Universal Analytics with Google Analytics 4


Google Analytics 4 undoubtedly marks a revolution in the way data is collected and analyzed while taking into account new privacy regulations. This is now the default property type in your Google Analytics account as this is where future improvements and innovations will be focused. Google has actually announced that they will no longer be making developments in the old Universal Analytics system, although it will still be usable. That's why it's important to start setting up your Google Analytics 4 property today so that you won't be caught unprepared the day Universal is no longer available.

Since the data models are radically different, Universal data cannot be read into GA4 reports. Therefore, if you have been using Universal Analytics until now, we recommend that you combine the two types of properties. Simply create a GA4 property alongside your existing UA property and combine the two. This way, you can continue to take advantage of UA reports and access your history, while benefiting from next-generation GA4 reports. By setting up a GA4 tag now, even if you don't use it fully yet, you will have a whole history of data available to you when you decide to use this model exclusively.

If you are an e-merchant with a PrestaShop store, the Google Analytics: GA4 and Universal Analytics module from BusinessTech allows you to install the new GA4 tag while still filling out your Universal reports if you want. This way you get the benefits of both types of reports. Moreover, it is the only module that is already pre-configured to send essential e-commerce events as well as other events that are highly useful for the online sales area. Very well documented, it adapts to all themes, even those not using PrestaShop development standards.


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