GA4 vs UA – What We Have Learned After 12 Months

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was announced in October of 2020 as a future replacement to Universal Analytics (UA). It was developed in response to ongoing data privacy changes. The new analytics no longer uses cookies (a means of storing user behavior and personal data). Rather it relies on event tracking which allows the same behavioral data without the personal data. This makes it future-proof as privacy legislation continues to be rolled out.

At its release, GA4 left much to be desired and though privacy was improved, tracking looked to have major gaps. This led many marketers to drag their feet on adoption. Then came July 1st, 2023 when Universal Analytics ended and the transition to GA4 was required.

At first glance everything was different, and there was less data, but as marketers started digging in, we began to see the power of GA4. Now, with one year under our belt, we have seen firsthand the new possibilities and a level of tracking that surpasses Universal Analytics.

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What We Love About GA4

Tips & Tricks For Using GA4

How To Get The Most Out Of GA4

What We Love About GA4

Though GA4 said goodbye to many beloved features it gave us explorations, active users, out-of-the-box enhanced tracking like site search and outbound clicks, automatic spam exclusion, AI tools like anomaly detection, and a native debug mode!

GA4 Explorations

GA4 template gallery showcasing path explorations, segment overlap, user explore, and cohort exploration.

GA4 came with the standard report dashboards we saw in UA (albeit they looked a little different), but the most powerful upgrade to reporting was explorations. These advanced reports function similarly to Looker Studio giving you the ability to sort, drill down, and visualize data. GA4 comes with a template gallery that includes popular explorations like a funnel and path exploration. You can also make your custom exploration.

Where things get interesting is you can quickly build audiences, add or remove dimensions and metrics, and filter by multiple parameters. This, plus access to 10 tabs within one exploration, lets you build similar reports and group them. These reports can then be shared with others. They can view, but not edit so you don’t have to worry about things breaking. What if they want to mess around with it? They can simply copy the exploration and start customizing it to their needs.

How To Use Explorations

To get started with explorations:

  1. Login to Google Analytics 4
  2. In the side panel hover over the arrow pointing up and click explore
  3. Browse pre-built templates or hit blank to get started on a custom exploration
  4. Name the exploration
  5. Select the time frame (how far back you can go will depend on your data retention settings – we recommend setting this to 14 months)
  6. Build a segment if you want to create a reusable audience
  7. Click on dimensions and add whatever dimensions you want
  8. Click on metrics, based on the dimensions you have selected it will automatically update what metrics you can select
  9. Double click or drag the dimensions and metrics you want to add to the exploration
  10. Pick your visualization
  11. Look it over and add filters, metrics, and dimensions as you see fit

Enhanced Tracking

GA4 enhanced measurement options

Have you ever wondered how far users were scrolling down the page? Perhaps you wanted to track what people were searching on your site, or if they were engaging with YouTube videos. With GA4 you get access to this tracking all without having to use Google Tag Manager.

Automatic Spam Exclusion

First off we want to make it clear that GA4 does not completely eliminate spam from tracking, but it does a pretty good job. With GA4 you spend far less time figuring out what is spam and trying to remove it. Add this with an AI-powered anomaly detection and you can be alerted when things are off so you can dive in right away and ensure things are tracking properly.

Native Debug Mode

Debugging was available in Universal Analytics through browser extensions, but you had to go through the motions and then check back later to see if the data came through. Now with the upgraded debug mode, you can track your actions in live time, see firsthand if events are working, and get access to more granular data.

Tips & Tricks For Using GA4

GA4 search bar showing options for search "tips"

To get the most out of using GA4 we have put together a few tips for getting the most accurate data and tricks for navigating the analytics tool.

Filter Out Internal Traffic

Internal traffic can be defined as traffic from employees, community partners, contractors, and anyone else directly involved in your business that would not reflect the behavior of a potential customer. These users can skew data and make it hard to get accurate results.

To remove them:

  • While in GA4 click the settings gear
  • Then in the right column under data collection and modification select data streams
  • Click your website stream
  • Click configure tag settings then show more
  • Click define internal traffic
  • Click create and name the rule internal traffic, leave the traffic type as internal
  • Change the match type to IP address equals
  • Add the IP address then click add condition to add more addresses

Tip: You can get your IP address by simply typing “What’s my IP Address” on Google.

Can’t Find Something, Use The Search Box

GA4 has a robust search function built into every page so no matter where you are you can search for the data you need and be brought directly there. The results also show guided tours which can help you get familiar with the layouts and functions.

Utilize The Customization

GA4 puts you in control. From custom explorations and reports to custom audiences, alerts, and even UI changes, you can make GA4 look and work the way you need it to.

How To Get The Most Out Of GA4

Google Tag Manager logo on laptop

GA4 is a powerful tool but for you to get the best results there are a few things to focus on.

Embrace Its Differences

We were all there – the first time you load GA4 your instinct is to exit immediately. It’s not what you are used to, and it takes some time to figure out but trust us, once you do, it is so much more powerful than the previous Google Analytics platform.

It’s easy to start comparing to UA or even try to get the same metrics but realize that UA and GA4 use different methods to track users so not everything crosses over. You might have a favorite metric that no longer exists, but instead of trying to get it back, think about what you can now do, and what new metrics or dimensions might make more sense.

Custom Dimensions

This was hinted at above, but to truly tap into the capabilities of GA4 you need to define your own dimensions. As an event-based model, GA4 has access to tons of data at the time of an event. With this, you can capture information like which link was clicked, what text was in the link, how far did the user scroll when they clicked, and more.

Use Google Tag Manager

Though GA4 offers a lot of out-of-the-box tracking, Google Tag Manager drastically increases the scope of what’s possible. With powerful no-code tags, you can get more granular data and send it right to GA4. You can even modify the page depending on the information you have gathered from GA4. The two work in tandem for an effective website marketing strategy.

Make Informed Decisions With A GA4 Powered SEO Strategy

If you’re looking to uncover data about your business and leverage that to get more site traffic, Mannix Marketing is here to help. Our experts can help set up custom events, explorations, and reports that will guide data-driven strategies focused on getting you results. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help.