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Google Analytics 4: What we’ve learnt in the last year

It has now been a little over a year since Google Analytics officially unveiled Google Analytics 4. In late 2020, Google renamed the App + Web properties to Google Analytics 4. Officially it is not in beta anymore. In this post we will share the top five lessons we have learnt through our experiences using GA4.

Has Google Analytics 4 replaced Universal Analytics?

When GA4 was officially released Google’s official line was that GA4 was not yet a replacement for Universal Analytics and they advised setting it up alongside your UA integration. In this year since we think this is still the case. GA4 has improved with new features and reports being released. However, it is still lacking features that may be crucial to some. GA4 is still missing most of the Filter options that have been very important to many setups. You still cannot set up additional views, certain reports and reporting functions are still missing, and some integrations are not yet possible.

However, this will probably not be the case for too much longer with new features being added regularly. As such, we strongly encourage those who haven’t set up their GA4 properties to do so. To start you can simply replicate your existing UA setup. This will allow you to start collecting historical data that can be used when you make the switch to using GA4 as your primary analytics tool. This will also allow you to start learning how to use the various new features and methods of GA4 like the new event structure.

Freedom of the Event Structure

One of our favourite features of GA4 has been its event parameter structure. It has a much more flexible and free event structure than Universal Analytics. In UA events are used for particular scenarios. They use the familiar parameter structure of Event Category, Action and Label. This structure is fairly limited as it is both hierarchical and as the parameter names imply a certain type of value. While you could use the Action Parameter to store the name or type of a downloaded file this is a little incongruence with the parameter name. UA event parameters can be expanded with Custom Dimensions. However, you are limited to 20 of these and once you create one, say File Type, for a specific event that Custom Dimension slot is used up across the entire property.

In GA4 this is completely different as every hit is an event. There is no predetermined structure for event parameters apart from a few automatically collected ones like the Page Path. You can set up to 25 parameters and these can be customized as you like. Once you set up a parameter for an event, like our File Type example, this only counts towards the limit for the events you set it up for. This all gives a much greater freedom to what and how much you can capture for each event. This means that you can do interesting analysis of specific events on your site that would have been required using precious Custom Dimension slots to do in UA.

Creating new events in the UI

Another incredibly useful feature of GA4 that we use often is the ability to create new events from within the GA4 UI itself. Instead of having to specifically track every event you need – in the site code or Google Tag Manager – you can create certain events from within GA4. A useful example here would be that if you already have an event that tracks all the CTA buttons on your site you could then use this to create an event for a particular CTA button you are interested in. This way you can track which campaigns led to these particular clicks without having to filter or create segments like you would in UA and you need not do any additional implementation.

Analyzing with Explorations

Some of the reports that are missing can be replicated in the Explorations functionality. This has provided useful insight and makes for good visual analysis. You have a range of different visualizations options which can be modified with a range of dimensions, metrics and filters. As mentioned, some of these can be used to create reports similar to some reports in UA like the Behaviour flow and Checkout reports. But with Exploration these are more interactive and customizable. Aside from the creating reports you can also access Life Time Value (LTV) metrics in Exploration. This has long been a very important metric for Ecommerce platforms and it is now automatically calculated and segmentable in GA4.

Data Retention

One of the big surprises about GA4 that often flies under the radar is its data retention. While this doesn’t affect aggregate metrics GA4 will only keep some specifics about users or events for a period of either 2 or 14 months. This means that if you want to do any specific analysis of data older than 14 months you may not be able to in GA4. This 14-month retention is also only possible if you have actively changed the setting to 14 months as 2 months is the default option. If you are a customer of Amazee Metrics then do not worry we have already made sure all our GA4 properties are set to retain data for 14 months.

There is however a great solution to this issue using the Google BigQuery integration that is available in GA4. This very welcome addition was available in UA but only to Google Analytics 360 customers. We will explore this important workaround in a blog post in the near future and show you how to back up data for any length of time.

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