The Biggest Event of 2020 – Welcome to Google Analytics 4

welcome to google analytics 4 article title graphic

It was about a year ago that the term “App+Web Property” was introduced to the Google Analytics world.  Fast forward through the tumultuous year and in October, the beta version of “App+Web Property” was announced as Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and coupled with banners saying “Time to Upgrade!” in our Universal Analytics (UA) properties. The new setup opens up many new features and my focus today is to go into the foundation of GA4.

When I first read the introduction articles regarding GA4 setup (notated as App+Web) last year, the first example that popped in my head was that this looks like social media event implementation, basically you set one event followed by a list of parameters. The concept being if the user did an action then it was an event and you could send additional information via a parameter when that event took place; thus, welcome friends to the event-driven data model.

While new functionality is continuing to rollout, the backbone of GA4 is the introduction of this new model to how data is organized when sent to Google Analytics.  The event-based model establishes the relationship with other dimensions and metrics (parameters) that happen during a specific event, and those events are tied back to a user.  Whether it be pageview, scroll, clicking a share button, in all of these events the user did something and that is what we want to measure in Google Analytics – all the somethings that took place during a user’s interaction.  

We are no longer working within a model whose data is tracked via a hit-type and packaged within that certain hit-type.  We are working in a world that no matter the device or browser, we connect a user to the events they triggered within their various interactions.  The new GA4 model is more flexible with not being boxed within the confines of the tracking convention specific to the platform as what was a common pain point among Universal Analytics users.  

For those outside the Google Analytics world, in current UA implementation whatever you send with a tracking hit (page tracking, event tracking, transaction tracking) that data is packaged in that hit and keeps a relationship with that exact hit-type.  

Additionally, within those specific hit-types, you could define additional dimensions and metrics, but you would have to consider the scope.  Some common road block scenarios include:

  • A hit-scoped dimension (like Page) couldn’t be combined with session-scoped metrics like Visits, so you would have to use the hit-scoped Unique Pageviews.
  • A SPA site where you do not have the traditional page load-> page view and have to get creative with Event Categories and Actions.
  • A session-scoped dimension would override any earlier value defined in the session, and worst case, would restart the session.

Obviously Google knew this was not ideal, the data was already siloed before you were able to run with an analysis.  

With GA4, all interactions are an event and all parameters are defined at the hit of that event.  Because all interactions measured as an event, that allows for the following:

  • Apps and websites can follow the same syntax for measurement.
  • Build better defined audiences from any number of events and parameters, and once a user fulfills the conditions, this becomes (wait for it…) an event.
  • Sessions are tracked with an automatic event and expire after inactivity, but not if a new campaign is set.

Pretty amazing right?  There are also a number of real cool features and they keep getting introduced, but to keep this topic on the model, there have to be some limits and here are a couple key items for custom events and event parameters one can have running:

  • Custom User Properties: up to 25
  • Custom Dimensions and Metrics (another term for custom event parameters): up to 50 each

Best rule of advice is if an event and/or parameter is listed in the Google documentation, use what is defined from Google, then use custom markup if needed.  Also remember the event parameters are not scoped per se; User Properties (formerly known as user-scoped) are essentially in Google’s terms “sticky event parameters” and the newly introduced Item parameters (formerly known as product-scoped) for ecommerce reporting would only be used within ecommerce events.  Apart from that, there is no equivalent to session-scope, everything falls on the hit.

Now that you have some context on the new model, it goes without saying that  the GA4 setup requires planning.  You do have some flexibility to archive parameters and turn on/off an event as a conversion; however, best to gradually convert your UA setup to GA4 while the two are running parallel to each other.  This will give you time to be fully versed with the new GA4 UI, able to utilize and share your GA4 data with no caveats to your stakeholders, and hopefully, major functionality updates from Google have subsided to not-so-monumental status.  Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither is your analytics platform. 

Here’s the last line I hope you walk away with: Every hit type in GA4 is measured as an event.  There are still some items to work out, but until then, start exploring your new found event-driven freedom.

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