What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google’s web analytics platform. It replaces Google’s previous Universal Analytics (UA) tracking code and offers many new features that are designed to help you better understand user behavior on your website. In this article we’re going to discuss the differences between both versions, how measurement looks a bit different this time around, and some resources for how and when to migrate.

What are the main differences between UA and GA4?

In contrast to Universal Analytics which relied solely on pageviews for understanding how visitors interacted with websites, GA4 uses what Google refers to as “Events” – user interactions such as clicking a link or watching a video that are tracked individually rather than collectively under one pageview metric. This helps marketers understand each individual user journey through the site in much more granular detail. 

Measuring Users: GA4 vs. UA

GA4 is a significant shift from UA, with its architecture based on events rather than pageviews or sessions, as well as its introduction of AI-driven insights and predictive models designed to give users deeper insight into their data and enable actionable decision making.

UA: Session-Based

Universal Analytics uses a session-based data model to track user activity on a website.  A ‘session’ is defined as a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. Universal Analytics collects information about the activities users have performed in that session, such as page views, time spent on the site, and any goals or conversions that were completed.While this data is important, it can essentially leave marketers with half of a story. We don’t know if a certain page is successful by just looking at the total number of times someone saw it.  Cue the event-based model:

GA4: Event-Based

GA4, however, switched to an event-based data model to measure users and their interactions with websites. An ‘event’ is defined as any action taken by a user while they are interacting with a web page such as clicking on a link, scrolling, or submitting a form. Each event is tracked and logged in order to provide detailed insights into how users interact with websites and what kinds of actions they take while browsing them. For example, GA4 can detect when certain buttons or links are clicked more frequently than others on pages, or if there are areas of content that visitors tend to spend more time on than others. This data can then be used to inform decisions around website design and content creation for enhanced engagement and improved user experience.

Key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4

Measuring Content Success (or Failure): Is Bounce Rate Still a Thing?

What Happened to Bounce Rate?

Since the transition to Google Analytics 4, one of the most notable changes had been the removal of bounce rate as a metric. But alas! Google heard the critics loud and clear, and as of July 2022, they reintroduced bounce rate – however, it’s not exactly how we remember it from UA.

Bounce Rate Definitions: GA4 vs. UA

At its core, bounce rate is defined as “the percentage of sessions in which users view only one page and then leave your site”. In other words, it is used to measure how effective a page was at capturing user attention. Bounce rate was (is?) a widely accepted metric in Universal Analytics, that businesses and marketers have grown to utilize as a staple for measuring success and failure. 

GA4 moved on from the traditional ‘bounce rate’ to create a new metric entirely: engagement rate. Engagement Rate can be interpreted as the inverse of bounce rate – indicating how likely visitors are to continue engaging with your site for longer periods of time.  GA4 defines engagement rate as the ratio, represented as a percentage, of your engaged sessions to your total sessions 

Google considers a session to be ‘engaged’ if it meets any one of these three criteria: if the visit lasts more than 10 seconds, if it results in a conversion event, or if there are at least two pageviews or screen views. In other words, an engaged session is when a visitor has spent meaningful time engaging with your website’s content. Though engagement rate gives us an indication as to how users interact with our pages once they arrive, bounce rate will tell us why they’re leaving so quickly – this could be due to slow loading speeds, confusing navigation structures, or irrelevant content beside what they were expecting. 

By monitoring both metrics together and analyzing user behavior, you’ll have a much clearer picture as to what changes need to be made on your website in order for users to spend more time actively engaging with your content. Making small tweaks such as increasing loading speeds, improving navigation, optimizing content with specific user intent,  can have immediate impacts on both engagement rates and overall user satisfaction.

Important Dates & Info About Migrating to GA4

Universal Analytics will officially sunset on July 1, 2023, meaning: no more data will be collected in UA after that date. For the following six months, users will still have access to the historical data that had been recorded on UA before its discontinuation. However, after those six months have passed, all of the data from UA will be permanently inaccessible and this will signify the end of an era for Google Analytics. Following this milestone, GA4 will become the new default platform for analytics services.

Migrating is a somewhat straightforward process, but to ensure all data is accounted for, and important conversion metrics are in place, we suggest making this transition sooner than later.

If you need help reach out to us at hello@masoninteractive.com, or take a look at some of the resources we’ve listed below.

Jenna Vaccaro

Author Jenna Vaccaro

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