Continuing the series of articles about the new version of Google Analytics – known as Google Analytics 4 or GA4 – we look at the key differences between this and the current / previous version of Analytics (referred to as Universal). Existing users of Analytics need to understand the basic differences to see how to best use the new tracking reports.
One of the main differences with the new GA4 tracking and reports is the focus on events. In the previous Universal Analytics, any click action or ‘hit’ on a website (such as pages, events, ecommerce and social interaction hits) would be tracked as different elements, but in GA4 the website or property measurement is event-based, with the principle that any interaction can be captured as an ‘event’. This allows you to collect reliable and consistent data across multiple devices and platforms.
Events represent a fundamental data model difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 properties. In Universal Analytics an event was one type of recorded ‘hit’ and needed separate setup to the standard ‘hits’ that the tracking code recorded as data. These events had a Category, Action, and Label to track what action has taken place, but in the new GA4, every “hit” is an event and so there is no distinction between hit types.
With this change it’s therefore better to rethink the website’s data collection in terms of the GA4 model and events as the main tracking measurement. These events in GA4 fall into four categories: automatically collected events, enhanced measurement events, recommended events, and custom events.
Automatically collected and enhanced measurement events DO NOT REQUIRE that code be added to the web page or app. Automatically collected events are automatically logged (no code on page/in app) as long as you have the base code for GA4 property implemented on your site (either via gtag.js or Google Tag Manager). Enhanced measurement events are a special set of events that are automatically logged (no code on page) to the GA4 property and can be enabled/disabled via the GA4 property user interface. Both of these type of events and associated parameters follow predefined naming and schema.
The 2 other types of events REQUIRE that code be added to the web page or app. Recommended events have predefined names and parameters and are recommended for specific business verticals (such as ecommerce, jobs, travel and others). Implementing recommended events along with their prescribed parameters provides maximum detail in your reports and enables you to benefit from the latest features and integrations as they become available. However, these events are not automatically logged; you’ll need to add code to your web pages or app.
Custom events are events that you name and implement yourself. You should make full use of automatic, enhanced measurement, and recommended events before creating a custom event. Automatic and enhanced measurement events provide the benefits of being automatically logged. Recommended events provide forward-compatibility with future functionality. In contrast, custom events do not provide these benefits.
If you have existing events in Universal Analytics, it should be possible to map these into GA4 (as long as they are set up with gtag.js code or Google Tag Manager), although it may take a while for these to appear in your new GA4 setup and reports. The new event focused reporting in GA4 may also give you new opportunities to think of new events that could be tracked. For existing events, the Event Action becomes an Event Name in the GA4 property. Event Category, Label, and Value become parameters in the GA4 property.