Google Analytics 4: Rethinking Your Data and Reporting


In this blog, we’ll cover the key differences in data between UA and GA4 and walk you through the standard reports that are available with every property.

If you missed our first blog covering why Google is updating their popular Analytics tool, click here.

If you need help with evaluating your Google Analytics property and preparing for a migration to GA4, contact us. For years, our clients have trusted our experts to handle the complexity of data migrations and nuances of web development.

How has GA4 changed data?

We live in a more mobile world where consumers use multiple devices and platforms to digitally engage with businesses. In response to this and privacy concerns, Google changed the data model in the new GA4 platform to de-silo and streamline analytics, so you can see a unified view of the customer journey.

Instead of UA’s session-and pageviews-based tracking, which could easily be fragmented, GA4 tracks a user’s journey in an event-and-parameters-based approach. This method seeks to track and analyze your users’ engagement journey across multiple devices and platforms in one GA4 property.

In GA4, events are traceable interactions—clicks, conversions, or even scrolling down a page. 

For example, let’s say a user initially visits your site using a desktop workstation during the day and revisits your site on their mobile device at night. In UA, these data streams—mobile and desktop appeared separate, making it difficult to pinpoint whether a user was new or returning.

GA4 unifies the user’s journey across devices, eliminating the need for its outdated Firebase mobile tracking tool.

Events and parameters
Events in UA are limited to only three parameters—action, label, and label. Inside GA4, you can set up to 100 unique parameters, dramatically increasing your flexibility and specificity.
One of the best new features are the event tracking options, enabling you to track without becoming an expert in coding. You can track more advanced actions users take such as:

  • File downloads

  • Outbound clicks

  • Video views

These parameters give you more context on the events your users are converting on.

Comparing familiar data terms

Let’s compare the key differences in terminology between the two versions.

Bounce rate vs. Engagement rate
Google decided to retire the bounce rate metric, replacing it with “engaged sessions.” This new approach is helpful to determine whether customers are actually engaged with the content on your site.
Here’s how engagement rate is calculated: (Engaged sessions) / (sessions)

An important concept to understand with GA4’s conversion measurement is the system counts every instance of the conversion event you set up. For example, if a user submits a form twice during the same session, you’ll see two conversions logged. Previously, UA only counted this as one conversion.

Google added a third user type called “Active Users.” This is the primary user metric in GA4 and is defined as any user who logs an engaged session or when Analytics collects a first visit (web) or first open (mobile) parameter.

Event count
The “Category, Action, Label” set up is no longer available. In GA4, all actions users take are classified as events. To add more context to an event in GA4, you can set up parameters with an event to show you information such as where, why, and how the event was logged.

There are three key differences to understand when it comes to Pageviews, which are now just called “views” in GA4:

  1. GA4 can account for both views on a webpage and screen views on your app in one property

  2. There are no “unique pageviews”

  3. Repeated views of a webpage or a screen are counted in the “views metric” in GA4

This is one metric that is easier to compare between UA and GA4. The key difference in GA4 is that you must set the items array parameter when setting up a purchase event. You can have up to 200 elements, which allows you to add multiple descriptions to measure item purchases.

“Engaged sessions” is the term to know for GA4. To qualify as an engaged session, one of these must occur:

  1. An event conversion

  2. At least two view events (page or screen view)

  3. A session duration lasting more than 10 seconds.

For a full list of data comparisons, visit Google’s Help Center.

How does Google Analytics 4 change reporting?

A lot has changed from the reporting interface and capabilities used in UA. At a high level, you won’t see the standard reports you were used to. On a positive note, reporting now has unrivalled flexibility and it’s easier to perform detailed analysis.

Many marketers used Data Studio to execute advanced reporting functions from UA. Now much of this functionality is found directly in GA4. You benefit by being able to generate custom reports, views, and add new report types that were previously unavailable in UA.

Default reports
Google retired the Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion tabs in the sidebar navigation for reporting and replaced it with a Life Cycle collection to help you measure user value and engagement.

Life Cycle collection
If you’re looking to analyze your users by their customer journey stage, this is one report you must set up. There are four sub-reports included to show you information from acquisition to retention:

  • Acquisition: See the original source of your traffic.

  • Engagement: This report shows user engagement after they trigger conversion events you create.

  • Monetization: Measure revenue you bring in from the offerings on your website or app.

  • Retention: Understand the frequency and duration of return visitors after they’ve visited your site for the first time.

User collection
This report shows two types of information: demographic and technological data. Demographic information includes age, location, language, and interests. Devices and app versions are among the technical information displayed.

App developer collection
If you connect your mobile app to your GA4 property, you can see usage and behavior data on users when they interact via mobile.

Prepare for the switch

Once you understand how data and reporting is changing, you can move on to the next step: comparing the data you collect in UA with data in your newly created GA4 property.  
Why compare?

  1. You can quickly detect any disparities in data

  2. You learn how GA4 works

  3. You can explain data discrepancies between UA and GA4 to your boss

Refactored can help with your GA4 migration

For years, clients have trusted us to handle their technical migrations as part of our broader demand gen services. Having a partner manage your transition from UA to GA4 reduces the risk that you’ll experience gaps in data collection or an incorrect configuration.

Our migration service includes:

  • Auditing existing UA property

  • Documenting the current implementation

  • Creating GA4 properties with custom settings, features, and reports

  • Exploring opportunities for GA4 optimization

  • QA property setup and documenting new changes

  • Ongoing Analytics consulting

With Refactored, you can lower the stress and complexity involved with making the transition to GA4. We can maximize the value you received from GA4’s new data and reporting capabilities, and help you understand users’ journey better.

Let's talk about how we can help you with your Google Analytics 4 migration.