With the discontinuation of Google Universal Analytics, many marketers are apprehensive about navigating the shift to Google Analytics 4. But what if we told you that this change could open a world of possibilities for flexible, customized data tracking that caters to diverse reporting requirements?

In this blog, we demystify Google Analytics 4, highlighting why its event-based data modeling is a game-changer in the world of analytics. We delve into how GA4 fundamentally differs from its predecessor, how it improves upon traditional tracking methods, and how you can leverage its features to gain a more comprehensive view of user interactions on your site.

The feature of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) that we are most excited about isn’t the enhanced measurement capabilities or the integrated predictive machine learning; it’s a behind-the-scenes change that makes GA4 customizable to a wide variety of scenarios and flexible to meet an array of reporting requirements: Event-based data modeling.

Although there has been some grumbling in the marketing community about the forced shift from Universal Analytics to GA4, many organizations are taking advantage of what GA4 has to offer to enrich their reporting and understanding of their customer base.

In this blog, we discuss:

  1. Events: Key Difference Between Universal Analytics and GA4↵
  2. What Types of ‘Events’ Are in GA4? ↵
  3. How to Create a 360-View of your Customer via Integration in GA4↵
  4. How to Integrate Data from GA4 with your Other Data Sources↵
  5. How to Leverage the Events-Based Model for Enhanced User Insights↵

Events: The Key Difference Between Universal Analytics and GA4  

As you navigate the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4, you need to understand the fundamental data model difference between the two platforms — which is Events.

In Universal Analytics:

  • The platform tracks user activities as “hits” and groups these hits by sessions, which correspond to visits to the site or application.
  • A variety of hits exist including page hits, event hits, e-commerce hits, and social interaction hits.
  • Each hit populates dimensions and metrics including information about the activity such as the page title, timestamp, or transaction ID.

In GA4:

  • The platform tracks all activities as events, which include the event name, event parameters, and user properties.
  • The event parameters provide the details (such as the page title, URL, and timestamp), and the user properties provide additional details (such as city, medium, and browser).
  • Custom events and event parameters can be configured to track a wide variety of site and application activities depending on your use cases.
A graphic featuring a black and orange box, inside which are six white boxes each summarizing key points about fostering a data-driven culture: 1. Cultivate curiosity and innovation. 2. Encourage flexibility and adaptability. 3. Emphasize data literacy. 4. Promote cross-functional collaboration. 5. Regularly review and adapt data strategy. 6. Set clear, measurable success metrics.

Built-in reporting in Google Analytics 4 allows users to view the performance of their most popular events and associated conversion events. Image: Google Analytics

Why is this shift to Event-based tracking important? It encourages organizations to think critically about events occurring on their site that represent success — according to their unique business and campaigns.

What Types of ‘Events’ Are in GA4?

You will encounter several approaches to event creation and tracking in GA4 — automatic, enhanced, recommended, and custom.

  • Automatic Events: GA4 automatically collects events that track common user interactions out of the box, including page views, searches, and file downloads. This automatic tracking means you can save time on basic setup and concentrate more on aligning with your business goals.
  • Enhanced Measurements: With GA4, you can access enhanced measurements for more accurate data about several common user behaviors without the need for additional coding. These behaviors include page views, scrolling, outbound clicks, searches, video engagement, and file downloads. For instance, the enhanced measurements feature lets you analyze the duration and percentage of your video content watched by users, offering insights into viewer engagement levels and drop-off points..
  • Recommended Events: Google Analytics provides a list of recommended events — which are predefined based on common tracking needs — as a helpful point of reference for new users. You should note, however, these recommended events must be implemented by you and are one-size-fits-all..
  • Custom Events: GA4 also allows you to define and create events that don’t show up in standard reporting. Customization is done when no other event works for your use case.

When creating custom events and parameters, be aware of the potential for inflated event counts due to duplicate or unintended data collection. It’s crucial to carefully design your event tracking to ensure accurate and meaningful data. This involves more effort and expertise to set up compared to Universal Analytics; however, the benefits of the data model still outweigh the initial setup challenges.

How to Create a 360-View of Your Customer via Integration in GA4 

GA4 has built-in reporting capabilities like its predecessor, but these pre-built reports and explorations just scratch the surface. The event parameters in GA4 not only provide valuable context for user interactions on your site, but they can be utilized easily (relative to the deprecated tracking structure) to integrate Google Analytics data with other data sources, enabling a 360 view of your audience.

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To maximize the value of your Google Analytics 4 data, Analytics8 recommends integrating it into your broader data model to query alongside other data sources.

Suppose you have an internal fact table that contains information about your clientele. By using a User ID as an event parameter, you can connect the events tracked in GA4 to the corresponding records in your fact table, allowing you to analyze user behavior by demographics, purchase history, or other relevant information. Similarly, by using a Product SKU as an event parameter, you can link events such as “add to cart” or “remove from cart” to your catalog data, gaining insights into popular products and customer preferences.

Integrating your GA4 data with your company data also opens use cases for machine learning. For example, you could incorporate a customer’s browsing activity and CRM data to send a targeted campaign to users that have viewed a new campaign but not completed a transaction.

Learn more about the value of combining Google Analytics with the rest of your data

With all your data in one place, you can understand more than just how visitors use your website — but also what matters to them, how their demands change over time, and most crucially, how to deliver the value they want. Understanding when and how your clients connect with your business can help you concentrate on what is working and make improvements where necessary.

How to Integrate Data from GA4 with your Other Data Sources 

When it comes to exporting data from GA4, Google provides several options, including BigQuery, APIs, or importing data from other sources via SFTP.

  • BigQuery, a fully managed data warehouse, allows you to store and analyze large volumes of data. With GA4, you can export your event and user property data directly to BigQuery, enabling advanced analysis and data integration with other sources.
  • Export your data through the API: Google Analytics provides a robust API that allows developers to programmatically access and retrieve data from their properties via Python, Java, Node.js, .NET, PHP, and Go or accessed by native connectors in other BI Tools. This API can be used to build custom integrations, extract data for specific purposes, or create custom reporting solutions tailored to your business needs.
    • Note: At this time, Tableau and Qlik require workaround connections via BigQuery as their native connectors to Google Analytics have not been updated for GA4 collaboration.
  • GA4 also supports importing data from other sources via SFTP, such as cost data, item data, user data, and offline events, but there are potential drawbacks to this approach that limit its potential application:
    • Limit of 120 uploads per property per day
    • Limit of 1 GB per import
    • Limited 10 GB of storage (Standard properties)

If you haven’t considered connecting your web traffic data to external BI reporting, now is a good opportunity to do so.

Talk to an expert about your Google Analytics needs.

How to Leverage the Events-based Model for Enhanced User Insights

The GA4 Events-based data model presents an exciting opportunity for marketers and data leaders to unlock valuable insights and drive organizational success.

The Events-based data model empowers marketers to track and measure user interactions across various touch points, providing a holistic view of customer behavior. This comprehensive understanding allows for a deeper understanding of user intent, preferences, and engagement patterns. Armed with these insights, marketers can optimize their campaigns, personalize user experiences, and ultimately drive conversions and revenue growth.

By embracing this new approach to web analytics tracking, organizations can go beyond mere website analysis and tap into a wealth of data that can inform strategic decision-making and shape marketing efforts.

Meg Malone-Hallberg Meg Malone-Hallberg is a consultant based out of our Raleigh office. Meg specializes in media and consumer analytics projects, where she helps companies better understand their audiences and customers with a variety of tools. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her pets, attempting crossword puzzles, and scuba diving.
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