GA4 Explained: What It Is, How It’s Different & Everything You Need to Know

Posted on Categories Analytics

Table of contents

  • Overview of Universal Analytics
  • How Universal Analytics Works
  • How a User is defined in Universal Analytics
  • Why did Google Create GA4
  • How GA4 is different from Universal AnalyticsWhat marketers can do with GA4When you should switch to GA4

    If you’re a digital marketer or operate a business online and use Google Analytics, you’ve probably seen or heard some chatter about GA4. It was officially released in October 2020, when it became the new default Analytics property type when setting up new accounts.

    As easy as Google makes it to set up, there’s not a ton of great information out there about why you should set up a GA4 property. If you’re wondering what GA4 is, what it does, and why in the world you should care – this one’s for you!

    An overview of Universal Analytics (UA)

    Before we get into the latest and greatest of GA4, let’s talk about what it’s replacing. Universal Analytics was the latest data collection technology for web-based analytics before the release of GA4 in October 2020. It runs on Google’s analytics.js framework for web properties, an SDK for mobile apps, and the Measurement Protocol for other devices.

    UA is being replaced by GA4, which is an all-encompassing analytics framework built to measure websites, apps, and other digital platforms.

    But what is GA4, why did Google make it, and why should marketers or business owners care? Before we answer that, let’s define what Universal Analytics is, how it works, where it’s lacking, and why GA4 is the analytics platform of the future.

    How Universal Analytics works

    Universal Analytics (UA) code lives on your website and waits for an interaction that causes data to be sent to GA, known as a hit. A hit can take many forms (called ‘hit types’), but the most common are:

    • page tracking hits (pageview)
    • event tracking hits (i.e. a contact form submission)
    • ecommerce tracking hits (purchases)
    • social interaction hits (i.e. Facebook likes)

    When a hit occurs, data is sent to GA. This data includes:

    • HTTP request information such as hostname, referrer, browser type, and language
    • Browser/system information such as Java and Flash support, and screen resolution
    • DoubleClick cookie data such as interests, demographics, etc…
    • Client ID (more on this later)
    • Google Analytics will also set and read first-party cookies to obtain user session data and ad campaign information associated with the page request

    For example, this is the data sent in a pageview hit:

    v=1              // Version.
    &tid=UA-XXXXX-Y  // Tracking ID / Property ID.
    &cid=555         // Anonymous Client ID.
    &t=pageview      // Pageview hit type.