What is Google Analytics 4 and should I set it up for my website?

If you use Google Analytics, or if you are setting up a new website, you will have heard of Google Analytics 4. In this guide we take you through what Google Analytics 4 is, and what you need to do about it.


6 min read

1. So, what is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 - or GA4 - is the latest version of Google Analytics. The previous version of Analytics that many of us have been using up to now, is known as ‘Universal Analytics’ (or you could say GA3). As of July 2023, Universal Analytics properties will no longer record any data.

GA4 has been developed by Google to bring analytics in line with how people build and use digital platforms today - and increasingly will in the future - and to include more privacy controls.

2. Why did Google launch GA4?

Traditionally the online experience was predominantly made up of websites, and these websites followed a ‘page, page, page’ format - where a user would navigate from page to page on a site to complete their interaction. Universal Analytics (or GA3) was built to track these page-based interactions and used ‘page views’ as a key building block of their measurement model.

However, the digital experience has evolved, with people increasingly using different devices across multiple platforms - so that users often interact with brands across mobile apps, single-page web apps, as well as traditional websites. GA4 has been developed to more effectively track these wider experiences.

Importantly, as more and more people block cookies and privacy laws evolve, GA4 has been designed to offer more privacy and privacy controls. Also, Google reports that GA4 has the ability to adapt to cookie-less tracking in the future, through the use of AI and machine learning. With GA4, Google is essentially attempting to 'future-proof' Google Analytics.

Please note that, although GA4 addresses some of the privacy concerns against Universal Analytics, the subject of GDPR and GA4 is evolving and can be a grey area. If you decide to use GA4 you will be tracking users with 'cookies' and will be subject to GDPR. You need to ensure that your GA4 set up is compliant, inform users of the GA4 and any other cookies, and gain their explicit consent before you track their use of your site.

Ensure that you understand your legal obligations and GDPR and how these fit with your use of GA4 (see the ICO website for more information and Google's EU-focused data and privacy information to get you started). You may also want to consider using a consent management platform such as CookieBot.

3. How is it different?

GA4 is very different to Universal Analytics in many ways - and some familiar elements of Universal Analytics have changed. However, remember, ultimately the purpose of GA4 is the same - to help you track how users interact with your sites and apps.

Without getting too technical, the way that Google Analytics tracks your website’s interaction has changed. GA4 no longer uses the ‘page view’ as the basis of its data measurement - it now uses a much more flexible “event-based” model, where ‘page views’ are just one type of interaction event.

In real terms, this means that the tracking script that you place on your site needs to be different, the way you track interactions is different, some of the key metrics in the reports are different, and the reporting interface has changed too. Some of the key areas of difference include:

  • Key metrics: GA4 no longer reports on ‘bounce rate’ (the percentage of people who left your site on the same page that they started, without viewing any other pages). Instead it reports on ‘engagement rate’ (the percentage of people who actively engaged with your site).
  • Measurement as standard: GA4 offers something called ‘enhanced measurement’, which allows you to automatically track interactions with your site such as downloads, outbound links, and scroll depth which previously you would have had to add additional tags to track.
  • Interface: The reporting interface is very different and as with any change, will take a little time to get used to if you are used to Universal Analytics.
  • Custom reports: There is a new ‘analysis hub’ area in the reports, which lets you create new custom reports by dragging and dropping the metrics which are important to you, allowing you to carry out deeper analysis than within the main reporting interface.
  • Tracking tags: If you currently use Google Tag Manager or use the existing ‘event tracking’, you will need to create new tracking tags to track these events in GA4.

4. What action do I need to take now?

We recommend changing to Google Analytics 4 immediately, if you haven't already. The way you do this will differ depending on whether you already have Universal Analytics, or whether you’re setting up a new site.

  • Already have a site and already have Universal analytics set up: Set up a new ‘upgraded’ GA4 property as soon as you are able to, within your Google Analytics account. This will enable you to run both GA4 and Universal analytics (providing your Universal Analytics is GDPR compliant) concurrently for the next few months to gather benchmark data in GA4 and compare it with your existing Universal data. This means you can see if there’s any differences before Universal is retired in July 2023. Understanding and resolving any gaps is important before moving fully to GA4 in the coming months.
  • Setting up a new site: When you’re launching a new site and setting up Analytics, Google will push you onto the new GA4 by default.

5. Why don’t we need to drop Universal Analytics and change to GA4?

There are many reasons we recommend keeping Universal Analytics as your main measurement method just now:

  • First, Universal Analytics is used by millions of websites across the world - in fact it is one of the biggest measurement platforms out there. This means that Universal Analytics won’t be retired by Google in the near future and will continue to run and collect your data as normal.
  • Also, GA4 is a very new platform - it was only officially launched in October 2020. As it is so new, it isn’t as mature a tool as Universal Analytics and is missing some of the functionality that the older tool has. Much of this functionality is likely to be developed and launched in GA4 as we progress through the year and into next year.
  • Plus, if you’re new to Google Analytics, Universal Analytics has a lot more ‘how to’ and help information available from a wide range of sources online, which you may find useful if you’ve never used Analytics before. However, GA4 is so new, it has nowhere near the depth of helpful guides available yet.

However, as mentioned, when you set up a new Google Analytics account, by default it will be a GA4 property.

Be aware that, at the time of writing (7/4/21), many website builder platforms - such as Shopify and Squarespace - don’t support GA4 in their built-in integrations with Google Analytics. Therefore, if you want to easily link Google Analytics with a new Shopify site for example, you will need to create a Universal Analytics property to use the ‘enable Google Analytics’ function. This means that you cannot automatically add the GA4 script to your site just yet.

6. Should I create a Universal Analytics property on a new website?

As Universal is the old version of Google Analytics and will be retired in July 2023, we do not recommend creating a Universal Analytics property. You should set up a GA4 property.

7. How do I add a GA4 property to my existing Analytics?

Before you begin, have a look at the official Google Analytics information.

To set up a new GA4 within your existing account, you may need to add additional script - or ‘tags’ - to your site. However, analytics may be able to do this automatically, by linking your existing Universal tags with a new GA4 property. To find out if you can begin tracking GA4 without adding any tags, use the ‘GA4 set up Wizard’ in the admin screen of your Analytics account to create your new GA4 property.

When using this wizard, if you see the option to ‘enable data collection using your existing tags’, then you will be able to automatically start collecting data in your new property.

However, if you don’t see this option, you will need to add the new tags to your site. (This can be done in Google Tag Manager if you have it). Although please note, if you are using a website builder (such as Shopify, etc) then you may have to add the GA4 tags via their integration or a ‘script injection’ function in the Custom HTML section. If you are not confident doing this yourself, you should seek the help of a developer.

To find out more about setting up a GA4 property and how to add the GA4 tag to your site, see Google’s help section.

8. How do I create a GA4 property for my new site?

Again, have a look at Google's official GA4 support content.

First you will need to set up a Google Analytics account (if you don't already have one), then create a new GA4 property for your website or app, then add a Data Stream.

Once you have created your new GA4 property, you will need to add the Google tag to your site. To do this you can either:

  • Add the tag to your website builder platform
  • Add your tag using Google Tag Manager
  • Add the tag directly to your website's HTML

Please note: When creating your GA4 property, ensure that you know your legal responsibilities for GDPR and are happy to use Google Analytics. Ensure your GA4 and your consent mechanism are set up correctly and that you have used the privacy controls within GA4 relevant to you (e.g. disabling granular data, disabling ads personalisation, disabling Google Signals, signing a processing agreement, etc). You must also not collect any Personally Identifiable Information and you must get explicit consent from site users to use the GA4 cookies before they drop. Check with ICO and Google policies for more information.

Our DigitalBoost programme offers a wide range of support and resources on all things digital. Upskill on a variety of topics, including Digital Strategy, eCommerce, Social Media and more, and take advantage of our free digital health check, webinars, guides and video tutorials.

Want to speak with your nearest Business Gateway team?

Your local Business Gateway can offer you free 1:1 advice and online support to help you with anything to do with your business or if you are just thinking about starting up then we can support you with that too.

Fill in the form below and we will get back to you to help.

1. Tell us a bit about your business or idea (such as, sector, stage…) 2. What are your main reasons for contacting us today? 3. Is there anything else we need to know before we contact you?

Enter your postcode

How we use your data

We will use the information you provide to respond to your request, and to provide business advice and support services to you. For more information please view our privacy notice.

You might also be interested in

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the basics

Discover how AI, particularly Generative AI like ChatGPT, can revolutionise small business operations, from marketing strategies to content creation. Explore its basics, applications, ethical considerations, and practical tips for leveraging its potential.

Pre-launching a new product or business

Many business owners work for months or even years to reach the point they’re finally ready to launch their new business or product, and then suddenly realise they have no clear plan on how to reach people who are ready to hear about it. This is where a pre-launch comes in!

An introduction to social commerce

Social commerce enables businesses to use social platforms to showcase and sell their products and services. Find out what options are available and how to get started.