Demystifying Google Analytics 4: What Every Live Event Marketer Needs to Know (Part 1 of 5)

May 31, 2023

There’s a big change on the horizon for marketers worldwide: Google is replacing Universal Analytics (UA) with its next-generation website and app analytics solution Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

Google Analytics is widely-recognized as the go-to web analytics tool for understanding your website’s performance, visitor behavior, and marketing effectiveness. Trusted by live event marketers and businesses of all sizes, Google Analytics provides a ton of valuable information about your website visitors: who they are, where they’re coming from, which pages they visit the most, how long they stay, and what they’re buying. All of this enables you to better understand your customer’s journey, optimize your website, and make informed decisions around your marketing efforts.

On July 1st, legacy Universal Analytics (UA) properties will stop processing new data and Google will begin phasing out its support for UA. While this big change holds many implications for businesses, including a steep learning curve, it also presents a transformative opportunity for marketers to gain deeper insights and take their strategies to new heights.

In this five part blog series, we’ll help you better understand Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and identify the key features, benefits, and differences compared to Universal Analytics, so you can begin to harness its full power for your events. To begin, it’s important to first recognize the differences between the UA legacy solution and GA4. Let’s explore:

1. A New Data Model

The old model: UA is session-based, and it primarily relies on pageviews and sessions as the core metrics for data collection. Since sessions (defined as interactions with a website within a given time frame) serve as the foundation for reporting in UA, a session must occur in order to measure user engagement. As such, all user interactions (aka hit types) like pageviews or button clicks are session-based.

The new model: In contrast, GA4 takes an ‘event’-centric approach to data collection as opposed to relying on sessions. Everything that happens on a website gets recorded as an event, including session starts. Events can also be customized to capture more specific data (like video views), allowing marketers to track a wider range of activities across digital properties.

Ultimately, this shift away from session-based to event-based tracking allows for way more granularity. Since multiple types of events can be measured in greater detail, the hope is that GA4 will provide you with a deeper understanding of visitor behavior beyond traditional pageviews.

2. Trading Views for Data Streams

While both GA4 and UA apply the same concepts of “accounts” and associated “properties,” capabilities across platforms differ. UA focuses solely on web analytics and requires additional configurations for mobile app tracking, whereas GA4 seamlessly integrates both web and app analytics.

The old way: In UA, your account contains individual properties for each of your distinct web entities (e.g. websites for each of your venues or festivals). Within each property are subsets of data called “views” (i.e. a view created to exclude referral traffic or focus on traffic from a particular region).

The new way: In GA4, your overarching account still contains individual properties. However, instead of having corresponding views associated with a property, GA4 introduces the new concept of “data streams.”

Data streams differ from views because they can collect data from different sources (like an app and website) and provide a unified view of web and app analytics. As a result, GA4 eliminates the need for separate tracking code and gives marketers insights into user interactions across both platforms within a single property — a major upgrade!

3. Enhanced Tracking Capabilities

The move to an event-centric data model provides significant tracking enhancements across various touchpoints and streamlined workflows for live event marketers. Upgrades you can expect in GA4 include:.

User-ID and User-Centric Analysis

  • GA4 introduces the concept of User-IDs, which are unique identifiers that allow marketers to identify and track users across different devices and platforms. For example, when a user logs in or provides personally identifiable information (with consent), GA4 can associate their actions across devices and provide a unified view of their behavior.

Cross-Platform and Cross-Device Tracking

  • GA4 simplifies the process for cross-domain tracking with a native solution, making it easier for marketers to track interactions across multiple domains — like your site and Tixr.
  • Cross-device tracking is more easily achieved through the use of User IDs, allowing GA4 to match specific events to users and provide marketers a more cohesive view of behavior. Gone are the days of workarounds and/or custom configurations required to enable cross-domain and cross-device in UA.

Combined Web and App Analytics

  • GA4 can unify web and app analytics without separate tracking codes, enabling marketers to more easily track interactions across platforms within a single property.

4. A Shift Towards “Build-It Yourself” Reports

Depending on how familiar you are with UA, you may be accustomed to using its comprehensive collection of robust, out-of-the-box reports. Our biggest critique of GA4 is that it offers far fewer standard reports in favor of custom “build-it-yourself” reports. The tradeoff here is there’s more customization in GA4 reports that requires an advanced set of analytical skills.

Short term, the learning curve is much steeper to find what used to be handed to you. Longer-term, should you spend the time to level up your skills, you’ll be able to conduct more advanced analysis and explore your data more granularly — far beyond what standard reports in UA offer.

With regards to metrics, GA4 introduces a handful of useful new metrics including engagement rate, session start, and event count. We’ll dive deeper into metrics in part two of this blog series on GA4.

5. AI-Driven Analysis

Simply put, GA4 uses machine learning — a combination of artificial intelligence and computer science — to fill in gaps in data, making it easier for marketers to gain insights into user behavior in ways UA doesn’t support . GA4’s AI-driven capabilities can help simplify your analysis process for data-driven decision-making by:

  • Filling in missing data and making predictions based on other collected data points
  • Identifying and excluding bot traffic, which can skew website and app metrics
  • Creating audiences based on behavior, providing a more accurate picture of user segments
  • Using machine learning to predict future user behavior based on past interactions, helping you optimize your campaigns

In conclusion, GA4 introduces a new era of data analytics and insights for event marketers worldwide. While the transition will require adjustments and a lot of learning, there’s so much potential GA4 can unlock. We’ve only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for our second installment in our blog series on GA4.

Pro-tip: If you haven’t yet set up GA4 for your business, create your GA4 account now, configure GA4 within Tixr, and run both UA and GA4 in parallel until UA no longer processes data July 1st. This way, you’ll give yourself a buffer to familiarize yourself with GA4’s new feature set.