GA4 Explained

As of 1st July 2023, Google Analytics will be changing permanently.


On this date, Universal Analytics, the version of Google analytics we’ve all grown accustomed to over the last decade or so, will stop processing site data.


In its place will be GA4 – short for Google Analytics 4.


While many of the features of GA4 will be similar to Universal Analytics, there are some fundamental differences you need to be aware of.


In this blog post, we’ll be looking at some of the key differences between UA and GA4, as well as what impact this may have on campaign reporting, and finally look at some steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for the 1st July.

What is GA4 (and what was Universal Analytics)?

There are 2 versions of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics and GA4 (short for Google Analytics 4).


Universal Analytics is the older version of Google Analytics, released way back in 2005. It was simply referred to as Google Analytics, as it was the only version of the analytics software.


This all changed with the introduction of GA4 in late 2020. The original Universal Analytics served its purpose, but it was built on 15-year-old technology.


So, the new and improved Google Analytics is GA4, and it’s here to stay.

Why the change from UA to GA4?

The digital landscape has developed drastically in the last few years, let alone the past 15 years.


Some of these changes include the sheer volume of internet users in today’s world, the rise of programmatic advertising, and the deprecation of cookies, to name a few.


As such, it was time for a change, which GA4 brings about. We’ll explore the changes below.

What are the differences between UA and GA4?

The biggest difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is how they collect data.


Universal Analytics works on sessions and page views, whereas GA4 works on events.

The reasoning behind this is the ever-increasing number of users websites can attain now, making the importance of raw user numbers and session numbers less and less important.


Instead, GA4 looks at events – what events are the users taking once they’re on your site? Are they actually engaging with your site and taking actions like downloading an informational PDF, filling in a form or registering for an event?


This is what should be important, as opposed to simple page views. It would be like a supermarket focusing on footfall numbers through the door as opposed to sales volumes.


Other important differences include:

User Counting

GA4 only counts users that are/have been active on the site, whereas UA counts all users who land on the site regardless of their activity.


This means that compared to UA, GA4 may show significantly less traffic to your site depending on user activity once they get there.

Ecommerce tracking

Compared to UA, GA4 currently has very limited ecommerce capabilities.


As well, the enhanced e-commerce tracking provided by UA is not available in GA4.

The most important thing you can do straight away is to set your website up with GA4.

Adam Boakes - Technical Specialist, Fonemedia

Cross-device Tracking

Because of the improved technology underpinning GA4 (namely both the web and app data using the same schema), GA4 can provide much more reliable cross-device tracking.


This is a huge benefit for businesses that find a lot of their customers second-screen before converting or taking an action.


To set up cross-device tracking in GA4, you’ll need to setup Google Signals. To do this, follow the steps in the section below.

How to set up Google Signals step-by-step

Log into your GA4 account.


In the left-hand taskbar, click Admin.


Make sure you are within the correct Account and Property (the names of both will be at the top of each column and are clickable drop-downs if you need to change them).


Under the Property column, click Setup Assistant.


Under the Property settings section, click the arrow to the right of the Turn on Google signals option, and then click Manage Google Signals in the box that appears.


In the Google signals data collection section, click Get started.


On the screen that loads next, click the CONTINUE button to activate Google signals.


Lastly, click ACTIVATE.


What do I need to do to prepare for UA going away?

The most important thing you can do straight away is to set your website up with GA4.


Ideally, you would have done this back in July 2022, so that you could have year-on-year data comparisons.


But given that date has now been and gone, you’ll want to get set up on GA4 as soon as possible.


Google have a quick and easy guide for how to do that here.

Secondly, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with GA4 and its functionality. You don’t have to dive in headfirst and solely use GA4 from this point on, but it makes sense to start dipping your toes in and exploring its functionality.


How will GA4 affect my Fonemedia campaigns?

In short, it won’t. Providing your campaign’s landing page URL incorporates UTM parameters, you’ll be able to track users in GA4 in pretty much the same way you currently can.


As Google Analytics is a reporting tool, the only differences you will see is the reporting capabilities you have access to on your side – some reports may disappear, some new reports may become available.


It does however open up some exciting possibilities however, such as with the cross-device tracking. You’ll now be able to see how many of the users that landed on your site as a result of Fonemedia campaigns returned on a second device (a process known as second screening).



The targeting you have available to us through Fonemedia’s products won’t be affected – these will all remain the same.

If you need more help transitioning to GA4, contact our sister agency IFF Digital here.

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