Unified Data With Google Analytics 4 Properties
Google Analytics 4 Properties (formerly App + Web) has caused quite a stir—and for good reason. Google Analytics 4 Properties is not an upgrade to Universal Analytics — it is an entirely new version of Google Analytics that uses an event-driven data model designed to allow for flexibility in collecting analytics data from both web and app platforms. It also comes with an entirely new set of reports based on this new data model.
By uniting core concepts from Universal Analytics and Google Analytics for Firebase, Google is creating a singular platform capable of working efficiently and consistently across the variety of digital platforms we use today.
Although currently in beta, Google Analytics 4 Properties gives a clear indication of where Google Analytics is headed, and should be on everyone’s radar, regardless of what platform(s) you may be focused on right now. There is a lot of ground to cover before it really feels “on par” with the current and powerful Universal Analytics, but it’s clear there’s a lot of excitement and momentum behind this new tool.
In this post, we will cover what Google Analytics 4 Properties is all about and how it differs from Universal Analytics. We’ll also do our best to cover the most common questions and concerns that have come up around it.
Table of Contents
- Why Google Analytics 4 Properties and Why Now?
- Key Differences from Universal Analytics
- Google Analytics 4 Properties: What Should I Do Now?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Stay Up-to-Date
Why Google Analytics 4 Properties and Why Now?
Google Analytics has always evolved, adding new features like Event reporting, Ecommerce, and Enhanced Ecommerce. With Universal Analytics, Google attempted to take its existing product and make it work across more platforms, with mobile-specific views and SDKs, and the robust Measurement Protocol.
Despite these changes, the website-oriented nature and constraints of Universal Analytics just don’t fit the mobile app environment in many cases. These attempts at bringing web and app data together inside Google Analytics essentially were designed to retrofit website-oriented Universal Analytics for a mobile app, which in practice wasn’t always ideal (Google sunsetted the GA mobile app SDKs starting in October 2019).
There are conceptual differences (e.g. a session on a website is often entirely different than a session on a mobile app) as well as technical differences (e.g web tracking expects “pageviews” while app tracking expects “screenviews”). Add smart TV apps and other platforms into the mix, and the situation becomes even more uncomfortable.
In 2016, Google launched Firebase Analytics, which was later rebranded to Google Analytics for Firebase and became the recommended approach for trackings apps. Google Analytics for Firebase’s event-driven data model is more flexible and effective for working across various platforms because it is less prescriptive and far less complex.
Now, with Google Analytics 4 Properties, Google has taken the new event-driven data model and the benefits of Google Analytics for Firebase and made this available to use on websites as well, allowing for a more flexible analytics architecture that truly works across multiple platforms.
Below are just a few examples that dive deeper into these concepts and the benefits that Google Analytics 4 Properties provide.
If you’re looking for what to do next, feel free to skip to the end: Google Analytics 4 Properties: What Should I Do Now?
Holistic View of Customer Base
The ability to easily get a holistic view of users across website and app platforms has been a long-desired goal for many of us in the industry. Google Analytics 4 Properties makes this a reality, as you can configure multiple web and app “streams” into one property/dataset.
Consistent Cross-Platform Reporting
One of the primary goals of any cross-platform analytics implementation is consistent, comparable reporting. This has historically been extremely difficult to accomplish considering all of the various types of technologies in play today. Having a platform that uses a data model flexible enough for each platform is the first step, and Google Analytics 4 Properties starts to solve for this.
Adapting the Google Analytics for Firebase data model for Google Analytics 4 Properties results in a simplified, event-driven model. This model frees us from the Google Analytics construct of everything being tied to sessions. A simplified data model means that it’s easier to share numbers internally that tie to tangible concepts. The impact of this is significant — for example:
- Fewer scoping concerns and confusion when building custom reports
- Segmentation by events, not just users and sessions
- Increased emphasis on users and their events
In addition, Advanced Analysis is available for all Google Analytics 4 Properties users that enable more custom reporting and funnel analysis. This feature was previously only available to Google Analytics 360 customers. Reports in the Google Analytics 4 Properties UI are customizable, including the attribution model.
Greater Analysis Potential with Google BigQuery
A huge benefit to using Google Analytics 4 Properties will be the BigQuery integration, which is free for Google Analytics 4 Properties. Where previously this benefit was limited to Google Analytics 360 customers only, this benefit opens up a lot of new opportunities for all users to analyze their data in a different way, integrate their tracked data with internal data systems, and connect with other tools from Google and third parties.
The new data model greatly simplifies how the data is stored, which also means simpler SQL queries in BigQuery, shortening the learning curve for new users that are new to BigQuery. Setup isn’t the most intuitive, but you can enable the link with the Firebase console.
Events and User properties — that’s it. All Events have the same format. All User properties have the same format. This results in far simpler implementation, and less effort required to align with the data model. It may seem strange at first, but developers and new users will be able to grasp the concepts easier. It will take an effort to put together your measurement strategy.
Key Differences from Universal Analytics
We have been working with the Google Analytics 4 Properties beta (and Google Analytics for Firebase) for some time now, and have come across some interesting opportunities and potential pain points with our customers — we will do our best to outline the most noteworthy of those below.
Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 Properties Data Model
One of the key differences between Google Analytics 4 Properties and Universal Analytics is the way that data is collected, processed, and stored.
Universal Analytics uses a data model that looks like this:
Users can have any number of sessions (visits) and within those visits, they can have any number of hits. Hits are broken down into pageviews, events, and technically, social. In this model, sessions are a primary focus of the way the data is organized and how it is presented in the reports.
Google Analytics 4 Properties (regardless of whether you have an app or are only using it on your website) uses a data model that looks like this:
Sessions are no longer part of how analytics calculates and stores the data. That doesn’t mean that they’re gone for good — there is still a way to report on sessions. Google Analytics 4 Properties still determines how many sessions a user had based on certain thresholds of hits within the same time period, and makes this is available for reporting (the definition is very close to that of Universal Analytics with a 30-minute session timeout and customization options available).
Events are a little different in Google Analytics 4 Properties than they are in Universal Analytics. When sending in Events in Google Analytics 4 Properties, Events are always formatted the same way: just an event name and then up to 25 custom parameters associated with them. There are no dedicated Event Category, Action, and Label fields.
Custom parameters can have any name you want. Think of them more like hit-scoped custom dimensions from Universal Analytics, though they can vary between Events rather than being defined at the property-level. This means immense flexibility to amount and type of data that you can collect.
There are no additional hit types in Google Analytics 4 Properties (screenview/pageview). There are no transaction hits or social hits.
There is a feature similar to user-scoped custom dimensions from Universal Analytics — these are user properties. User properties have a name and a value, and you can set up to 25 of them currently at the Google Analytics 4 property level. Once you set a user property, it persists for that user until its value changes or is set to null.
There are limits to Google Analytics 4 Properties that can make implementation a challenge right now. This is especially true if you’re a Google Analytics 360 customer who is used to having 200 custom dimensions per hit with Universal Analytics. Currently, the limitations of Google Analytics 4 Properties more closely align with those of the standard/free version of Google Analytics. Keep an ear out for updates here as the product grows.
Note: There currently is no limit to the number of events logged. There is a limit of 500 unique Event Names. If you wish to capture more than 25 parameters per event, consider triggering multiple events or a creative approach to joining additional metadata with event data via BigQuery (rather than capturing it on Events). The most recent version of limitations to Google Analytics 4 Properties can be found on Google’s support site, Collection and configuration limits.
Reporting Difference between Google Analytics 4 Properties and Universal Analytics
More often than not, the limited reporting is a top concern for customers. As an early beta, Google Analytics 4 Properties still has a way to go to compare to Universal Analytics. We are looking forward to seeing growth here, and outlined several key benefits above, but for now, here are a few things to be aware of:
- No dedicated Ecommerce reports
- No dedicated content/screenview reports
- No cost data from ads
- Limited amount of Custom Event parameters can be viewed in the interface (unlike Universal Analytics, you cannot see all of the data you are collecting out of the box. But, you have BigQuery!)
- Strict character limits on Event Names and Event parameters
- As noted earlier, marketing channels are associated with conversion events, not sessions (at least currently)
Rumor has it that Google Analytics 4 Properties will also offer a much faster reporting interface and additional improvements to capabilities with real-time data, especially given its simpler data model and less reliance on processing.
Measurement Protocol TBD
The Universal Analytics Measurement Protocol enables tracking of offline activity and conversions. It also is a critical component to tracking applications where there is no Firebase SDK support.
In the background, Google Analytics 4 Properties uses "v2" of the Measurement Protocol — but it is not officially supported yet for the purposes mentioned above. We are looking forward to a solution here as it will be a key component of truly enabling cross-platform analytics for customers with various types of applications, who really need Google Analytics 4 Properties the most.
Currently, there are no separate views or ability to filter data from Google Analytics 4 Properties properties. This poses a few challenges currently, such as:
- Cannot exclude internal traffic
- Separation of production data vs. data from development environments is tricky if you have both a website and apps (create separate streams for dev vs. prod, which means separate properties for web but you would likely have dev and prod streams for your app in the same Google Analytics 4 property)
- Dual tracking, or sending data from one application to multiple properties, is not easy to do on the app side because Firebase doesn’t support it, but it can be done on the web side
On a positive note, Google Analytics 4 Properties by nature enables "rollup" reporting without requiring 360.
This is a little tricky right now due to the differences between the Google Analytics 4 property and Google Analytics for Firebase on the app side. Google Analytics 4 Properties is essentially Google Analytics for Firebase with the addition of web tracking (which wasn’t an option for Firebase in the past)—so some configuration options are available in the Firebase console but not yet available within the Google Analytics 4 property.
Ad Platform and Third-Party Integrations:
- None for web/within the Google Analytics 4 property
- Potentially use the Google Analytics for Firebase integrations as a workaround (within the Firebase console), or just wait for the integrations to become available
- Salesforce Integration is not yet available
Data import is a feature available to Universal Analytics, which allows you to import data from external sources into Google Analytics for use in analysis. Data import is not available to Google Analytics 4 Properties, but the free integration with BigQuery allows for some flexibility here in joining analytics data with external data sources.
Google Analytics 4 Properties: What Should I Do Now?
Google Analytics 4 Properties presents an entirely new version of Google Analytics, and it is worthwhile to learn about and even start testing—regardless of whether or not you have apps. If you do have mobile apps or other types of applications and have a significant need for cross-platform analytics, we’d recommend starting to implement and test immediately.
Google Analytics 4 Properties are available publicly today. However, the product is still in beta, so it is not quite ready to be your primary analytics tool. We recommend running Google Analytics 4 Properties in parallel with your existing setup for now.
If you are using Google Tag Manager on your website, adding the Google Analytics 4 Properties web tracking code is pretty quick. On the app side, if you already have Google Analytics for Firebase installed, you’re good to go once it is upgraded to your Google Analytics 4 property.
Google Analytics 4 Properties Frequently Asked Questions
There are many questions surfacing around Google Analytics 4 Properties. We’re here to share what we know about this exciting new tool and its roadmap. Watch our recent webinar for additional product walkthrough and information.
How Can I Watch Your Webinar on Google Analytics 4 Properties?
We’re so glad you asked. Check out this link to get our 50-minute deep dive, Google Analytics 4 Properties webinar.
Is Google Analytics 4 Properties Only Available Within Google Analytics 360 (The Paid Version) or Is It Also Available with the Free Version of Google Analytics?
Google Analytics 4 Properties is absolutely available for free users as well as paid users of Google Analytics. All websites (and companies who already have an app in particular) should be exploring Google Analytics 4 Properties.
Since Google Analytics 4 Properties Is in Beta, Should We Use the Property with Firebase?
Yes! Google Analytics 4 Properties was built off of the Google Analytics for Firebase event-driven model and should be used in conjunction with your firebase event collection. You’ll want to create a Firebase project and link this project to Google Analytics. You then will be able to select the Google Analytics 4 Properties reporting beta. Ultimately you’ll continue collecting your Firebase data as you’ve done today.
Didn't You Just Mention That Sessions Aren't Part of the Model Anymore? How Come There Are Metrics Around Sessions?
While session-scoped metrics no longer exist, we still do have the concept of a “visit start” or “visit timestamp” to generate a session. Sessions are calculated in Google Analytics 4 Properties based on a similar time threshold as Google Analytics. The moment the first interaction occurs, a session is initiated, and then after 30-minutes of inactivity the session "ends." If another interaction occurs, a new session begins. Session metrics are calculated and appear in your reports, but there is no session scope in terms of dimensions and metrics.
In summary, Google Analytics 4 Properties uses these timestamps for applying attribution and other dimensions to our users, so while sessions haven’t completely disappeared they are no longer the focus of our reporting.
How Can You Test Your Google Analytics 4 Properties Implementation?
Similar to Firebase, Google Analytics 4 Properties offers a built-in debug configuration to enable you to test your data in real-time!
If you are using Google Tag Manager, the GTM debug panel is an option to test your event hits prior to going live. In addition, you can also test network hits through your web implementation using your browser’s console.
Will Bounteous Public Training Cover Google Analytics 4 Properties Material?
Yes! We’ve already started to incorporate into our Google Analytics trainings, and we expect to roll out dedicated training content to Google Analytics 4 Properties.
Is There a Data Studio Connector for Google Analytics 4 Properties?
Like Firebase, Google Analytics 4 Properties will need to utilize the BigQuery connector for any data studio reporting. However, stay tuned — there may be connectors shortly!
Are Filters or Views Available for Google Analytics 4 Properties?
Currently, Google Analytics 4 Properties does not support separate views or the ability to filter data in/out of Google Analytics 4 Properties. This means that we cannot exclude internal traffic, and separating development or production traffic is tricky. We do have separate streams within Google Analytics 4 Properties which could be filtered within the interface reports or within BigQuery via the Stream ID. Additionally, we can always send custom parameters and isolate data via BigQuery, however as we have created a "rollup property" that can be segmented, sliced, and diced.
If I Migrate over to Google Analytics 4 Properties, Will I Be Able to Access Historical Data or Will Data Only Be Available from Today Forward?
We recommend a parallel migration strategy to begin using Google Analytics 4 Properties. With this strategy, you’ll retain all of your historic data within your existing Universal Analytics properties. However, you will only be able to collect data from your new webstream from implementation onward. This is one of the reasons that we recommend getting started today!
When Will Google Analytics 4 Properties No Longer Be in Beta?
It’s hard to say, but we anticipate a few more features to be released prior to a full launch.
Will Google Analytics 4 Properties Have Any A/B Testing, Push Notification, or In-App Messaging Capabilities? Does Google Analytics 4 Properties Introduce Any New Changes or Features to Optimize?
Stay tuned! Firebase already incorporates many of these features within its product platform, and none of the above Firebase products are going away. You can still use all of these products, however, we do expect a few updates to personalization in the future, including branding/etc. for a more cohesive platform.
How Does This Affect Implementations Where I Am Using the Measurement Protocol?
There technically is a “v2” Measurement Protocol (MP), but it is not officially supported yet. Be on the lookout for new product releases here, as we expect some fine-tuning on the current v2 MP.
For those who are currently using the MP for certain apps, evaluate whether there is support for those platforms first. For instance, you won't be able to leverage Google Analytics 4 Properties on Roku or Xbox at this time, so you may need to wait a little longer for support on those platforms.
We Know the Who (Users), the What (Events), but Do We Still Have the Where (Page Dimensions)?
Yes, Absolutely! Google Analytics 4 Properties maintains a host of dimensions, such as page path, page title, screen name, and associated metrics pageviews and screen views.
How Is a Single User Identified Across Devices? What Are the Requirements to Measure Users Cross-Platform?
Google Analytics 4 Properties brings multiple data streams together within one reporting platform, but for the most robust cross-platform analysis opportunities, you’ll want to set the user_id field to store a value related to an authenticated visit.
You can choose one of two methods to identify user data for reporting: by User ID or by Device. The following comes from the Google Documentation:
- By User-ID and device: This method uses the more accurate User-ID if it is collected to identify a user and unify all related events in reporting and analysis. If no User-ID is collected, then Analytics uses a device ID, either the Analytics cookie for websites or the App-Instance ID for apps, to identify a user.
- By device: This method uses only the device ID, either the Analytics cookie for websites or the App-Instance ID for apps, to identify a user, and ignores any User-IDs that were collected.
Will Google Sheets Still Have a Connector to Google Analytics 4 Properties?
Google Analytics 4 Properties are currently not supported in the Google Analytics Sheets connector, however, we do expect more reporting integrations to be available in the future. In the meantime, you can export BigQuery data to Google Sheets.
How Does This Affect Google Analytics 360 Clients?
360 clients are already familiar with the advanced analysis reporting capabilities and BigQuery connectivity, so you are in the lead with a head start! However, we do expect product differentiations between versions to become more defined in the future.
Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts and webinars from Bounteous with more information about Google Analytics 4 Properties. There are plenty of other resources out there as well, including the implementation guide in the Google Analytics developer portal.
Check back frequently-—We’ll continue to put out resources about Google Analytics 4 Properties, including implementation instructions and product updates!
Attend our webinars—We’re kicking off 2020 with a series of webinars on the new tools, its benefits, and Q&A. Register to receive the recording of the Google Analytics 4 Properties Webinar we hosted in January 2020.
Join our in-person training—We’ve been teaching Google Analytics for over a decade! Google Analytics 4 Properties has been incorporated into our Google Analytics trainings, and look for specialized courses in 2020.
Look for new information and announcements over the next year from Google and industry blogs, like this one from Google in December 2019 that announced new reports and automated insights.