Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide

Google Analytics 4 officially launched on 14th October 2020. This recent Google update has many business owners and marketers scrambling to figure out how this next generation of Google Analytics will affect their future marketing plans and efforts.

Should they rush to install it? And what makes it so different from the current version of Google Analytics. 

We plan to fill you in on everything there’s to know about Google Analytics 4. Read on to learn more.

What’s Google Analytics 4?

Google first launched Google Analytics on 14th November 2005.

Since then, Google has successfully rolled out four iterations of their analytics. 

  • Google Analytics 1, Urchin, Rolled out on 14th November, 2005
  • Google Analytics 2, Classic, Rolled out in 2008
  • Google Analytics 3, Universal, Rolled out in 2013
  • Google Analytics 4, We Are Here, Rolled out in 2020

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google Analytics (from the old Universal Analytics).

It’s more than an update, but an entirely new data model, packing loads of new features, many of which were previously only limited to Google Analytics 360 customers.

In other words, Google decided to rebuilt the entire Google Analytics system, the front end and the backend. The UI was completely overhauled and a host of new features added, leaving the GA4 with lots of ground to cover.

How is Google Analytics 4 Different from Google Analytics 3 (Universal Analytics)

Google Analytics 4 isn’t looking to replace Google Analytics 3 (Universal Analytics), not this soon. For a marketer, it makes more sense to experiment with Google Analytics 4 while you’re still using the current Analytics (GA3). 

Google also makes it clear: if you’re already using their Global tag manager or GA’s global site tag, then there won’t be any need to re-tag your website. 

Having said that, here are three major difference between the revamped GA4 and the current GA3:

Divergent Event Tracking

By default, Google Analytics only tracks page views across all your web properties. While it’s still possible to customise it and make it track other interactions, doing so requires advanced knowledge of Google Tag Manager and event tracking. 

However, Google Analytics 4 comes straight-out-of-the-box ready to track additional interactions.  Using “Enhanced Engagement,” you can automatically collect data on outbound clicks, scrolling, file downloads, video engagement, and more.

Combined Web and Mobile Data

Another difference worth noting is how they’ve managed to combine mobile and web analytics — this allows you to track, view, and manage the two data from a single central place. 

This is no easy feat when you get to understand the mechanics behind it.

As it has been, tracking app and mobile data relied on integration between Google Analytics and Firebase. It’s been an uphill task to figure out how the app and web data could fit together, until now.

GA4, built with Firebase, allows for seamless tracking of both web and mobile data. 

Enhanced Measurements

GA4 offers more flexibility, starting with the ability to temporarily or permanently exclude users that display certain behaviours. 

Well, this is pretty useful when re-targeting users. 

It’s simple. When someone purchases your product, you can stop showing them the same ad – not permanently. 

You can stop showing them the ad for 30 to 60 days, or until they’re eligible for a new set of ads or to make a repeat purchase. 

That’s the logic behind GA4’s enhanced measurement of time-based activities. 

What’s New in Google Analytics 4

Before we explore the similarities between GA4 and Universal GA, let’s fill you in on some of the unique updates in GA4, such as the new debugging experience, funnel builder, UI Changes, and Simplified BigQuery Export.

New Debugging Experience 

Debugging has always been a challenge in all the previous version of Google Analytics. 

How do you find out if there’s a problem with Google Tag Manager? Or if there’s something wrong with your web properties?

GA4 has a long list of improvements that make debugging a snap. 

First, it’s the “live debugging view” which allows you to debug directly from the interface. 

 Also, if you’re using the GTM extension for Chrome, you can import data and find out in real-time what’s causing the issue.

UI Changes

The least you could do at this point is to try and familiarise yourself with the completely revamped GA4’s layout. 

GA4 will be the new default and the place where all the new developments and features will be focused on.

Let’s explore some of the differences between GA4 and the old GA:






Funnel Reimagined

With Google Analytics 4, users can access the sales funnel, which previously was only reserved for GA360 users. It’s even better with GA4 because the new, reimagined funnel features are highly customisable, which allows you to build segmentable and retroactive funnels. 

Funnel Reimagined

New funnel features highlighted below: 

New Funnel

You also want to check out their default funnel templates:

Template Gallery


To find these templates,

Navigate to “Analysis” ~> “Template Gallery.”

The ability to build flexible, user-based funnels has always been a GA360 feature. But with GA4, the feature is available to all users. 

BigQuery Exports

This was previously only possible with GA360.

But with GA4, it’s now possible for users to export their data directly to BigQuery. 

For the uninitiated, what in the whole world is BigQuery?

By Google’s own definition, BigQuery is Google’s serverless, cloud storage platform for large data sets.

By serverless we mean it’s cheaper to store your data and faster to scale. It’s a platform designed to help you bring all your data to a central place for faster analysis, near-endless customisation, and a long list of other possibilities

Better, it’s a new streaming export that’s way faster than the current GA360 export, which updates every 10 to 15 minutes. 

Four Amazing Features of Google Analytics 4

After digging through GA4 and its documentation, we’ve come to learn about four amazing features that we’d like to highlight:

1. Tracks Every Event

GA4 can track absolutely any event you throw at it. Straight-out-of-the-box, it can track the key metrics you’ve never thought was possible, like session stats, page views, clicks, and so on. 

2. Pre-built Event Tracking

With GA4, you don’t even need custom events. They have great prebuilt tracking events.

Meaning, they can track just about anything you throw at them: page scrolls, session stats, page views, file downloads, clicks, and first visits. And their insights run deep.

For instance, with their click tracking, you can find out how many people clicked on a particular element on your website — unlike in old GA, where you could only see what people clicked on, and nothing else. 

3. Incredible AI Insights

Google must have pumped a lot of effort into AI. 

It’s true. People love AI analysis of the data that they have a hard time understanding. 

They want something that can break it into easy-to-digest chunks. 

Suffice it to say that Google outdid themselves on this one. They have incredible insights.

For instance, you can find out from them what your site visitors are doing – and be prepared to hear something along the lines of the most popular event on your site is session starts or page views, and that some of your users are heavy on scrolling and clicking.

With the old GA, you never could have guessed what your site visitors are doing. You never could have guessed if they were viewing your pages, or if they spent much of their time scrolling, or if they have made any attempt to click on anything

4. Real-time Reporting

Another area Google must have really focused on is real-time reporting. Sometimes, when we’re digging around for details, we’re not looking to be bogged down with so many details of what happened during the week or the previous month. 

We want to find out what users are doing in the present moment and use it to make important business decisions. 

Google did more than giving real-time reporting a facelift. They extended it to other segments of their reports, too. 

With the previous GA, you were provided with months and months of data on what people have clicked on or what file they downloaded. But the new GA goes to the extend of providing you with data of what happened 30 minutes ago. 

Google Analytics 4’s support Team

There’s a GA4 support team that responds when reached out. Gamechanger!

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How to Set Up Google Analytics 4 in Four Easy Steps

It bears repeating that it’s still yet not the right time to switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. A better approach would be to continue using both, and wait until it’s the right time to make a jump.

However, if you’re creating a new Analytics account, the new GA4 is the default.

That said, here’s a simplified 4-step guide on how to set up a Google Analytics 4 Account:

Step 1: Start By Creating a Google Analytics Account, If You Haven’t Already

Think it this way: you’re not setting up a Google Analytics account from scratch, but upgrading from a GA account to GA4 (only that you get to keep both accounts). 

If you already have an active GA account, then you can skip this first step to the second one.

Creating a new Google Analytics account is a no-brainer. It should take you approximately 15 minutes to get everything done. 

Simple. Here’s the official link for creating a Google Analytics account for the first time. Just follow the link and hit the “Start for free” button at the top-right corner of the page.

Follow the provided prompts to set up your first GA account. Once done, go to property setup and enter a property name for the website you’re tracking.

It bears repeating that Google Analytics 4 is the default for those setting up their Google Analytics account for the first time.

Step 2: Set a New GA4 Property 

Once you have your GA account ready, the next step would be to create a new GA4 property for your website.

There are a couple of ways to go about it.

If you’re working with an existing Google Analytics account (in other words, if you skipped step 1), then you’re to perform a Google Analytics 4 upgrade.

Log into your Google Analytics account and click on ‘Admin’ (on the left-hand side widget). 


Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 1

Under the first column (account column), be sure to select the account for which to create the Google Analytics 4 property. In other words, make sure you’re working with the right website.

Step 2 Admin

Now, in the second column (the property column), you also have to make sure you’ve selected the right property for your Universal Analytics account. 

Once confirmed, go ahead and click on ‘GA4 Setup Assistant’ -> ‘Get Started’

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 2

You might be prompted to create a new property for your website. If so, click on ‘Create Property’ to proceed.’

You should be able to see this message:

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 3

You can click on ‘See Your GA4 Property’ to confirm everything.

If you can’t see ‘Get GA4 Assistant, don’t fret. Instead, click on ‘Create Property’ and follow all the prompts to set up a new property for your website.

Much of what you’ll be doing is filling in the requested details about your business, such as your company size, industry category, and your GA4 goals – nothing complicated.

Once done, you can click on ‘Create.’ But first, you’ll have to agree to GA’s terms and conditions as prompted. Click on ‘Next’ after that. 

Step 3: Adding a Data Stream

The process for setting up a Google Analytics account doesn’t end with your setting up your web property.

You’re also required to add a data stream. How you proceed with that will depend on whether you’re working with an existing Google Analytics account or if this your first attempt at setting up a GA account.

For an Existing Analytics Account

For an existing analytics account, follow this link to go to your GA4 dashboard, and navigate to the admin section.

In the first column (Account Column), you have to make sure you’ve selected the right account. Remember to also check the second column to confirm that you’ve indeed selected the right property.

Once everything is confirmed, you can go ahead and click on “Data Streams.”

If you’re setting up a new Google Analytics account and you’ve been keen on following all the requested prompts, then you should be able to see the screen below after clicking on “Data Streams.” You might also be prompted to accept Google Analytic’s terms and conditions before the screen shows up. 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 4

Here, you’re to choose a platform that you’d want to use to collect data – you have three options: IOS, Android, and the Web. It’s worth noting that you’re allowed to create multiple data streams for a single property, all coming from a single platform. 

Hover to “Add Stream” and select the app go add.

If you select “IOS,” you’ll be prompted to provide the iOS bundle ID, App name, and your iOS Store ID (option) to register the app.

It’s the same with choosing Android. You’ll be prompted for a package name and app name to register the app. Remember to follow all the prompts to add a new data stream. 

If you choose “Web,” you’ll be asked to provide your website URL and stream name. You’re also allowed to enable “Enhanced Measurement” and even decide on the metrics that you’d want to measure.

Here are the metrics you can measure: page views, outbound clicks, scrolls, video engagement, and site reach. 

After you’re done with everything, hit the “Create Stream” button and that’s pretty much like it. 

Step 4: Configure Your Website (If Necessary)

This is the final step of setting up your Google Analytics 4 account. It’s a step you might want to consider if you chose the web as your data stream platform. 

You need to add a new Google Analytics Tag to begin tracking data for your new GA4 property.

How to go about it:

You can either “add a new on-page tag” or “use existing on-page tag.”

Whichever way you choose, your options from there involve adding a global site tag, adding some code to the page’s existing tag, or using Google Tag Manager.  

That’s it. But keep in mind that your data won’t populate immediately. You have to give it some time. 

Step 5: Define Conversions

How to create and enable conversion events in Google Analytics 4?

You can start by creating an event. The process is quite similar to that of creating an event on the old GA but slightly different to set up.

The GA4 tag will be deployed, allowing GA4 to track every single one of your user activities and map each one of them to its corresponding event. 

This is an automated process, thanks to AI. 

Go ahead and create an event, and within 24 hours, you’ll be provided with a full report of all the events. Just return after 24 hours and click on “Event” ~> “All Events.”

A page similar to this will show. 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 5

Not everything shown on the table will be shown.

It’s common logic. If your site has no downloadable content, then don’t expect to see the “file_download.”

Overall, the table contains the default events that Google will assign to your website.

So, how about the custom events that you wish to track, like phone calls, contact forms, and so on?

Well, Google has a simple solution for this.

You can set up these events via Google Tag Manager. 

Here’s how to go about it:

How to Set Up Custom Events Via Google Tag Manager on GA4?

Google recommends that before you create a custom event, you have to confirm with their automatic, enhanced measurement, and recommended events and make sure there isn’t anything similar. 

With that out of the way, here’s a step by step guide on how to set up custom events on GA4 via Google Tag Manager (GTM):

Step 1: You can start by logging into Google Tag Manager. Use the link provided to create an account if you don’t have one. 

 Click on “Tags” after that (found on the left-side menu). 

Step 2The next step would be to click on “Add a New Tag”

Now proceed to name your Tag. 

Click on the “pen” icon pop-up next to “Tap configuration” after you’re done. 

Step 3: In the Overlay that appears on the right-hand side, choose “Google Analytics: GA4 Events.”

Step 4: Click on “Google Analytics: GA4 Events again, and then proceed to click on “Select Configuration Tab” on the dropdown menu under Configuration Tag.

If you had already set a configuration tab, you can go ahead and select it. Otherwise, go with “None – Manually Set ID.”

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Now go ahead and enter your measurement ID (can be found under “Data Stream,” in the Admin section of your Google Analytics 4 Account). 

On your GA4 dashboard, go to “Admin” ~> “Data Stream (in the property column) ~> and click on the data stream. 

Enter your event name, the same name you entered here: 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The Complete Guide 6

Be sure to mark this event name because it will be appearing in your GA4 report. 

Step 5: Event Parameter

You can go ahead and click on the “Event Parameter” ~> “Add Row.” Two boxes will appear:

  • Parameter Name
  • Value

In the “Parameter Name” box, type “button_name” and then proceed to click on “+” in the “Value box.

In the overlay, choose “Event,” but you’ll have to edit it. The point is to try and use a very descriptive value because this will be appearing in your GA4 report. 

For instance, if you’re setting up a “contact page” event, you can use “via contact page” as your value, as it snugly describes the process the user used to get to your contact page. 

Step 6: Set the Trigger

A trigger is a final page that a user lands on after they have completed a specific action. For example, when signing up for your newsletter, getting to a “thank page” means they have completed the event.

You can publish the tag after you’ve set your triggers. 

Refining Your GA4 Property Data

Google Analytics is a major leap forward. If you loved working with Google Analytics before, rest assured you’ll love this next generation of Google Analytics even more. 

First, there’s more to this newer version of Google Analytics than you can figure out at first glance. 

However, some of these features won’t be automatically activated upon setting up your GA4 account. You’ll have to activate them manually, one-by-one. 

That being said, let’s explores some of the perks that come with switching to GA4, and the steps for activating every single one of them. 

Google Signals: How to Activate Them

Go to your Google Analytics 4 property, and click on “Admin” ~> “Data Settings” ~> “Data Collection” ~> “Get Started” ~> “Continue” ~> “Activate” to activate Google signal

Google Signal will be activated automatically when you sign up for a new Google Analytics 4 account. It can also be disabled when you don’t feel like being part of Google Machine Learning. 

Google Signal isn’t exactly a new feature. It’s been with us since 2018 when it was first announced. 

When it’s activated on GA4, you should be able to take advantage of new and improved reporting features across devices.

In other words, Google Analytics features will be upgraded to include Ad personalisation data (but only from Google users that have enabled Ad Personalisation).

Here are some of the places where the extra information will be trawled from once Google Signal is activated:

  • Ads Reporting: You’ll be provided with more information about some of the users
  • Demographic and interests: GA4 will start collecting more information on users
  • Cross-device reporting: Still in beta, but it’s a pretty useful tool for viewing cross-device information about your users
  • Remarketing: extend any remarketing activity you’re involved with to work cross-device

Extend Data Retention

Unlike the old GA, Google Analytics 4 comes with a 2 months data range. Luckily for you, there’s an option for adjusting it to a maximum of 14 months.

Here’s what you have to do:

Go to the “Admin” section of your dashboard and then proceed to “Data Setting” (under property column” ~> “Data Retention” ~> “Event Data Retention,” and from the dropdown menu, select “14 Months.” 

Link Google Ads with Your GA4 Account

Google Analytics 4 isn’t by default designed to detect Google Ads. You can, however, link it with Google Ads to view your paid Ads channel directly from your GA4 dashboard. 

Here are the steps to get it done:

Admin” ~> “Product Linking” (under the property column” ~> “Google Ads Linking” ~> “Link Button” ~> “Choose Google Ads Accounts” ~> “Account Name” ~> “Confirm.”

Click “Next” and under “Configure Setting,” make sure “enable personalised advertising” is on (blue and not grey). Remember to also enable auto-tagging before clicking “Next” and then “Submit.”

You should be able to see the page we’ve shown above. 

Understand the Magic-like Power of User ID

User ID makes GA4 the most powerful analytics platform you’ll ever come across anywhere.

For such a long time, we have heavily relied on cookies. Complex e-commerce businesses faced serious challenges with GA tracking because of the limitation of the User ID. 

Imagine a situation where a user goes incognito or switches devices. Such activities will affect data accuracy or make it harder to correlate and track existing data. 

It was marred with big data gaps that resulted in weak decision making. However, GA4 takes the technology a step further by defining User ID from the client-side. In which case, Google will have all the information that’s unique to that particular User ID. 

Google does this without relying on cookies. And even after a user migrates to a different platform or device, they have other ways to still recognise their identity and link them with the data. 

It’s scary and awesome at the same time. 

Your privacy will be compromised of course. But Google offers a way out. You don’t have to use a User ID if your privacy means that much to you. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Google Analytics 4

What’s a GA4 Property?

Google Analytics Property is a term used to refer to the data and reports for a particular website or app. However, the reports presented by Google Analytics 4 and the old analytics are entirely different. 

GA4 has properties for apps, website, or both, where each property can accommodate up to 50 streams of data.  

Can the Old Analytics be Used with Google Analytics 4?

Sure, Google doesn’t delete the old Analytics when you migrate to Google Analytics 4. It lets you keep both and decide on which one you want to use. 

Plus setting up a GA4 account allows you to measure both your mobile and web data as a single property. 

Should You Switch Over to Google Analytics 4 and Do Away with the Previous GA?

We’d like to think that the new GA is still in the beta stage. It’s still a working progress, and yet to reach its full potential or attain perfection.

So, be sure to experience a lot of friction as you try to work your way around or until all the bugs are ironed out. 

In other words, GA4 is not yet ready for stand-alone web usage, and here are some of the reasons:

  • Google is still rolling out data deletion capabilities
  • Basic reporting is still a challenge
  • Missing attribution (missing referral execution list)
  • Many integrations are still missing (Google Search Console, Google Adsense, Campaign Manager, Optimize, SA360, Google Ad Manager, DV360, and more). 
  • Still under heavy development. There’s a lot to be improved, which means the platform will be breaking from time to time
  • Some filter components are still missing
  • Missing e-commerce features
  • Roll-ups aren’t available yet

The technical issues aside. There’s a learning curve to it. 

Those familiar with the legacy version of GA are likely to find GA4 a bit complicated. That’s because the GA4 was a rebuilt of the GA platform. They started with it from scratch, adding all the features one-by-one, instead of working with what was already there.

Many of the default reports you might have gotten used to have been removed or replaced with something else. 

Popular metrics such as “Bounce” and “Medium” are no longer available.

For enterprise marketers working with GA-360, only a small portion of the information you’re used to is available in the GA-360 version of the GA4.

To sum up everything, we’re suggesting you limit GA4 to only a small section of your website. Continue using the old GA like you’ve been doing, while using GA4 in a staging environment, just enough to get familiar with it and get a good handle of how it operates. 

At the same time, you want to test its limits and experiment with the new features. In short, it’s still too early to make the jump.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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