What is GA4? A quick and easy guide for ecommerce merchants

Are you ready for Google Analytics 4? Well, the deadline is almost here!

Google first announced GA4 back in 2019, and started the process of retiring Universal Analytics in 2020. They promised new and innovative ways to gather, process, and analyze data, seriously enhancing the Google Analytics experience. 

With the end of Universal Analytics drawing ever closer, let’s take a moment to review exactly what GA4 is all about.

What is GA4, and what does it mean for ecommerce?

GA4 or Google Analytics 4 is the newest version of the Google Analytics platform. The previous version, GA3 or Universal Analytics, will be sunsetted on July 1st 2023. This simply means that from that date, Universal Analytics will stop processing data and Google will stop providing support to the platform.

Google says that GA4 is the “next generation of analytics”, reimagining what data collection and analysis should look like in current times. They’re moving away from session-based analytics, and onto event-based data. This gives site owners data and analytics that are more useful and in line with how visitors browse and use their site. For ecommerce, it gives better insight into the customer experience. 

What is the difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics?

GA4 is a complete rework of the Google Analytics platform, being built around an entirely new architecture. As mentioned, Universal Analytics worked off of session-based data, which uses cookies and tracks things like pageviews, bounce rate and so on. GA4 is instead built on events, using first and zero party data from your site and across other platforms like apps. Those events could be clicks, form completions, adding an item to a cart, and so on. This means GA4 collects a lot more data than UA, and that data is more granular and specific. It changes how data is collected and reported, changing even long-time metrics like bounce rate to be more accurate and valuable as a data-set. 

Here are just a few of the features that GA4 offers that make it a valuable asset:

  • Cross platform tracking - You can track events and data across different devices as well as across sites and apps.
  • Enhanced funnel/path analysis - Understand how customers navigate and interact with your site.
  • Machine learning - Using a tool called “probabilistic matching” and Google’s AI, GA4 will pull together data from different sources for a more complete picture of your customers and site. This provides you with smarter insights and predictions. 
  • Purchase and churn probability - Using data gathered from events, pinpoint when a customer is likely to purchase and when they’re likely to churn. 

GA4 is the next step in analytics that brings together your website, your SEO strategy, and your customer experience strategy into one place. 

Why is Google switching to GA4?

Universal Analytics was originally launched in October 2012, so aside from updates it has been over a decade since Google totally overhauled their analytics platforms. In those ten or so years, how we use search and interact with websites has changed significantly. GA4 reflects this, giving webmasters more tools that reflect how users engage with their sites. 

One of the most major issues that has influenced users, however, is privacy. This is something which Google of course takes very seriously, hence the decision to retire the use of third-party cookies starting in mid-2024. With this, they also wanted analytics to rely less on third-party data and take users’ privacy concerns into account. GA4 relies instead on giving webmasters the ability to make better use of their first party data. This gives you more control of your data, and results in enhanced tools and analytics.  

What happens if I don’t switch to GA4?

Whether you do it ahead of time or not, on July 1st 2023 all users will be moved to GA4 and UA will stop processing data. By getting ahead of the switch or being prepared for it, you’ll be able to make the most of the new tools and data processing that GA4 has to offer. 

It’s worth noting though that just because UA will stop processing data, you won’t immediately lose access to your historical data from that platform. You’ll be able to access it until July 1st 2024, giving you plenty of time to get what you need from it and make the move to GA4. 

How do I switch to GA4?

The process is thankfully pretty straightforward to migrate to GA4. Google has created a pretty comprehensive guide to follow - here are some of the steps to take and links to Google’s support documents:

There are some additional steps to make sure GA4 is configured correctly to work with Shopify. Once you’ve completed the steps above, you can set GA4 up in Shopify Admin:

  1. Go to Online Store > Preferences 
  2. Under Google Analytics, click “Manage Pixel Here”
  3. Connect your Google account 
  4. Select the Tag ID for the property you want to connect to Shopify
  5. Click “Connect your Google Analytics 4 property”

You may need to migrate your UA audiences and conversion tracking over to GA4 for everything to connect and work smoothly. 

Data is the cornerstone of every successful ecommerce store. With the new tools GA4 offers, merchants can get more in-depth with their store data and better understand their customers. And besides, what better way to get ahead with your SEO strategy than to use shiny new tools Google themselves developed?