GA4 – The Ultimate Guide

Google Analytics 4 logoEverything you need to know about Google’s New Analytics Tool

As of July 1, 2023, Google has officially retired Universal Analytics, the tool you’re probably using to track your Website analytics. You’ll now need to set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4). We can help.

Your website is your business’s digital home base, the core of your online assets. It should be your #1 driver of new business. But, due to a lack of understanding or sometimes a lack of interest, many any business owners neglect it.

In my nearly 15 years of working in SEO and website development, I’ve found that financial advisors (and other business owners) who take an active role in their website and online marketing tend to get much better results than those who just try to outsource everything.

Engaging outside experts is important, but you should play an active role in the process, understanding your website’s strengths and weaknesses and how you compare with competitors, and determining your website’s development plan.

That means you should be keeping track of your website’s key performance indicators (KPIs) so you can build on them and constantly try to improve. These help you understand user behavior and engagement, website technical performance, and the success or lack thereof in your prospect acquisition strategies. To get that essential data, two tools you’ll want to use are Google Analytics and Search Console.

Unfortunately, Google decided to completely redo the Analytics product and make your previous integration and understanding of the tool obsolete, to the bane of marketers and website owners everywhere.

This article will delve into what GA4 is, how it differs from Universal Analytics, and the importance of embracing this powerful analytics platform. We’ll also briefly explore Looker Studio and how it can help you monitor, visualize, and act on your key metrics.

What we’ll cover:
What is Google Analytics 4?
Key Features of GA4
Why did Google Retire Universal Analytics?
How is GA4 Different from Universal Analytics?
Why is GA4 Important?
What are some of GA4’s AI and machine learning capabilities?
What if I haven’t yet migrated to GA4?
Using Looker Studio to Understand Your Analytics Data
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is Google Analytics 4?

GA4 is the latest iteration of Google’s web analytics tool. It provides businesses with valuable insights into their website and app data, allowing them to understand user behavior, track conversions, and optimize their digital marketing efforts. Its layout and methodology are very different from the original Google Analytics, which came out in late 2005, and Universal Analytics, which was released in 2012. GA4 leverages advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide a more comprehensive and accurate analysis of user interactions across multiple platforms.

Key Features of GA4

  1. Enhanced Cross-Platform Tracking: GA4 enables businesses to track user interactions seamlessly across websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms in one place, rather than having to set up separate Analytics properties. This holistic view helps you understand the complete customer journey as users are now often interacting simultaneously through multiple platforms (ie., bouncing between a website and its app or their computer and their phone or tablet).
  2. Deeper Integration with Google Ads: With GA4, you can gain deeper insights into the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. You can better track conversions, monitor user behavior, and optimize ad spend based on data-driven decisions. Previously, the two separate entities of Ads and Analytics could be linked but data tracking wasn’t seamless.
  3. Event-Driven Data Model: Unlike Universal Analytics, which relies on page views and sessions, GA4 utilizes an event-driven data model. This shift allows businesses to track specific actions users take on their website or app, such as button clicks, deep scrolls, video plays, outbound clicks, and form submissions.
  4. AI and Machine Learning: GA4’s integration of machine learning automatically spots behavior trends, anomalies, and opportunities. It can help identify visitor demographics, interests, and likelihood of purchasing. It can help analyze customer journeys through the conversion funnel, identify dropoff points, and make recommendations for improvement.


Google's GA4 Setup Deadline Notification

Google warned of Universal Analytics’ retirement for over a year.

Why did Google Retire Universal Analytics?

Google says that the old data model used by Universal Analytics is obsolete. That’s because the way people navigate the Web has changed and there are new privacy requirements, laws, and user tracking concerns that weren’t addressed in Universal Analytics. GA4 was designed specifically with the decline of third-party cookies in mind. Cookies are small blocks of data that have been used for decades to track individual users. GA4 doesn’t require cookies and maintains user anonymity while giving you a deep understanding of user actions on your site or app.

How is GA4 Different from Universal Analytics?

Google Analytics 4 introduces several key differences compared to its predecessor, Universal Analytics. Let’s explore these differences and understand the advantages of migrating to GA4.

1. Data Collection Model

GA4’s event-based data collection model can give us a better understanding of user behavior than Universal Analytics’ session-based tracking. Universal Analytics did a good job of tabulating aggregate, general information like page views and sessions, but was very limited in tracking user actions within each page and over multiple devices.

Why is GA4’s data collection model better than Universal Analytics?

In the case of an e-commerce store, GA4 provides the ability to capture specific data such as the number of people who clicked on a product, viewed different color options, checked shipping costs, added items to their cart, or completed a purchase. See “What e-commerce events can you track in GA4?” for a detailed list.

Using Universal Analytics, you would have information about the number of visitors to each page and how much time they spend there. However, it might be challenging to determine which specific actions they take.

What e-commerce events can you track in GA4?

  1. Product page views and color or size variations
  2. Scrolling through customer reviews
  3. Product comparisons
  4. Add to wishlist
  5. Upsells and cross-sells
  6. Add to cart
  7. Shipping costs and delivery times
  8. Entering promo codes
  9. Abandoned carts
  10. Purchase completion
  11. Refunds and returns
  12. And almost any other useful action you can think of!

For a typical “brochure” site, like those used by financial advisors and other professional services providers, GA4 can make it easier to track actions like viewing an embedded video, clicking on frequently asked questions, downloading a white paper, using a retirement calculator, checking your meeting availability via an embedded calendar, or filling out a contact form.

By adding event-tracking tags and triggers to links, form fields, and buttons, we can track nearly any user action that requires a click. This level of detail can help you determine what elements of your site and content strategy are working and what’s getting ignored. For a full list of event tracking ideas, see “GA4 Event Tracking for Service Businesses.”

What non-e-commerce events can you track in GA4?

  1. Page scrolling
  2. Embedded video views
  3. File downloads
  4. External links
  5. Page section interactions
  6. Calls to Action buttons
  7. Embedded calculator usage
  8. Social media engagement
  9. Email address and phone number
  10. Live chat interactions
  11. Form submissions or abandonment
  12. Meeting availability on an embedded calendar


2. User-Centric Approach

GA4’s user-centric approach makes it stand out from Universal Analytics. UA revolved around the concept of sessions and cookies, while GA4 focuses on individual users across multiple devices and platforms and how they interact with your website content. This shift allows businesses to gain a more holistic understanding of user behavior and engagement, leading to more-personalized marketing strategies. Previously to get this type of user interaction insight you had to use heat map and mouse tracking tools like Hotjar, which can be expensive, slow down your site, and take more time to compile and understand the aggregate results.

3. Machine Learning Capabilities

Of course, Google wouldn’t miss the opportunity to use artificial intelligence and machine learning in its long-awaited analytics overhaul. Google says it uses this new tech to help provide better tracking and more accurate and actionable insights. It automatically alerts users to significant trends and anomalies in their data, making it easier to identify opportunities and areas for improvement. This gives GA4 a big edge in data analysis capabilities over the now obsolete Universal Analytics tool.

Why is GA4 Important?

1. Future-Proof Analytics Strategy

The forced migration to GA4 and the platform’s steep learning curve have brought attention to Google Analytics alternatives (and they are worth a look for ease of use, data ownership, or specific use cases). But Google is still the clear market leader, and GA4 is possibly the most powerful tool available if you set it up properly. With GA4, you can figure out what makes your users click and engage, and not just chase traffic and count heads.

2. Insights Across Platforms

In today’s multi-device world, users interact with businesses through various touchpoints. GA4’s enhanced cross-platform tracking gives you a full picture of user behavior across websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms. This holistic view provides a deeper understanding of user journeys, allowing businesses to optimize their marketing efforts accordingly.

3. Advanced Machine Learning

GA4’s integration of machine learning empowers businesses to make data-driven decisions more efficiently. It automatically spots trends, anomalies, and opportunities, saving you time and resources. With these insights, you can refine your marketing strategies, improve user experiences, and achieve better business outcomes.

What are some of GA4’s AI and machine learning capabilities?

  1. User Behavior Trends: GA4 can detect patterns in user behavior, such as increasing or decreasing engagement with specific pages or features on your website. For example, it can identify if users are spending more time on certain product pages, indicating increased interest.
  2. Conversion Funnel Optimization: GA4 can analyze user journeys through the conversion funnel and identify potential bottlenecks or areas for improvement. It can highlight stages where users are dropping off and provide recommendations to enhance the conversion process.
  3. Anomaly Detection: GA4 can alert you to unexpected changes in user behavior or data patterns. It can identify a sudden spike in website traffic or a significant decrease in conversions, helping you quickly investigate and address any issues.
  4. Audience Insights: GA4 can provide valuable information about your website visitors, such as their demographics, interests, and purchasing behavior. Google does this by combing through first-party data from your website and vast amounts of anonymized Google Signals data with machine learning algorithms to find patterns and make predictions based on similarities to users with similar interactions.
  5. Predictive Analytics: GA4 can predict future user behavior based on historical data. For instance, it can estimate the likelihood of a user making a purchase or the expected revenue from a specific marketing campaign. This enables you to make informed decisions and optimize your strategies in advance.

GA4 presents these insights through its user interface, which includes dashboards, reports, and data visualizations. Additionally, GA4 offers customizable alerts and notifications to keep you informed of significant changes or opportunities in your data.

What if I haven’t yet migrated to GA4?

If you’re still using Universal Analytics as of July 1, 2023, it’s time to migrate to GA4. Google says UA will cease to process data “very soon”. If you are using Google Analytics 360 (the premium paid version of Google Analytics, then you have until July 1, 2024 to migrate to GA4.

Need help migrating to GA4? You can hire us to set up GA4 for you. We’ll integrate it with your website and create a convenient Looker Studio dashboard where you can see all your key metrics in one place.

Using Looker Studio to Understand Your Analytics Data

Looker Studio is a powerful data visualization tool that seamlessly integrates with Google Analytics 4 as well as other data sources like Search Console, YouTube Analytics, social media platforms, SEO and marketing tools, advertising and sales tools, and more. It helps businesses transform complex analytics data into key performance indicators and interactive visualizations. With Looker Studio, you can:

  1. Create Custom Dashboards: Build personalized dashboards that highlight your business’s key lead acquisition, engagement, and conversion events from multiple data sources. You can include aggregate traffic acquisition data, key engagement tracking events metrics, organic search traffic insights from Search Console, and much more.
  2. Interactive Data Exploration: Build interactive charts and graphs with intuitive filters, drill-down capabilities, and customizable visualizations to help you uncover patterns and gain deeper insights.
  3. Collaborative Data Sharing: Share interactive reports and dashboards with team members to identify issues and opportunities, incorporating data-driven decision-making to scale your business.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the key benefits of using Google Analytics 4?

GA4 offers several key benefits, including enhanced cross-platform tracking, a user-centric approach, and advanced machine-learning capabilities. It provides businesses with comprehensive insights into user behavior, facilitates personalized marketing strategies, and empowers data-driven decision-making.

2. Can I still use Universal Analytics alongside GA4?

No, Google has now retired Universal Analytics and it is no longer processing data. If you use Analytics 360 (the paid, enterprise version), you have until July 2024 to migrate to GA4. If you do nothing, Google will automatically create a new GA4 property for you. Google says it will copy over any UA configurations, but that this is less desirable than setting up GA4 on your own as many UA configurations have no obvious GA4 counterpart. For best results, you should take the time to configure GA4 according to your unique needs and in consideration of your website’s engagement and conversion actions.

3. How can Looker Studio enhance my analytics data visualization?

Looker Studio integrates seamlessly with GA4, allowing businesses to transform complex analytics data into key performance indicators and interactive visualizations. It enables the creation of custom dashboards, facilitates deeper data exploration, and promotes collaborative data sharing, empowering business owners and their teams to continually improve their websites and strategies.

4. Is there a deadline for transitioning to GA4?

Universal Analytics has been officially retired as of July 1, 2023. Analytics 360 (the paid, enterprise version of Universal Analytics) will be retired on July 1, 2024. Google says that Universal Analytics properties will cease to process data “very soon” and that will automatically create a new GA4 property for your business if you don’t do it. If you want to get the most out of GA4 and its user-focused measuring capabilities, you should set up your GA4 property with engagement and conversion events that are unique to your website or app.

5. Does GA4 replace Universal Analytics entirely?

Yes, this is a complete overhaul of Google’s flagship analytics tool. The old Universal Analytics tool will be fully retired and replaced by GA4 with a completely different tracking methodology.

6. How can GA4 benefit my marketing efforts?

GA4 provides businesses with comprehensive insights into user behavior, enabling them to optimize their marketing strategies. With advanced cross-platform tracking, user-centric analytics, and machine learning capabilities, GA4 empowers businesses to deliver personalized experiences, improve campaign performance, and drive better business outcomes.


In today’s data-driven world, you need to use the latest analytics tools to understand your business and scale it effectively. Google has now replaced Universal Analytics with Google Analytics 4 and forced businesses to make the change.

The retirement of UA and forced migration to GA4 has been frustrating for many webmasters and business owners, especially because of GA4’s steep learning curve. But the benefits of using the new tool are many, including enhanced cross-platform tracking, a user-centric approach, and machine learning capabilities.

If you set it up GA4 properly, with well-thought-out event tracking and a clear and actionable Looker Studio dashboard to display your key metrics, you can get deep insights about your website and marketing initiatives to better serve clients and scale your business.

Need help setting up GA4 with a convenient Looker Studio Dashboard? Check out our GA4 Setup Service.

GA4 - The Ultimate Guide
Brien Shanahan has been helping independent financial advisors get found on the Web since 2010. His firm, Top Ranked Advisor, specializes in building high-performance WordPress websites for advisors. Brien has also worked in the travel and e-commerce sectors, where his websites gained millions of visitors each month mostly from organic SEO. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.