Chapter 1: What is Google Analytics 4?

While the new Google Analytics 4 is set to come out this July 2023, marketers, businesses, and individual website owners can freely upgrade to the new version today. 

GA4 reinvents data collection to suit the modern, privacy-conscious internet.

It also comes with a variety of new features that enhance the platform's metrics tracking for both paid and non-paid channels.

In this chapter, we take a deep dive into what Google Analytics 4 is all about.

A brief history of Google Analytics

Here's a quick recap of Google Analytics versions over the years. 


Google Analytics 1 is a revamped version of a web statistics analysis software called "Urchin."

During Urchin's acquisition in March 2005, the new product was called "Google Urchin." This quickly led to the launch of the first version of Google Analytics in November 2005. 

Google acquired Urchin with the goal of democratizing valuable traffic analytics to website owners of all sizes. This enabled bloggers, solo marketers, and small businesses to leverage the power of data to improve user experience. 


Google Analytics 2, also referred to as "Classic Google Analytics," is an iterative update to the old version that came out in 2007. It introduced the use of synchronous code and asynchronous code, which came out later in 2009. 

Classic GA2 focused on improving performance, data collection accuracy, and fixing dependency errors. The first rollout of GA2 also included the ability to track transactions on eCommerce pages. 


Google Analytics 3 ushered in the age of Universal Analytics in three stages. 

In 2012, the beta version of Universal Analytics became available to large businesses and premium users of G Suite. Everyone else couldn't access the new version until the public beta release in March 2013. 

Universal Analytics officially went out of beta in 2014, which pushed user behavior tracking and better performance to more users. 

More importantly, any website owner is now able to collect data and consolidate metrics from multiple devices into one dashboard.

In 2016, Classic Analytics was retired, and web properties were automatically migrated to Universal Analytics. 

When global site tags were released in 2017, Universal Analytics became the gold standard in website analytics. 

Global site tags allow website owners to manage data across different Google products via a single JavaScript (gtag.js). This includes Google Ads, Campaign Manager 360, Search Ads 360, and more.

The next generation of Google Analytics

Today, countless website owners maintain their existing Universal Analytics property for traffic data analysis—but not for long

Google is set to phase out Universal Analytics in July 2023. This will make way for the next generation of Google Analytics, which is simply called GA4. 

But while Universal Analytics still has a few months left, businesses upgrade to GA4 left and right.

Let's investigate why.  

Must-read: Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: 10 Key Differences

Why GA4? Analytics for a multi-device world

Here are the top reasons why a growing number of businesses are switching to GA4 ahead of schedule: 

1. Acquire important marketing data without third-party cookies 

GA4 lets you conduct data collection to gauge user expectations and optimize website performance despite the death of third-party cookies—AKA the "Cookiepocalypse." 

Major browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Safari al≈y dropped support for third-party cookies. Google Chrome, however, extended its support for third-party cookies to the end of 2024. 

Third-party cookies enable data collection on traffic wherever they are on the web. They offer a huge advantage to advertisers and businesses that rely on customer intelligence to make data-driven decisions. 

2. True multi-device analytics tracking

While Universal Analytics already provides cross-device traffic analytics, GA4 takes it to a new level through better-optimized integrations. 

For one, website owners no longer need Firebase to track mobile app analytics. Data from all property types, be it an app or website, can now be compiled into a single location with GA4. 

In addition, GA4's "Advertising workspace" provides a quick snapshot of Google Ads performance. This is baked into GA4, allowing website owners to track essential ad metrics like cost per conversion, total conversions, purchase revenue, and return on ad spend from the get-go. 

Most importantly, GA4 enables comparisons and analysis between ad platforms, which can be segmented into categories like:

  • Mobile app stores
  • Specific mobile devices
  • Screen resolutions
  • Device brands
  • Browser versions
  • Operating systems

GA4 also reveals in-depth traffic demographics based on multiple "tech" categories. This includes device categories, browsers, operating systems, app versions, and device models. 

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3. Closer look at the customer journey

GA4 provides more ways to analyze the customer lifecycle with advanced event tracking and data cards. 

"Pages and screens," for example, monitor the performance of web pages and app screens using metrics like event count, views per user, and average engagement time.

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For ad campaigns, GA4 offers a close, unfiltered look at the customer journey through the "Conversion paths" report. 

This report breaks down paid traffic interactions into "early touchpoints," "mid touchpoints," and "late touchpoints." 

Early touchpoints cover the first 25% of interactions in a campaign, whereas late touchpoints cover the last 25%. Lastly, mid-touchpoints include the middle 50% of interactions. 

GA4 tracks and credits conversions for all touchpoints. Additional metrics, such as days to conversion and touchpoints to conversion, are organized into channel groups. 

4. Explorations

Explorations let GA4 users effortlessly translate website performance data into readable visualizations. 

You can browse the template gallery for pre-made explorations. They are optimized to represent  data sets like User Lifetime Value (ULV), customer paths, user segment overlaps, and marketing funnel performance. 

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GA4 Explorations also features a "free form" template that lets you build a custom data visualization that matches your specific needs. 

A better, more user-friendly alternative to Explorations would be a comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) platform like Polymer

Using our intuitive "Insights" tool driven by Machine Learning (ML), instantly convert data sets into professional visualizations. The Polymer platform also directly integrates with Google Analytics 4 for seamless data imports. 

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Most modern BI solutions have built-in Google Analytics 4 connection tools. Polymer, for instance, lets you use GA4 as a data source for your workspace. 

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Apart from these benefits, GA4 includes major updates to the analytics platform's visual interface. The focus is to make data tracking as simple and effortless as possible—without diluting the depth of your website performance data. 

GA4 look and feel

GA4 features the same minimalistic look as Universal Analytics. But unlike the previous version, GA4 features a cleaner navigation system and a more dynamic dashboard. 

The main dashboard menu is reduced to only four sections: Home, Reports, Explore, and Advertising. 


Both Universal Analytics and GA4 provide an overview of essential website traffic data and insights on the "Home" page. The only difference is, GA4 integrates mobile app data into cards into the data models.

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In GA4, the "Reports" page lets you view insights on your user life cycle, demographics, monetization strategies, and more. Similar to Universal Analytics properties, you can also create custom comparisons and insights panels.

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The "Explore" page is where you can create explorations and outfit your GA4 dashboard with detailed data visualizations. While the exploration builder can be intimidating, the responsive interface and pre-built templates greatly smoothen the learning curve.

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The "Advertising" page or workspace lets you dive into the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. Take advantage of GA4 features like custom insights, conversion path analysis, and model comparisons to demystify your Google Ads performance data. 

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GA4 account structure

Small businesses and solo website owners normally don't have to think about the structure of their GA4 account. But for large businesses, the right GA4 account structure lets you compartmentalize data sets and control user access. 

For example, large businesses with one website and a mobile app can use the following account structure:

  • One Google Analytics account. Ownership of the web property and its data remains with one legal entity.  
  • One GA4 property. Sticking to one property consolidates website data on every performance aspect (e.g. advertising and conversion rate) into a single dashboard.  
  • Two data streams. Create two data streams for Google Ads and the company's mobile app. 

Google discussed account structures and their use cases on the official Google Analytics support page. Read it for more information.

How many GA4 properties do you need?

The number of GA4 properties you need depends on the account structure your business needs. Most organizations only need one property on their GA4 account, whereas certain businesses, like international retailers, may need multiple properties for each region they serve.

GA4 Standard vs GA4 360

GA4 comes in two different versions: GA4 Standard and GA4 360

GA4 Standard is the free version of the platform, which unlocks all the core features that enable next-level analytics tracking. GA4 360, on the other hand, is the paid version that's part of the Google Marketing Platform. 

GA4 Standard and GA4 360 are fundamentally the same features-wise. However, they come with different usage limits. 

For example, free GA4 Standard properties can track 500 events per user for app data streams. GA4 360, however, can track up to 2,000 events per user per day.

Refer to the table below for a quick comparison of GA4 Standard and GA4 360 limits:

GA4 Standard

  • Data retention: Up to 14 months
  • Event parameters: 25/event
  • Conversions: 30
  • BigQuery exports: Up to 1M events daily

GA4 360

  • Data retention: Up to 50 months
  • Event parameters: 100/event
  • Conversions: 50
  • BigQuery exports: Billions of events daily

‍Must-read: Setting Up a Google Analytics 4 Property (Without UA)

Introducing data streams

Data streams allow you to seamlessly import data from different platforms to your GA4 dashboard

The current version of GA4 supports three types of data streams: iOS app, Android app, and website. 

Follow the instructions below to add a data stream to your GA4 dashboard:

  • Step 1: Go to your GA4 admin page and click 'Data Streams' under your web property. 
  • Step 2: Click 'Add stream' and choose between "iOS app," "Android app," or "Web."
  • Step 3: Fill in the required information as per the setup page's instructions (e.g. iOS bundle ID, initialization code, App Store ID). 
  • Step 4: When adding a web data stream, install your Google tag using plugins or manually via code.

Event + parameter measurement model

Universal Analytics uses a fixed, hit-based data structure for metrics tracking. 

In simple terms, user engagements are measured and categorized into hit types, including page hits, event hits, eCommerce hits, exception hits, and user timing hits. To provide context to hits, Universal Analytics depends on additional parameters, namely "Category," "Action," and "Label."  

GA4 departs from this method in favor of complete, event-based tracking. Unlike hit-based metrics, events like page views, first visits, scrolls, and clicks are measured independently. 

Must-read: Understanding Google Analytics 4 Metrics And Dimensions

The event-based system streamlines website analytics from setup all the way to data tracking. For instance, advanced events like outbound clicks, ad views, scrolls, and subscriptions are pre-configured—enabling data to be collected, analyzed, and reported with ease.

Event tracking is further enhanced with custom parameters. These add an extra layer of detail to your GA4 analytics and help you refine data into actionable insights. 

Some examples of parameters you can add to GA4 events are: 

  • Item category
  • Content type
  • Event name
  • Currency
  • Coupon
  • Language
  • Location ID
  • Payment title

Pros and cons of GA4

GA4 Pros: 

  • Streamlined advertising performance analytics
  • Cookie-less data collection
  • Data visualization templates with explorations
  • More organized event-based tracking
  • In-depth, multi-device insights
  • Easy implementation and integration with third-party platforms

GA4 Cons: 

  • Free version still has substantial limitations that make it unusable for large enterprises
  • The updated interface introduces new learning challenges

Create better GA4 reports with Polymer

Make data-driven decisions easier with GA4's data collection paired with Polymer's dashboard-building capabilities.

Quickly integrate data sources, including Google Analytics 4, Jira, Google Ads, and Zendesk, into your workspace and house all your data within minutes. 

Take Polymer for a spin by starting a free trial today.

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