What is GA4 and Why Does it Matter to Your Business?

What is GA4
Hitting the top of Google search results is the holy grail of content marketing. Getting your site to the front page of Google establishes you as an authority in your field and gives you the highest possible chance of being seen by your target audience. SEO and marketing teams expend a lot of effort to measure and continually improve page performance — and now GA4 is turning all those efforts on their heads.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

What is GA4?

Google dominates the search engine market, with around a 92% market share as of June 2022. And Google has announced it will sunset its Universal Analytics metrics effective July 1, 2023, to replace them with GA4 engagement rates.
What is GA4
GA4 (or Google Analytics 4) is Google’s next generation of analytics — a free tool designed to succeed Google Universal Analytics. And it’s got a lot of companies worried about their SEO. Comparing GA4 vs. Universal Analytics may sound intimidating — but the core functionality has, so far, not changed much. At a glance, GA4 reports will still provide data on:
  • Number of visitors
  • Demographics
  • Top-performing pages
SEO teams will still get real-time data to set up conversion goals. But if it’s so similar, why did Google even bother developing a new analytics platform?

GA4 vs. Universal Analytics

We’ve talked about what will stay the same in GA4 analytics reports. But what will be different?

The most significant change as Universal Analytics gives way to GA4 will be the shift away from sessions and a new focus on events. What does that mean? Essentially, UA data focused on specific “hits” in a session (page view, event, app/screen view, etc.). All of those will now fall under a single parameter in GA4: the “event.”

This change puts a greater emphasis on users’ engagement with a website — removing the disconnect between data on users and websites. Multiple hits that an event triggers to a website can increase data accuracy and better describe user behaviour.

This chart simplifies the changes you’ll see when moving from UA to GA4.

 GA4 vs Universal Analytics

Google Analytics Bounce Rate vs. GA4 Engagement Rate

The popular yet flawed Bounce Rate in UA will be replaced with GA4’s Engagement Rate. With UA’s bounce rate, users who landed on your page, received value (for example, read an article or found your contact info), and left your page, were measured on par with those who landed on your page and left without doing anything. With GA4, Google takes the inverse of this metric — measuring how long a user stays to engage with your site.

Average Time on Page vs. Average Engagement Time

The biggest problem with Average Time on Page (and Average Session Duration) in Universal Analytics was that duration for single page visits was considered 0 because there was no session parameter that tracked activity within a single page. With GA4, event-based data allows for a more accurate representation with parameters such as User Engagement and Scroll.

Which GA4 Reports Do You Need?

As you continue your pursuit of that elusive goal of reaching the top of Google’s search results — or even capturing the featured snippet position — you’ll need to know which GA4 reports are best for measuring KPIs. Here’s a list of some common (and a few less frequently mentioned) reports that will be useful on the default GA4 dashboard.

1. User Acquisition

Knowing how you acquire users is vital. (While it’s good to check if users are steadily increasing, most SEO professionals will consider this a vanity metric.)

2. Traffic Acquisition

This metric might not be clear at first, but it is focused on all user sessions (as opposed to new users). It includes returning users who have previously engaged with your website or app.
Which GA4 Reports Do You Need

3. Pages and Screens

Similar to the All Pages report in Universal Analytics, the Pages and Screens report provides a performance report on individual web pages. This provides valuable insights, not only into which pages are performing well but also into which are the most engaging or triggering the most events.

4. Engagement Overview Report

Two charts on this dashboard provide valuable data often overlooked by many.
User Activity Over Time gives historical data on the total users on an app or site that day. You can quickly glance at one-day, seven-day, or 30-day trends to identify irregularities.
User Activity Over Time
User Stickiness shows the ratio between three statistics: daily active users (DAU), weekly active users (WAU), and monthly active users (MAU).
User Stickiness

For example:

In the past month (30 days), your website or app has had 5000 active users daily.

  • Your MAU = 5000

On day 30 (present-day), you also have 5000 users

  • Your DAU = 5000

Your DAU/MAU is thus 100%, meaning 100% of your users have been active every day of the month.

Typically a DAU/MAU of 100% is unrealistic. Not everyone will be interested in your product or service, and hardly anything provides value every day for everyone. For apps, DAU/MAU ratio of 20% is good, and 50%+ is world-class. Websites will typically see lower values, unless you offer a SaaS, PaaS, free tools, or provide new value each day.

The one problem with the Engagement Overview report, however, is that you do not get much insight into which users are retained or lost. For this, we move on to the next report.

5. Retention Report

The reports on this dashboard offer an effective way to quickly understand your returning users:

User Retention by Cohort

  • Cohort here means the day that the user was acquired
  • Day 1 (or 7, or 30) tells you how many users that you acquired came back to your site after that many days (Day 0 is the day that the user was acquired)
User Retention by Cohort

For example:

If you see on January 2 that your Day 1 user retention was 10%, 10% of your users from January 1 came back the following day. (The lower the value, the fewer users coming back.)

User Engagement by Cohort

  • Similar to retention by cohort, but this lets you see how engaged returning users are on that day
User Engagement by Cohort

User Retention

  • If you were a fan of Cohort Analysis (Beta) for Universal Analytics, this is the closest measurement on the default dashboard
  • Lets you see the last X days of the percentage of new users who return
  • A sharper fall-off closer to the left-hand side (day 0) signals poor retention of users
User Retention

6. Other Reports

There are a few more reports included in the default GA4 dashboard that cater to some industries and users more than others. They include:
  • Most dimensions work better as a filter layered on top of acquisition or engagement reports
  • Screen resolution may provide the most value, used when optimizing image sizes on websites and testing for different screen sizes

Need Help Optimizing for GA4?

This post was only intended to cover the basics of getting started with Google Analytics 4, but there is much more to be uncovered. Although it may seem like a lot of UA features are being removed for GA4, the changes seem to simplify the entry process for the average user while providing advanced users with greater customization.

At Total Product Marketing, we have years of experience helping B2B tech companies optimize their websites, marketing content, and advertising campaigns to reach target audiences effectively and efficiently. We’re here to help you ensure your transition from Google Analytics to GA4 is seamless and pain-free. Reach out now to discuss what we can do for you.

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