google analytics 4 everything small business owners need to know

Running a successful small business isn’t just about intuition or gut feelings. To make smart decisions and fuel business growth, you need data. Understanding how your website performs, where your customers come from, and how they behave online is crucial for maximizing the power of your online presence. And one of the most common tools to use for this is Google Analytics.

With the sunsetting of Universal Analytics in July 2023, the time to transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is now. GA4 uses a new approach to data collection and analysis, designed for the future of web analytics. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know to make the switch to GA4 and start leveraging its features to drive your business forward.

The Fundamentals of Google Analytics 4

The transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) represents a fundamental shift in how web analytics data is collected and analyzed. This change is driven by several key factors, including a more user-centric approach, prioritizing privacy, and the need for adaptability in our modern world. 

Perhaps the most significant change in GA4 is the shift from session-based tracking to an event-based data model. In Universal Analytics, user interactions were primarily organized around sessions, which represented a group of interactions over a specific time period. GA4 focuses on distinct events, meaning any measurable user interaction with your website or app. Examples include page views, button clicks, video plays, purchases, form submissions, and more. 

GA4 reflects the growing awareness of online privacy with IP anonymization being enabled by default, partially obscuring user IP addresses to protect user identities. GA4’s flexibility also allows for customizing data collection and retention settings, helping businesses to comply with regulations like GDPR. 

Making the Switch to Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics

Should I Start with GA4 or Use Both?

If you are currently using Universal Analytics, consider using a dual-tagging approach. This means running both Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) simultaneously on your website. Universal Analytics will stop collecting data in July 2023, but starting your GA4 property early allows you to accumulate invaluable historical data. 

However, if you’re setting up web analytics for the first time, there’s no need to set up the older version at all. Start directly with GA4 and focus on building your data history from day one. Remember: Even with dual-tagging, there will be discrepancies between UA and GA4 due to the different ways they track data. 

Creating Your GA4 Property

Here’s how to create your new GA4 property alongside your existing Universal Analytics property:

  1. Log in to Google Analytics: Go to and sign in with your Google account.
  2. Access Admin Area: Click on the “Admin” gear icon in the bottom left corner.
  3. Create New Property: In the “Property” column, click “Create Property.”
  4. Follow Setup Wizard: Name your new property (consider including ‘GA4’ for clarity) and choose your time zone and currency. Proceed through the wizard, adding your website information.
  5. Obtain Your GA4 Measurement ID: After completing the wizard, you’ll be presented with a web stream, where you’ll find your unique GA4 Measurement ID (it will look like G-XXXXXXXXXX).

Understanding the Differences in Reporting 

As you navigate GA4’s interface, you’ll notice that the reports look significantly different from the familiar layout of Universal Analytics. Don’t worry– with a bit of exploration, you’ll uncover some familiar metrics as well as some new insights. GA4 features a more streamlined left-side navigation menu. Spend some time exploring the different sections like “Reports” and “Explore” to discover all of the information available.

While some of your favorite reports from Universal Analytics might not have one-to-one translations, you’ll likely find equivalents in GA4’s “Analysis” section or be able to create custom reports that replicate some of the insights you were used to seeing in UA. GA4 puts a greater emphasis on mapping the user journey across various touchpoints. Leverage the flexible event-based model to analyze how users interact with your website over time, enabling you to optimize your website for better engagement and conversions.

Configuring Data Streams for Your Website 

A data stream acts as a bridge, sending website user interaction information to your GA4 property. There are different data streams for websites and apps, but for now, let’s focus on getting your website data flowing.

  1. Access the Admin Section: Log in to your GA4 account and navigate to the “Admin” section (gear icon in the bottom left corner).
  2. Select “Property” and Choose Your Property: Under the “Property” column, click on the name of your GA4 property (the one you created earlier).
  3. Data Streams Setup: Look for the “Data Streams” section and click on “Add Stream.” Here, you’ll choose “Web” as your stream type.
  4. Enter Your Website URL: Provide your website URL in the designated field.
  5. Stream Name (Optional): Consider adding a descriptive name for your stream (e.g., “Your Business Website”).
  6. Measurement ID Verification: GA4 will display your Measurement ID (looks like G-XXXXXXXXXX) to confirm you’re setting up the stream for the correct website.
  7. Enable Enhanced Measurements (Optional): Enabling enhanced measurements allows GA4 to automatically collect additional data interactions on your website, providing richer insights. However, be sure to check your website’s privacy policy to ensure compliance.
  8. Review and Submit: Double-check the information and click “Create Stream” to finalize the setup.

Essential Event Tracking Setup 

While GA4 automatically tracks basic page views, its true power lies in tracking additional, specific events tailored to your business goals. Here are some examples of events most businesses should consider tracking:

  • Pageviews: While automatic, it’s vital to ensure this event is firing on every page.
  • Form Submissions: Track interactions with contact forms, lead capture forms, or newsletter signups. Provides insights into user interest and potential leads.
  • Button Clicks: Track clicks on important calls to action (CTAs), like “Add to Cart,” “Download,” or “Schedule Consultation.” Understanding engagement on these elements is crucial for conversion optimization.
  • Video Interactions: Measure how users interact with video content (plays, pauses, milestones like 25% watched, etc.). Understanding video consumption patterns helps you refine your content strategy.
  • Scroll Depth: Track how far users scroll down your pages, providing insights into content engagement (particularly valuable for long-form content or landing pages).
  • Outbound Link Clicks: Understand how users interact with links directing them to other websites or resources.

Configuring Conversions

In Universal Analytics, the concept of “Goals” was used to track specific actions you wanted users to complete. With GA4’s event-centric approach, these translate into “Conversions.” Understanding how to configure your most important events as conversions is vital for measuring the success of your website.

Since GA4 tracks actions as events, you’ll need to identify the events signifying valuable user actions on your website. For example, this could be a form submission, a button click leading to a purchase, or watching a specific percentage of a video. Once you’ve identified these key events, follow these steps to mark them as conversions:

  1. Locate the “Events” tab: Navigate to the left-hand menu in your GA4 interface and click on “Events.”
  2. Mark Events as Conversions: This can be done directly from your list of events. Locate the event you want to track as a conversion and toggle the “Mark as conversion” switch.

The shift from sessions to events might mean your previous goal definitions won’t translate directly. Consider what truly signifies a valuable action on your website and adjust your conversions accordingly.

Get Started with Google Analytics 4

Transitioning to Google Analytics 4 might feel like an overwhelming task, especially while juggling the many demands of running your business. But the long-term benefits outweigh the initial investment. Remember, the final deadline for switching from Universal Analytics is July 1st, 2024. Don’t wait until the last minute – start the transition process today to ensure you don’t lose valuable historical data!

If you lack the time or resources to tackle this transition and the ongoing complexities of digital analytics, Vervology is here to help. Our mission is to empower small businesses to thrive online, by taking care of the technical details (like your website) for you. If you need help with your website or understanding analytics, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!