Google Analytics 4 Events: What’s Different?

We’ve already talked a lot about a major shift that’s underway in the data world: the move to Google Analytics 4 from the old Google Analytics Universal version. Google Analytics 4 is now the default system for anyone setting up a new property using Google’s popular data tracking service. 

And more change is coming. Google Analytics Universal is set to be phased out entirely in 2023, so if you’re one of the many people who have put off learning Google Analytics 4, there’s still time to get up to speed with one of our top picks for training

It’s definitely worthwhile to do some proper training because Google Analytics 4 has significant differences from Google Analytics Universal. This post will focus on one of the biggest changes: the data model. 

Table of Content

The evolution of websites and Google Analytics
Google Analytics 4 events take center stage in the service’s data model
How Google Analytics 4 events yield valuable data insights
Find out more

The evolution of websites and Google Analytics 

The data model is at the core of Google Analytics, so it’s no surprise that a change to this part of the interface has generated quite a bit of buzz. While the word on the street is that this new version is more complicated, the truth is it’s actually simpler and much more intuitive — once you understand the thinking behind the new setup and how to use it. Better still, there are lots of benefits to Google Analytics 4’s data model, especially in terms of custom events. 

To give you a little background on why Google Analytics 4 has made such a radical shift from Google Analytics Universal, let’s rewind the clock back to 2006, the year that Google Analytics Universal was launched. 

If you’re a little stunned to know that Google Analytics is 16 years old (old enough to drive!), you’re not alone. That many years is eons in the digital world, and websites have evolved by leaps and bounds since then. 

Back then, website data tracking and analysis were all about two things: 

  1. Page views, which happen when a website page loads in a browser
  2. Sessions, which are basically a collection of page views

At the time, the steps between pages were clear and significant, from a data perspective. Users clicked through the different pages of a website to access the information that was important to them. That behavior, collected as data, yielded valuable insights for the owners of the websites. So it made sense, then, for Google Analytics to put these elements at the center of their data model. 

Google Analytics 4 events take center stage in the service’s data model

Over the last 16 years, websites have become much more sophisticated and interactive. Javascript, for example, allowed users to interact with content on a page without requiring a full page refresh. These types of on-page actions hold major value for data tracking and analysis, but aren’t captured by the metric of page views. 

So, the idea of “events” began to take hold in the world of data. This is where Google Analytics 4 makes its most radical shift from Google Analytics Universal. 

In Universal, an event had 3 dimensions:

  • category
  • action
  • label

In GA4, this changes significantly. We now have the event model that some of us use when working with mobile analytics, product analytics, or CDIs like Segment.

  • event name
  • event parameters

This is where Google Analytics 4 has earned its reputation for being “complicated.” These dimensions force the Google Analytics 4 user to create structures that define their actions and develop precise documentation in order to make the data valuable and able to provide meaningful insights. But it’s actually not all that complicated and it stands to provide a lot of benefits if used effectively. 

How Google Analytics 4 events yield valuable data insights 

Let’s consider an example to see how this new and improved data model works in action. Let’s say you want to track newsletter subscriptions. 

In Google Analytics 4, everything is organized around events and users rather than page views and sessions. In building the structures that define your events, it’s important to establish two elements upfront: event name and event parameter. 

The event name can be anything — even a random series of numbers — but best practice is to use a combination of object and action. In our example, “newsletter subscribe” is a good option, since it makes the significance of the data clear to anyone who is analyzing it. 

The event parameters function as a storehouse for all the additional data content you want to include about the event. For newsletter subscriptions, a valuable parameter might be “form location – footer,” which specifies where the event took place. 

These event names and parameters empower you to track, organize, and analyze newsletter subscriptions in much greater detail, collecting information about how and when the subscriptions took place, rather than trying to organize it around page views and sessions. 

With this example, you can see that what seems complicated about Google Analytics 4 is actually just a shift in priority and perspective. Once you understand how to use the new data model, it’s far easier and far more intuitive because it’s based on how modern websites actually work. 

Find out more

Google Analytics 4 is a powerful data tracking and analysis service, but it’s not the only option out there. If you’d like to explore alternatives, we can help! We created a simple online tool where you can tell us a little bit about your current setup and your goals for your data analysis. Based on that, we deliver a customized recommendation on whether Google Analytics 4 is your best bet or if there’s another tool that’s a better fit for your company. 

Check out our free GA4 migration check:

GA4 migration check

Do you learn better by watching a video? The information in this blog post is also covered in a video on our YouTube channel, Design events in Google Analytics 4 Vs. Universal