How to Set Up Google Analytics 4

by Ben Yehle | July 1, 2021

As of October, 2020 marketers no longer have the ability to set up Google’s Universal Analytics accounts to track website performance. Websites that had Universal Analytics prior were grandfathered in. Instead, new websites will need to learn how to set up Google Analytics 4.

This doesn’t mean websites operating on Universal Analytics will never have to make the switch. In fact, these websites should set up Google Analytics 4 sooner rather than later to start accumulating data and setting up reports. 

This article will help marketers understand how to set up Google Analytics 4 for a seamless transition to the new model. It’s important to be aware of these changes, because without a firm grasp, marketers won’t be able to get what they need to analyze site performance.

How to Set Up Google Analytics 4

The key for setting up Google Analytics 4 is to not abandon your legacy reporting in Universal Analytics. The transition will not be immediate, so when getting started in Google Analytics 4, Universal Analytics will fill in any data gaps while you acclimate to the new platform.

There is a Google Analytics 4 Setup Assistant within the platform’s administration tools. For those with gtag.js, once you select the appropriate property, the setup wizard will do the heavy lifting for you. 

If you use a website plugin, Google Tag Manager or an analytics.js snippet, you’ll need to go about placing the Google Analytics 4 HTML yourself.

Luckily, Google Tag Manager already has pre-built tags if you are looking for a relatively painless way to upgrade your tracking.

How is Google Analytics 4 Focused on Privacy?

At the most basic level, Google Analytics is now very privacy-centric to comply with new data privacy regulations. While it’s still possible to access the key findings Google Analytics typically provided, it’s categorized differently to better allow users to comply with privacy laws. This is most evident in an overhaul of the data model.

Rather than sharing specific actions like page views, Google Analytics 4 now labels actions broadly using the word “events” to anonymize data. Events can be anything from site visits to clicks. While you’ll get data, it’s deeply generalized so you’ll get to track conversions and attributions. But, you won’t be able to identify or track users for those choosing to preserve their privacy. 

How does Google Analytics 4 Store Data Differently?

Data storage is where much of the data privacy adjustments are most prominent. Universal Analytics defaulted to a specific time limit on data storage. But, you could override it if you wanted to keep it for longer. Google Analytics 4 removes the override function, meaning you only have 14 months of storage without exception. 

However, Google Analytics 4 now directly links to BigQuery. This means you no longer need to work with a third party to store data on your end, making the external storage limits easier to manage. 

As a benefit, Google Analytics 4 ties each event to the user now, rather than by events within sessions. This makes it much easier for marketers to identify all actions attributed to a user, unlike with Universal Analytics where all sessions might not be correctly tied. With this new user-focused data structure, it is much easier to handle privacy requests to remove someone’s data.

This is extremely important now, because as soon as your data is moved from Google Analytics 4 onto one of your properties, it is your responsibility to comply with the new data privacy legislation. While owning this process isn’t new, the stakes are higher. You can use Google Analytics 4’s request feature to provide the pertinent user information and instruct them to delete.

How are Reports Different in Google Analytics 4?

Also, Google Analytics 4 won’t provide you with pre-built templates, so you’ll need to think ahead and build these frameworks for yourself. For instance, there are less pre-grouped reports. While it’s still possible to build them yourself based on the metrics you need, they’re not immediately forthcoming with deep data sets. This allows for more flexibility overall, but puts a little more work on your plate to group together what you need.

Does Google Analytics 4 Make it Easier to Identify Users?

In Universal Analytics, user identification was a little complex to interpret. Using the two categories available, whether User ID or Client ID, you couldn’t unify the view and consolidate sessions for any one user.

Now, Google Analytics 4 employs several methods to cross-reference and deduplicate users. While the amount of returns or unique users you have might be lower than expected, you can have more faith in the veracity of the data since it’s been compiled from multiple sources.

Will My Website Traffic Be Subject to Sampling?

If you have large amounts of traffic and decide to combine metrics beyond the typical scope of pre-aggregated tables, you will eventually find yourself subject to sampling. Sampling is the process of analyzing a subset of data for study and reporting based on the similarity detected within it, plus the larger data set. Google Analytics 4 always samples several reports while not sampling a few others.

Google Analytics 4 will use only a small amount of the data to provide reports. But, let’s say it only processes 1% of your traffic, the reports won’t be accurate unless the 1% is a good representation of your entire data set. Again, though, sampling typically only applies to websites with high traffic.


There’s still a lot to learn about the new data model and how it affects Google Analytics 4. Because of new data privacy legislation, this is one of many steps toward a more privacy-focused approach to digital marketing. Since you’re getting more anonymized data from Google Analytics 4, you’ll need to consider other methods of getting first-party data through value exchanges in marketing and enticing creative.

As we learn more, the tool will make it clear how to use this anonymized data to your benefit, but the fact remains, it won’t be as detailed. Start working on your additional data-gathering messages today.

Silverback Strategies is offering a data privacy audit to get you on the path to a cookie-less but high-performing digital marketing strategy. Request yours today.

Ben Yehle

Additional Resources