Google Analytics for SaaS - Detailed Guide Exploring the Nuances of Moving to GA4

Rima Karapetyan
27 April 2023
15 min read
GA4 for SaaS


As technology continues to evolve, it is challenging, but also necessary for individuals and businesses to stay up with the latest advancements. One recent example of this is the transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

For more than a decade, UA has been the gold standard for web analytics, but as user behavior has become more complex and multi-channel, the limitations of UA have become more evident. Google Analytics 4 offers excellent SaaS analytics tools for all your needs. It was created in reaction to all constraints and is intended to be more optimized for today's multi-device, multi-channel user journey.

In this guide, we'll explore everything you need to know about moving to GA4, including the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, the improvements and features available in Google Analytics, and how to make the most of these features to drive growth and success for your SaaS business.

Google Analytics vs Google Analytics 4: Main differences explained.

Let's take a look at this infographic about some of the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics.

Tracking Paradigm: In UA, the tracking method is session-based, which means that it tracks the number of times a page is loaded during a session. This method is limited in its ability to track user behavior across multiple devices and channels, as it doesn't account for interactions beyond page views. 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) on the other hand, uses an event-based tracking paradigm, which means it tracks specific user interactions, such as clicks, scrolls, and video views, as well as page views. This method enables you to gain deeper insights into user behavior, as it tracks interactions across multiple devices and channels. Another significant difference between UA and GA4 is that GA4 uses a more intelligent approach to data analysis, with built-in machine learning and AI capabilities. GA4's AI-powered "Insights" feature can automatically identify trends and anomalies in data, providing valuable insights and recommendations for optimization.

The shift from session-based page views to event-based tracking in GA4 represents a significant evolution in the field of data analytics, providing businesses with more comprehensive and customizable insights into user behavior.

Attribution: Attribution in Universal Analytics is generally dependent on the last non-direct click before a conversion, giving the session precedence. This means that if a user interacts with a website or app numerous times, the conversion is attributed to the most recent non-direct source of traffic.

In contrast, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) prioritizes the user in attribution. GA4 uses machine learning to monitor user behavior across several sessions and devices, taking into consideration all touchpoints in the user's journey, not simply the most recent non-direct click. This enables a more comprehensive knowledge of how various marketing channels and touchpoints contribute to a conversion. Furthermore, GA4 introduces a new model called "data-driven attribution," which uses machine learning to analyze the actual conversion paths of individual users and assigns credit to the marketing touchpoints that are most impactful for driving conversions.

The transition from session-based prioritization in UA to user-based prioritization in GA4 enables a more comprehensive understanding of how different touchpoints contribute to conversions, providing businesses with more accurate insights for optimizing their marketing strategies.

Data Setup Organization:  In Universal Analytics (UA), data setup is organized around views within properties. A property is a collection of data associated with a website or mobile app, and views are subsets of that data that allow for customized reporting and analysis.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) leverages data streams within properties for data configuration. A data stream is a collection of information gathered from a single source, such as a website or mobile app. A single property can be associated with many data streams, providing for more detailed control and customization of data analysis. As a result, GA4 offers a more flexible and configurable approach to data creation, allowing businesses to generate independent data streams for different portions of their website or app and analyze the data separately. GA4's data streams can collect data from a variety of sources, including web, mobile apps, and offline sources, providing a more complete picture of user behavior.

This improvement in Google Analytics 4 for SaaS businesses is great, allowing them to better tailor their analytics setup to their specific needs. SaaS businesses rely heavily on metrics such as sign-ups, upgrades, and renewals to gauge their success. With universal analytics, we need to track app events separately, and it was almost impossible to connect website traffic to the app, to better understand which campaigns, blogs, and sources drive the most engaged users. GA4 offers more advanced conversion tracking that allows businesses to see which events lead to conversions and how different segments of users behave in relation to these events.

User Entity Modeling: User entity modeling in Universal Analytics (UA) mostly depends on cookies. A cookie is a short text file saved on a user's device that carries information about their online behavior. This enables UA to recognize repeat users and follow their behavior across numerous sessions. 

For user entity modeling, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) uses a combination of "Google Signals" and cookies. Google Signals is a function that allows GA4 to collect data from people who have enabled tailored ads on their Google account, even if they have never visited the website or app under investigation. Additionally, GA4 employs cookies for user identification and tracking; however, unlike UA, GA4 employs first-party cookies by default. This means that cookies are placed by the website or app being tracked rather than by third-party trackers, resulting in improved data privacy and security.

In general, the combination of Google Signals and first-party cookies in GA4 enables more complete user entity modeling, since businesses can identify and monitor users who have never visited their website or app before, all while protecting data privacy and security.

Engagement Metric: In Universal Analytics (UA), the primary engagement metric is bounce rate. A high bounce rate is typically seen as a negative indicator of user engagement, as it suggests that users are not finding the content they are looking for or are not sufficiently engaged with the website.

The major engagement statistic in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is engagement rate. The percentage of sessions in which a user interacts with the website or app is measured as the engagement rate. Clicks, scrolling, and video views are examples of interactions. A high engagement rate implies that visitors actively engage with the website's or app's content and features.

The difference between these two metrics reflects a shift in how user engagement is defined and measured in GA4. Rather than simply measuring the absence of interaction (as in bounce rate), GA4 focuses on measuring the presence of engagement through a wider range of user interactions, which provides a more comprehensive view of user engagement and allows businesses to better understand how users are interacting with their website or app. It's a huge improvement for content marketing as with GA4, if the user reads the blog and doesn't make an action it's considered a bounce, but in reality, it's an engagement session. Now with the default scroll-depth event, it will be considered an engagement session.

Cross-device tracking։  Cross-device tracking in Universal Analytics (UA) is limited to separate data streams for different devices. This means that if a user accesses a website or app on multiple devices, such as a phone and a laptop, their activity is tracked separately on each device. UA can link these separate data streams together if the user is logged into the website or app on each device, or if they have previously provided identifying information such as an email address.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) offers more advanced cross-device tracking capabilities. GA4 allows businesses to combine multiple data streams into a single property, which means that user activity across multiple devices is tracked together. This is made possible through a combination of advanced tracking techniques, including cross-device tracking through Google signals and the use of first-party cookies.

In B2B SaaS industry the decision-making is not impulsive. What we see from our clients is that user clicks- on 1-3 ads, and blogs from different devices, before signing up to test a platform or schedule a demo, so this is a huge improvement.

Data Storage: Universal Analytics (UA) allows businesses to choose their data storage period, with options ranging from 14 to 50 months. This means that user data is stored for a longer period of time, which can be useful for businesses that need to analyze historical data and trends.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has a default data retention period of just 2 months, with an option to extend it to 14 months (make sure you switched this metric to 14 months). This shorter data storage period is due to privacy concerns and the increasing focus on data protection regulations, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

While a shorter data storage period may seem like a limitation, it can actually be beneficial for businesses in several ways. First, it helps to ensure compliance with data privacy regulations, as businesses are not holding onto user data for longer than necessary. Second, it encourages businesses to focus on more recent data and trends, which can be more relevant to their current goals and strategies. Finally, it can help to reduce storage costs and optimize performance, as less data is being stored and processed.

Reports: Universal Analytics (UA) provides a lot of pre-defined reports that are organized into categories such as Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. These reports are designed to provide businesses with a broad overview of their website or app performance and allow them to quickly access commonly used metrics and dimensions.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4), on the other hand, features fewer pre-defined reports but provides more flexibility with its "Explore" area. This section enables businesses to generate custom reports and dashboards by selecting the dimensions and metrics to be analyzed, as well as applying various filters and segments. GA4 also features a number of AI-powered insights that can give businesses valuable data-driven recommendations.

While UA's pre-defined reports are useful for quickly accessing commonly used metrics and dimensions, they can also be limiting in terms of customization and flexibility. GA4's Explore section, in contrast, enables businesses to produce more customized reports and obtain deeper insights into their data, which can be very valuable for businesses that want to track certain goals or metrics. In the B2B SaaS mostly used are funnel and user path reports, so make sure you track unique events and page views to see the insightful report.

Audience creation: Universal Analytics audience creation is based on predefined segments such as demographics, technology, and behavior. These segments are limited in number and cannot be easily modified or customized. However, they can still provide valuable insights into audience behavior and help optimize marketing campaigns.

GA4 offers greater flexibility and customization options for audience creation. It enables users to build audiences based on a variety of criteria such as events, user characteristics, and custom dimensions. Businesses can develop more focused audiences and acquire deeper insights into audience behavior with this level of customization.

Audiences in GA4

Now you can unlock the full potential of your website's audience with Google Analytics 4. We will tell you about the "Pirate Metrics" model in GA4 for SaaS businesses.

The AARRR is a framework used by businesses to measure and optimize their customer acquisition, retention, and revenue. We use this model to target the most relatable audiences for our clients.

The AARRR model consists of five key metrics:

  1. Acquisition - the process of bringing in new customers
  2. Activation - the process of getting customers to use your product/service for the first time
  3. Retention - the process of keeping customers engaged and coming back
  4. Revenue - the process of generating revenue from your customers
  5. Referral - the process of getting your customers to refer new customers to your business

For B2B SaaS companies, the AARRR model can be modified slightly to better fit their business model. At WeScale, we use AARRR-related audiences for retargeting and converting customers. Here are some audience ideas you can create and how to do it;

1. For Acquisition:

Actively visiting BOF blogs and product pages: Consider offering a discount or special offer to encourage these visitors to sign up for your product/service.

MQLs for free demos: Provide personalized follow-up communication to these leads, highlighting the benefits of your product/service and offering to schedule a demo.

SQL: Offer a free trial or demo of your product/service to encourage these leads to convert.

MQLs for free signups: Offer a discount or special offer to encourage these leads to sign up for your product/service.

How: Create a custom event to track website visits using the "Page_view" event in GA4. Additionally, you can set up a goal to track the number of leads and demos requested, which can be done using the "Conversion" event in GA4.

Why: Tracking website visits and lead/demos requested can help you understand the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and identify areas for improvement. Setting up goals for leads/demos requested can also help you measure the impact of your sales efforts.

2. For Activation:

Activated but not converted: Offer personalized recommendations based on their interests and usage of the product/service, and provide additional support to help them overcome any barriers to conversion.

Signups slipping away: Send a personalized email or message reminding them of the benefits of your product/service and providing additional resources or support to help them become more engaged with the product/service.

How: Create a custom event to track account creation and activation using the "SignUp" or "Login" event in GA4.

Why: Tracking account creation and activation can help you identify potential areas for improvement in your onboarding process. You can use this data to optimize your onboarding process to increase the percentage of users who activate their accounts.

3. For Retention:

Active users: Offer personalized resources and support to help these users get the most value from your product/service, and provide personalized recommendations for additional features or upgrades they may be interested in.

Churning users: Offer personalized communication to identify any issues they may be experiencing and provide support to help them overcome these issues. Additionally, consider offering incentives or discounts to encourage them to stay with your product/service.

How: Create custom events to track user engagement metrics such as time spent using the product and frequency of logins using custom events in GA4.

Why: Tracking user engagement metrics can help you identify the level of user engagement with your product and identify opportunities for improvement. By understanding how users are engaging with your product, you can optimize the product experience to improve retention rates.

4. For Revenue:

Paid signups: Offer personalized recommendations for additional products/services they may be interested in, and provide ongoing support to ensure they are getting the most value from your product/service.

Paid signups (by plan): Offer personalized upgrade recommendations based on their usage of the product/service and the benefits of higher-tier plans.

How: Set up e-commerce tracking to measure ARPU and MRR using the "Purchase" event in GA4.

Why: Measuring revenue metrics can help you understand the financial health of your business and identify opportunities for growth. By tracking revenue metrics, you can optimize pricing and marketing strategies to increase revenue.

5. For Referral:

How:  Create a custom event to track the number of referrals generated by current customers using a custom event in GA4.

Why: Tracking referrals can help you understand the effectiveness of your customer referral program and identify opportunities to increase referrals. By measuring the number of referrals generated by current customers, you can optimize your referral program to increase the number of new customers acquired through referrals.

Why GA4 is fundamentally better than UA for SaaS businesses?

Reading blogs, attending webinars, and exploring product pages tend to be essential steps before signing up. But with Universal Analytics, these events were scattered across various platforms, making it difficult to provide a complete picture of user behavior.

With the advent of GA4, Google has brought life-changing enhancements for marketers. All user data is now unified into a single property, making it easier for demand generation professionals to track campaign ROI, SEO managers to identify the most effective blog material, and marketers to make data-driven decisions like never before.

It's like they took our data mess and turned it into data success! 😅

What will happen after turning off the UA on July 1st

To be more specific, Google Analytics will cease data processing, which means that your standard UA property will no longer function as it does today. However, businesses should not be confused if they can still access their accounts after July 1st - it will take time to entirely phase out the product for all businesses. Historical data will be available for six months to aid with period-over-period comparisons, giving businesses a chance to export their historical data even after sunset.

GA4 for SaaS; implementation steps to take now

Upgrading to GA4 is a big step forward for any business that wants to stay ahead of the curve with its analytics strategy. With GA4, you'll have access to new and improved features. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to upgrade to GA4 is the ability to compare historical data. By getting started with GA4 now, you'll be able to track your data from this point forward and seamlessly compare it to your historical data from Universal Analytics. This will provide you with a holistic view of your analytics data and help you make informed decisions based on a complete picture of user behavior.

There will be a learning curve when it comes to navigating the new GA4 interface and understanding the new data model, but with the potential benefits that come with upgrading, it's well worth the effort to get started sooner rather than later.

At WeScale, we’ve set up 20+ new analytics accounts for our SaaS clients and created a guide to simplify the process.