Moving to GA4 together with Analytics Canvas

Ameet Wadhwani Analytics

Analytics Canvas has been the most powerful connector for Google Analytics for over a decade. Having worked with the Google Analytics team since 2010 as Trusted Testers, developing extensively on GA APIs including the new Google Analytics Data API for GA4, we have yet to come across a connector as comprehensive and capable as ours.  

We've tackled the GA reporting challenges that our customers have struggled with; sampling, multiple accounts, huge data volumes, etc., and included those solutions directly in our connectors.  

And it shows. Analysts, consultants, and developers around the world have used our software to make over 100 Million API calls and counting. They depend on Analytics Canvas to query thousands of Views, analyze millions of rows, schedule complex workflows, and deliver data where and when it's needed.  

We've taken everything we've learned over the years and applied it to our new connector for GA4. But this time we've built it our leading-edge cloud infrastructure, taking things to a whole new level!

Introducing the new Google Analytics Data API integration [GA4] in Analytics Canvas Online!

We pushed the limits of the GA4 Data API, overcoming query complexity limits, managing quota, and delivering results where less sophisticated integrations fail. This makes our connector ideal for:

  • high volume properties
  • brands with multiple properties
  • agencies with multiple accounts (credentials) 
  • warehousing GA4 data
  • avoiding the new quota limits, and more.

But most importantly, we’ve developed these solutions with a focus on analysts who work with GA data as part of their reporting responsibilities. 

We’ve made dealing with data freshness a core function of the app, so that you no longer have to worry about incremental loads or data reprocessing impacting the accuracy of your reports. 

We automatically store your queries in ‘smart tables’ that are versioned, contain data about which reports and workflows they are used in, and are available for other users in the subscription.

Finally, for those of you reporting across more than one GA property, we’ve made it easier than ever to download data from multiple Google accounts and multiple GA4 properties.

With Analytics Canvas Online, Canvas users can now:

  • query thousands of Properties across dozens of credentials,
  • load hundreds of millions of rows quickly and with no manual intervention
  • store all GA4 data in Analytics Canvas Smart Tables
  • publish huge, multi-Property datasets to our high-performance Data Studio connector
  • schedule workflows or trigger pipelines and dashboard updates with the click of a button
  • manage it all without writing a single line of code

These features combine to offer a “GA4 Data Warehouse in a Box”.  Simply dial in your queries and Canvas will take care of the rest, storing tables of any size, keeping them refreshed, and making curated queries available throughout your subscription for other users to access on demand.

How does reporting change for GA4? 

Along with the change from UA to GA4 comes an entirely new data model.  Dashboards will need to be updated, reports will have to be redrawn, websites and apps will have to setup tags for GA4. In short, everything is changing.

BigQuery export for GA4

Google now offers to export your GA4 data to BigQuery for both Standard and 360 accounts, and we strongly encourage all GA4 property owners to enable to the BigQuery export for your GA4 properties.  

The data retention period for GA4 is at most 14 months. The only way to keep data longer than 14 months is to either store it yourself or enable the BigQuery export. 

The BigQuery export is not subject to the data limits and quota imposed by the Google Analytics Data API, however it is limited to 1M events per day unless you have a 360 account. 

The costs for storage are very low - from pennies per month for small sites, to a few hundred per month for incredibly large sites. Processing costs will vary, but generally are very low.  With tools like Canvas you can set budgets and control your cost easily. 

With your data in BigQuery, it can be imported into a Canvas workflow using the BigQuery connector in Canvas Desktop or Online, and you will be able to make queries that are just not possible with the API due to limits and quotas. 

Quota and Collection limited reporting under GA4

Those with high data volumes will be impacted by the Analytics Property Quotas.  They are applied to the entire property both hourly and daily and everyone's usage counts towards it.  

There are also limits on features, such as Event Parameters and Custom Dimensions, based on Standard and 360 service levels

Requests for large numbers of rows, large numbers of columns, complex filters, or long date ranges will consume and potentially exhaust the per-hour and per-day quotas.

Analytics Canvas displays and reports the quota available and used by each of your queries so that you can see how your quota is being consumed by Canvas.

Canvas minimizes the amount of quota required by using a variety of techniques, including incrementally loading existing queries. Canvas also detects the more expensive queries and attempts to run the query in smaller batches or over longer periods to ensure a complete load. As a result, Canvas can often return a complete dataset for queries that fail in other applications. 

Collection Limits: 

There are a number of collection limits that may impact your reporting.  Unfortunately if you surpass a collection limit, the data will not be collected and therefore cannot be reported.

To manage within the 1M event export limit to BigQuery for Standard accounts, Google suggests excluding data streams and events during the linking process using filters. Of course you can always upgrade to Analytics360 for GA4, which does not have any limits on data collection.

Is there still sampling in GA4?

There is a form of sampling in the new GA4 web interface in non-standard reports and Explorations when the query is complex or or exceeds 10M events for Standard accounts and 1B events for 360 accounts.

While there is no sampling in the GA4 API (horray!) if your query is too expensive, GA4 will just return NO data instead of sampled data (boo!).  

Similar to avoiding sampling with our UA connector, we have developed algorithms that detect these ‘expensive’ queries and respond to the API’s error messaging. Where possible, Canvas then develops a query plan and executes it in batches that are acceptable to the Data API, returning a complete data set to the user.

This means that we can often return to you the full data set in cases that would fail through the web UI or other API connectors.

High Cardinality Sampling - aka Report Query Limiting

Those who encountered "Report Query Limiting" in UA, where high cardinality columns resulted in a row of values called "(other)" will be familiar with this concept.  

Whereas in UA, standard accounts had a limit of 50,000 unique values in a column, in GA4 this number is further reduced to 20,000 unique values per day. However, this is not as straight forward as it sounds.

That 20K number is not based on your individual query, but rather the backend table that is housing the underlying data. For this reason you may see "(other)" even in cases where the cardinality is far less than 20,000.

Like with UA, Canvas can attempt to reduce or eliminate "(other)", however since this can consume a lot of resource tokens, this option is not selected by default.

Querying multiple accounts, properties, and sub-properties in GA4

While Universal Analytics was organized into Accounts, Properties, and Views, GA4 is organized into Accounts, Properties and sub-properties (for Analytics360 customers) that are fed by Data Streams.

In other words, if you want a filtered view of your data, you must now create your own views in your data warehouse or within the reports you are creating.

Roll-up properties in GA4 are only available to Analytics360 customers.  For everyone else, Analytics Canvas has a solution. 

Multiple Properties and Sub-Properties in Analytics Canvas

Many Canvas customers, from auto dealerships to restaurant franchises, are reporting on multiple UA views.  Whether you generate new properties for each view or use sub properties, Canvas allows you to make a single GA4 query across multiple properties and sub-properties at once. 

Canvas provides a helpful user interface to show all Properties that each credential can access, allows you to upload and download a list of Properties to query from, and ensures there's no duplicated properties in cases where credentials overlap.

Multiple Google Accounts in Analytics Canvas

There's also a solution for those agencies, consultants, and brands that have more than one Google account to access data from more than one Analytics account. 

Canvas Online introduces centralized credential management. You can authorize all of your Google accounts that have access to GA4 properties and query against all of them at once.  You can even share Read access with other users in the subscription so that new users can jump into Canvas and have full access to both curated tables and raw data without having access to your Google account!

Data retention and how to backup your GA4 and Universal Analytics data

Some organizations are required to retain data while others find value in analyzing the historic data. As of July 2023 Universal Analytics will stop recording data, and as of January 1st, 2024, the Google Analytics Reporting API V4 (for Universal Analytics) will no longer return data.  

With GA4, the data retention period is either 2 months or 14 months. This means that the maximum amount of data you will ever be able to get from the GA4 API is 14 months. Be sure to set your retention period or you may end up on the low end of that!

For this reason, we strongly encourage customers to enable the BigQuery export, even on small sites, and to use Canvas Online to backup and store your GA4 data.

Those who are already warehousing GA data with Canvas are in great shape. Those who are not will either lose that historic data or will need to find a way to archive it.

Canvas has all the tools needed to create GA data backups of your UA data and maintain a GA4 data warehouse in your own database or within Canvas Online itself. 

Getting Started with GA4 in Analytics Canvas

This new functionality is available within Analytics Canvas Online and included in all trials and subscriptions as of today.  Simply login to Canvas Online, drag the Google Analytics import on to your canvas, and you will now see an option to create a GA4 table.

Wrapping Up

Canvas Online extracts GA4 data in accordance with practices established by data engineers who specialize in Google Analytics and GA4.

We've studied the API extensively, worked with GA consultants around the world, and worked alongside our customers to develop what we believe is the best GA4 API connector in the industry. We're committed to continuous development on the GA4 API and maintaining it to the high standards our customers have come to expect.   

The GA4 connector is included in all subscriptions and Analytics Canvas is available from just $49/mo! 

Sign-up to start your free trial and dive right in, contact us with your questions or book a time to connect with one of us for a demo or discussion about your Google Analytics reporting needs.

Next Steps

Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you with your GA4 reporting challenges:

  1. Get your data from the GA4 API or BigQuery 
  2. Blend GA4 data together with other data sources 
  3. Clean and prepare data sets prior to reporting in Data Studio, Tableau, PowerBI, etc.

Ready for the next step?

  • Start a 30 day risk-free trial. No credit card or sales call required. 
  • Schedule a demo for you and your team.
  • Contact us to discuss plans and pricing or activate your subscription 

Wondering if Canvas is right for you? Check out the related articles to learn more about our GA4 connector.