You’ve definitely heard it right: Universal Analytics (UA) has likely been an essential tool for you and your team — and it’s sunsetting completely on July 1, 2023. Google Analytics 4 is out now!
Google Analytics 4 (or GA4), first introduced in 2020, is the next evolution of Google’s popular web analytics services. This is a whole new generation of web analytics.
Most websites use Google Analytics to peek at their site visitors, see which pages are the most popular, and check where people are coming from.
But dig beneath the surface, and you’ll find a whole world of valuable insights that will help you measure and optimize your search engine optimization performance.
But here’s the tough part: Google Analytics is notoriously complex and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how to break down the information and use it to inform your SEO efforts. And with the launch of the most significant Google Analytics update ever — Google Analytics 4 —, there’s, even more, to learn and understand on this platform.
Anyone who logs in to Google Analytics will see a notification that the switch to Google Analytics 4 must be made before the 1st of July, 2023. If you don’t switch, no more data will be collected. The old version of Analytics, also known as Universal Analytics, will expire on that date.
This means if you’ve been holding out on switching to Google Analytics 4, your time is almost up.
Though we’ve seen several iterations of Google Analytics over the years, GA4 is fundamentally different from previous versions in the kind of data that gets measured, and how. Long story short: everything is different in GA4.
What can you expect? New report functions, enhanced features, and predictive insights make this new generation of GA more powerful than ever.
Table of content
Google Analytics 4: What is Changing?
Why Should I Switch To Google Analytics 4?
Best Practices to Make the Most of GA4
In short… quite a lot, actually.
GA language is changing. There are many changes in data structure and data collection logic.
GA4 is a step in the right direction when it comes to providing businesses with the insights that matter today, leveraging machine learning and AI components built for the nearing cookieless future.
Thus, here are the four big changes that I see happening with this tool:
With the old Google Analytics, tracking users across platforms was nearly impossible. The new Google Analytics 4 tracks both web and app data in one property (hence the beta name of Google Analytics App+Web).
Cross-platform tracking enables you to see the complete customer journey, including acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention. You can use GA4 to track the user experience from start to finish—and from platform to platform.
This is done through unique user IDs assigned during app or website login.
GA4 is equipped with four different identity methods to help in creating a unified view of cross-device user journeys:
All data associated with the same user—or identity—is assigned to the same identity space. These identity spaces are used across all GA4 reporting, allowing brands and advertisers to de-duplicate their users’ list, and gain a richer understanding of their relationship and interaction with your business.
The metrics of GA4 are drastically different in the ways they are defined and collected. Category, label, action, and value are gone — instead, custom event tracking collects user-defined parameters with each custom event.
Now, instead of focusing on session data, everything is built around users and the events they complete. Every measurable interaction will now be considered an event.
An events-based data model processes each user interaction as a standalone event, which means more in-depth reports and insights. It is making the question less about what happened in a session, and more about the behavior of a user, and the translation of data points into human actions.
Since it’s more focused on the entire guest lifecycle, rather than just the pages they visit along the way, GA4 is more flexible and better able to predict user behavior.
And it’s all underpinned by AI machine learning to provide more detailed insights. This should help you to anticipate a guest’s actions in the future and focus your marketing attention on some of the higher-value segments of your audience.
Moving the focus from sessions to events provides major benefits to marketers such as cross-platform analysis – a unified view between the app and the web, mentioned above.
There are basic events that GA4 will automatically collect, other events it might recommend that you collect based on your website type, and the freedom to customize event collection however you like.
You can set an event yourself, but Google Analytics 4 also measures a number of events by default:
Even if you do not alter the default settings, you will already gain good insight into the behavior of your visitors.
NOTE: There is a limit on the total number of parameters a GA property can collect, so choose carefully.
Not only does GA4 measure and define data differently than UA, but it also looks different.
The way reporting is organised and displayed is changing.
The first change you are likely to notice is the entirely new dashboard with some features looking different or having a different navigation path.
GA4 new layout is centered around the guest lifecycle, with shorter reports and summarised data making it easier to identify key trends. For example, gone are tables upon tables of difficult-to-interpret data, replaced by scorecards and simplified overviews.
In GA4, it is more streamlined and many of the reports you are used to are gone or have been moved. The navigation bar to the right includes buttons for home, reports, explore, advertising, configure, and library.
At the bottom, under Insights, you’ll see predictive insights based on Google’s AI.
The pages and screen report look different in GA4 from those in Universal Analytics. It is no longer called the Landing Pages report but Pages and screens report.
Pages and screens report in GA4 measure the performance of a web page based on the number of views it gets. Pages reports can give you insights into many aspects of your landing page.
Moreover, the navigation path is different for pages and screens reported in GA4.
In Universal Analytics, you would navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages to view your landing pages report. In this report, you can analyze metrics like pageviews, unique pageviews, average time on page, bounce rate, and more.
In Google Analytics 4 you will follow the path Reports > Engagement > Pages and screens to access your pages report. On this screen, you will see two graphs giving you some insights into your top-performing pages. Underneath that, you will find a table report with metrics like views, users, views per user, average engagement time, and more.
The best way to use this report is by exploring various features, metrics, and dimensions to help track and analyze your page performance.
Another important difference is that there are fewer standard reports in Google Analytics 4. So you must set up your own reports to get a proper overview. That takes more time than with Universal Analytics, where everything was more or less set up ready-made.
Real-time reports are a great feature to see the activities on a website as soon as they happen (in the last 30 minutes). This can enable marketers or content creators to make marketing campaigns’ changes or improvements immediately, further optimizing them to improve engagement and conversions.
GA4 allows you to customize the dashboard, enabling you to see the reports that matter most to your business. You can also create custom segments based on trigger events which are essentially a subset of events that occurred on your website or application. This enables you to accurately track customer interactions.
Google Analytics 4 is more privacy-friendly.
With GA4, Google is also trying to focus on the concerns around customer privacy.
As 3rd-party data collection is criticized by privacy advocates, Google is prepared to shift towards using anonymized first-party data, along with consented tracking.
GA4 is being introduced to tackle the growing importance of GDPR and user privacy online, reduce our reliance on cookie data and fill any potential gaps in data using advanced machine learning (ML).
By unifying properties, and collection scopes, and announcing significant server-side capabilities, Google is shifting away from client-side dependencies and is an advanced tool that provides unparalleled insights.
All while making data analysis simpler too. Used effectively it will help you capture business-critical first-party data, which is even more valuable now that third-party data is becoming increasingly scarce.
For example, no more IP addresses of users are gathered and processed. You can also determine whether Google Analytics 4 data may be used for online marketing campaigns.
With the introduction of Google Analytics 4, Google is also trying to address the concerns around online privacy. For example, no more IP addresses of users are gathered and processed. You can also determine whether Google Analytics 4 data may be used for online marketing campaigns.
With GA4’s powered predictive metrics, you can make data-driven decisions on a large scale.
What does this look like? For most businesses, predictive analytics can significantly impact retargeting campaigns. AI metrics include:
With the above metrics, you can create audiences based on their predicted behaviors.
These audiences can then be targeted using Google Ads campaigns or even on social media. These metrics can also improve website performance.
NOTE: GA4 offers even greater integration with Google Ads too, allowing you to build, maintain and share audiences that can help direct your paid search activity. The opportunities are near limitless.
This is the big question – do you need to switch to Google Analytics 4 right now?
Short answer: yes. And… as soon as possible.
Set up a GA4 property to run in parallel with Universal Analytics. Even if you don’t plan on using it right away, collecting data and strengthening your machine learning (ML) models will make future analyses more meaningful.
Better data collection = better-informed marketing strategies.
Google stops processing new hits from the 1st of July 2023. After the switchover to GA4, your Universal Analytics property will stop recording data but remain available to access for “at least 6 months” according to Google. The smart move would be to export all your Universal Analytics data during July 2023 so that you retain a copy of everything you’ve learned over the years. Set a reminder now!
Once UA is gone, your data will be too — meaning you won’t have access to any historical data to measure against in the future.
The only exception to the above is for those using Google Analytics 360. You’ll have until October 1st, 2023, to collect and analyse Universal Analytics data. Lucky things.
We strongly recommend exporting and maintaining hard copies of historical data for your records. Data will not be transferable from UA/GA360 to GA4 properties due to how differently their data models and definitions function and operate.
If you’ve not already set up a GA4 property for your website, do it today even if you don’t plan on fully utilising GA4 until 2023.
Why? For two reasons:
Don’t panic though. Setting up a GA4 property doesn’t mean you lose access to your Universal Analytics property and all the data you’ve gathered so far – you can continue to make use of Universal Analytics in parallel until the switchover in July 2023.
Handily, Google has provided some guidance on how to set up GA4 within their support documentation. If you need some help, let us know. We’re implementing Google Analytics 4 for all our clients.
December 1, 2022
You can set up the direct integration between your website and Google Analytics 4 yourself from December 1, 2022. All you have to do is convert your Google Universal Analytics account to Google Analytics 4, more info on the Google support page. You will then receive a code, and you can link this code to your website or webshop from 1 December.
You can also do this yourself by logging into your Google Analytics account and following the steps.
Because GA4 is an entirely new product, you can’t simply hit an ‘update’ button on your existing Universal Analytics or GA360 property; a new property needs to be created for GA4, and your site will need the appropriate tagging to begin collecting data.
There are two separate setup processes. They are outlined below.
If you currently have a Universal Analytics property for your website, then set up of a Google Analytics 4 property can be completed with the GA4 Setup Assistant.
Important Note: The GA4 setup assistant works automatically with gtag.js. If you use a website builder such as WordPress, Wix, etc., you will need to add the Analytics tag yourself.
If you are unable to “Enable data collection using your existing tags,” it’s for one of three reasons:
In all three cases, you’ll need to add the tag yourself.
To upgrade your Firebase account to Google Analytics 4, follow these steps:
Once upgraded, you can find app analytics in both the Firebase console and Google Analytics.
If you already have the Firebase SDK on your site, make sure you have the latest version and link the app. If your app doesn’t yet have the Firebase SDK, get started in Google Analytics.
Web Properties. A separate tracking code needs to be added to properties. This can be done within existing Google Tag Manager integrations, with no immediate need for code development on sites that are already successfully running Tag Manager. Sites without Tag Manager will need to upgrade their site from analytics.js to gtag.js.
Get in touch now to see how Magecloud can help you migrate to GA4.
Data is forward-facing from the date of installation, so the sooner you add GA4, the more historical data you’ll have. Adding GA4 to your site now — even if you don’t yet have the time to learn the layout, or decide how you’ll use the insights — is so important because it will start capturing data immediately. GA4 will keep running in the background so that when you are ready to explore its capabilities, you’ll have some statistically significant information to work with.
- We at MageCloud offer a free 30-minute website perfomance audit/consultation. The audit will reveal the issues on your eCommerce store and what you can do about them.
If you’re not running GA4 on your site yet, you should get that implemented immediately, so you’re at least starting to collect data. You can customize it later, but just get data collection going.
Once you’ve got GA4 up and running, the next step is familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of GA4. This is another great reason to get GA4 running on your site ASAP.
Take this opportunity to reassess the data you actually need. GA4 automatically collects data from a basic set of events, but also offers enhanced measurement events, recommends events it may deem useful, and allows you to add custom events.
Go beyond conversions and consider user activities — what are your users doing? What do you need to know about what they’re doing? What’s unnecessary? Who do you report to, and what do they need to see?
NOTE: Enhanced measurement rules will help you collect data for a wider range of events, including file downloads, page views, scrolling behavior, and more. While you’re at it, explore recommended and custom events for which you’d like to start collecting data.
To export or not to export? That is the question. Either way, you’ll need to create a plan for the moment when UA disappears (and your historical data disappears along with it). Either way, take some time to consider what data you’ll actually use and weigh that against the time and money it will cost to export and store it.
NOTE: Historical comparison (year-on-year) is going to be more challenging in 2023 as the data from GA4 and Universal Analytics aren’t always easily comparable. That’s why it’s so important to get GA4 setup as soon as possible – so you have a more valuable point of comparison when the switchover is enforced in July 2023.
Google Analytics 4 is a new analytics property offered by Google. It enables users to analyze data from websites, apps, or both websites and apps. GA4 is not simply a redesign of Universal Analytics (UA, it’s an entirely new product so there is a bit of a learning curve./
Similar to Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 is a free property type. There are no costs associated with using one (or more) GA4 properties on your account.
GA4 is extremely customizable, which can make it hard to learn. However, once you get a hang of it, you’ll find you have access to deeper insights you can use to grow your business.
An analytics tool is one of your most powerful marketing weapons. It helps develop an understanding of website traffic and how users behave once on site.
Better analytics insights = better marketing decisions. GA4 is the analytics upgrade we all needed. It provides marketers with more flexibility and a means to predict user behavior while upholding user privacy.
Since there are so many changes to the user interface and methodology, the sooner you start planning, the better.
Fortunately, setting up a GA4 property on your website or app is easy. The steps outlined above should take you less than 10 minutes to complete, so there’s no excuse to put off the transition.