Google Analytics 4, more commonly referred to as GA4, is Google’s replacement for Universal Analytics. UA will cease operations in July next year, after which it will stop collecting data.
Like it or not, GA4 will soon be our only option for collecting user data – but why shut down Universal Analytics in the first place?
Why is Google forcing us to upgrade to GA4?
Over the past few years, people have become increasingly aware of their data and what companies are doing with it.
Even though legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been passed, people are still concerned about their data and how it is being used – the rise of VPN services advertising untraceable private browsing is testament to this concern.
Google has announced that it will also remove third-party cookies next year, as Firefox and Safari have already done. This means that over 80% of browser traffic will not include third-party cookies, and UA will not be able to accurately track them.
Google will not create identifiers to track people as they browse the internet.
These changes to third-party cookies will have a huge impact on how advertising will work in the future – the ability to remarket to site visitors is expected to change significantly.
How is GA4 different from Universal Analytics?
While there are many differences between UA and GA4, the biggest difference in using GA4 and its functionality is event tracking.
Anyone who has used UA is familiar with visitor session tracking. A session starts when a visitor enters your site and will end if they leave the site, the session expires after 30 minutes or if the time passes midnight. A new session will start if the visitor continues the activity after 30 minutes if they come back through another campaign.
As GA4 uses events rather than sessions, then the pageview event will fire every time someone visits, regardless of time frames or time between sessions.
During a session, your user can click on certain buttons, access different pages, fill out forms, etc. These are events and up to 30 of them can be converted into conversions which are substitutes for the goals that UA uses.
Without session tracking, many out-of-the-box reports available in UA will not be present in GA4. To replace these standard reports, GA4 allows you to create custom reports instead. Using research, for example, you can create a sales funnel or event-based session that you can then use to compare different customer journeys.
This change makes setting events and audiences extremely important as they will be used to build a picture of how visitors are using the site and what problems there may be in driving conversions.
For example, an e-commerce site would have to use multiple events such as ‘session_start’, ‘view_produc’t’, ‘add_to_cart’ and ‘purchase’ to build a complete picture. Of these events, a ‘purchase’ may be the only one that is tracked as a conversion.
This new setting will mean that a GA4 account will have many more events than a UA account should.
Finally, it’s worth noting that GA4 only allows one property per location. This means that if you get your account wrong, you won’t be able to open a new property to start over. So it’s vital that you get your test property set up and working perfectly before you push it to your live object.
What a difference it makes to ensure their customers experience a smooth transition to GA4
Long before July 2022. The difference set up trial accounts for all your customers to give them a chance to familiarize themselves with GA4 and the features available to them. This means their customers have a full year of historical UA data to compare year-over-year before UA shuts down on July 1, 2023.
They work with their clients to create and implement a measurement strategy that will mean the transition to GA4 is as smooth as possible and will set them up for successful and accurate data collection in the future.
Some of their clients will launch new sites immediately after moving to GA4. So, Distinction accommodates this by creating an initial GA4 account that will collect some data but have minimal features so that they can invest time perfecting their new website property once the site goes live.
Your GA4 checklist
July 2023 may seem like a long way off, but organizations need to act now or risk losing year-over-year data comparisons that are key to identifying market trends, as well as giving you better context on how your website is performing against to past performance. By taking the steps below, you will mitigate this risk as much as possible.
Set up a GA4 demo account as soon as possible
It may seem like you have plenty of time to prepare for the switch, but the GA4 takes time and effort to set up properly. Set up a trial account now and get used to the new interface. Work with events to make sure everything is working as expected before transferring to a live account.
Remember, GA4 only allows one property per site, you can’t afford to rush this setup or have bugs in your live account as they will affect your already limited data.
Create a measurement strategy
You need to consider how you will follow your visitors through the events. The events you choose can map different user journeys and must be tailored to the needs of your business. You will also need to set up any custom reports.
Get your GA4 account working with UA
Currently, the only way to transfer your UA data to GA4 would be to get a paid account with Analytics 360 which, depending on the size of your site, could cost upwards of £100,000.
To ensure a smooth transition without paying to transfer your UA data, you should aim to get GA4 up and running alongside UA as soon as possible. When UA sunsets, you’ll have at least a year’s worth of data to start with.
Check if your current tracking integrates with GA4
Ask your other monitoring providers how they are adapting to GA4. Be wary of those who try to duck the question, you wouldn’t want to end up with a reduced following.
Test, test, test and review
Test your GA4 setup and get it working perfectly before you move it live. Keep in mind that you’ll only have one property for your site and one chance to get this transition right, so don’t move until you’ve tested everything and are sure this is a setup you want to live with for the foreseeable future.
Export your UA data
While Google hasn’t directly said it will remove UA data, there are hints that it won’t store your data forever.
They recommend downloading your UA data within six months of the transfer.