Google Analytics 4 or GA4 for short, has been around for a while. But it has recently been announced that Google will be sunsetting Universal Analytics (UA) in favour of pushing everyone to use GA4 as the primary method of website analytics.
Here I will go through GA4 and the changes that you will see in your measurements after July 1st 2023, the date that Universal Analytics will stop processing information.
– What changes Google Analytics 4 is bringing?
– What does that mean for you?
– And, how to practically implement the right set-up for GA4
How Is GA4 Different?
Well, to state the obvious, it’s the fourth version of Google Analytics. Replacing Universal Analytics (I’ll call it UA for simplicity) which we’ve had since 2012. And which we will still have up to 1st July 2023.
UA was built for a world when Facebook IPO’ed, Google+ launched, 4G launched, and Myspace died. Marketers were data hungry and would do anything to get as much information as possible to inform their decisions. However, the online world is a much different place 10 years on in 2022, with online privacy and cookie-less browsing being high on people’s lists. That’s where the next generation of Google Analytics comes in. GA4 has been designed to work in a cookie-less, multi-device world: bringing your mobile, desktop and app worlds into a single place.
GA4 is based on predictive analytics – it will help you spot trends and predict what is coming in the near future, too. As marketers – this will help us double down on what is working and discard what is not.
Finally, it’s built from the ground up: as opposed to GA3, which is a version of analytics that had been built on an existing coding base, therefore carrying forward some of those flaws into the latest iteration.
Basically… GA4 is a complete learning curve over GA3 that is better to learn today than waiting till the last minute. At the end of the day though, this is something that anyone involved in marketing needs to care about!
Why Does This Matter?
In short, GA4 will be the only method of gathering data in Google after July 1st 2023. As I have mentioned above Google will be sunsetting UA on this date, which means that if you are reliant on this information for your business then you will be stuck with no information moving forward.
However, in the same blog post that announced this, Google also shared that ‘you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in Universal Analytics [UA] for at least six months.
Translation: there is a high likelihood that Google will delete your historical Google Analytics data at some point after those six months are up. To be clear: these are rumours right now, but it’s unlikely that Google will change their mind too drastically. In other words, they might delete the data after 6, 12 or 18 months. Either way after 6 months is up it becomes a guessing game.
If you measure month over month, or year over year comparison – then you need to make the move over to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible to build the necessary historical data before Universal Analytics stops processing new hits.
This is because GA4 and GA3 data are not the same. Even though some of the language is familiar, how these metrics are counted is different between the two platforms. The result is in a year’s time, if you’re comparing 2022 GA3 data and 2023 GA4 data – you’re going to be comparing apples to oranges.
Here’s What You Need To Do
- Configure your GA4 property (it takes less than 10 minutes)
- Turn on enhanced measurement: this allows GA4 to automatically track page views, scrolls, external link clicks, site searches, video plays and file downloads
- Turn on Google Signals: Allows GA4 to automatically report user demographics and interests, and more accurately track users across different devices and platforms
- Use Google Tag Manager to create additional events (goals): your UA goals will not carry through to GA4
- Note: GA4 limits the number of custom events you can create: which means you need to be thoughtful about which events you want to create
- Start creating your current reports in GA3 and GA4, so you can begin to work through the differences
- Follow Google Analytic’s blog for updates and changes to GA4. And optionally;
- Turn on BigQuery integration – this will mean you can capture your GA3 data before it’s gone. This is more advanced, but the first step is just creating an account – so then the data is becoming captured.