We’re sure you’ve heard—beginning on July 1, 2023, Google will sunset Universal Analytics and replace it with their new measurement solution, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). The bad news? When we say Universal Analytics is going away, that includes historical data you’ve been collecting throughout the months/years your team has had Google Analytics installed on your website. The good news is that Google will still allow you to view processed data in your UA property up to six months past the July 1, 2023 date (so please export your historical data ASAP!) and you’ve still got time to put together an implementation strategy for moving your tracking requirements to this new platform. But where do you even start?
We’re breaking down what you’ll find in GA4, best practices for planning and implementation, and why while we know it sounds like a pain now, we’re pretty excited about what the future of tracking will look like.
GA4 vs. Universal Analytics: What’s Different?
Everything is an Event
Universal Analytics was a session-based platform, sending a cookie to a user’s web browser that allowed us to view and collect “hits” (pageviews, events, transactions, etc.). This data was grouped into a session showing all user interactions that took place within a specific time frame.
GA4, on the other hand, is completely event-based. All user interactions are stored as events and include additional information related to the event (like the geographic location of the user, what page the user completed the action on, etc.). You’ll still be able to see session data, but now you’ll have more information regarding the action that took place.
Enhanced Measurement Makes Your Life Easier
Speaking of events, Google Analytics 4 gives us four different types of events: Automatic, Enhanced Measurement, Recommended, and Custom.
- Automatic events: By default, GA4 will automatically collect events like first_visit, session_start, etc. View a full list here.
- Enhanced measurement: This one might be our favorite one. With Universal Analytics, to track events like page scroll depth, video engagement, file downloads, and outbound link clicks, you’d have to implement some code or create tags within Tag Manager to get the job done. In GA4, these events are automatically collected with the click of a toggle.
Privacy is Now a Priority
Over the last couple of years, data privacy and security laws like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act have begun to give people more control over their personal data and if/how it is stored. This is great for us on a personal level, but not so much when it comes to website tracking. A key reason for GA4 being created was to solve for this rise in privacy concerns. So, while third party cookies are still used in GA4, this new platform relies less on cookies and instead provides a variety of other built-in privacy features. These include:
- IP addresses are no longer stored
- GA4 offers data deletion requests for if you need to delete data from the Analytics servers for any reason
- Google Signals provide information on users who have consented to Ads Personalization data collection and usage, but users have the power to turn this off on their own
- GA4 has a stricter set of data retention settings, only allowing you to keep data for either 2 or 14 months
See a Unified Customer Journey
It’s safe to expect website visitors to have multiple interactions with your website on various devices. GA4 can make use of a combination of user identifiers like User ID, Google Signals, and Client ID to track individual users across multiple devices which shows you a more holistic picture of how users engage with your website.
While Universal Analytics has a number of pre-made reports built-in, GA4 provides many more options in terms of report customization through its Explorations feature. An Exploration is a fully-custom report that’s built as a sort of combination of a pivot table and a Data Studio report. Build custom charts and tables using the Free Form Exploration to dig into particular areas of analytical interest, or use a Funnel Exploration to create a visual reputation of your ecommerce site’s cart abandonment rate. You do need to know what type of data you’re looking for to make the best use of Explorations, but advanced marketers should find this feature considerably more valuable than UA’s simple built-in reports.
Why We Recommend Switching to GA4
The urge to move to a different tracking platform altogether may be strong, we get it, but truly Google Analytics 4 is still the way to go.
It Can Track Alongside Universal Analytics
You don’t need to immediately give up Universal Analytics and take the plunge into solely using GA4. During the transitional period between now and July 1, 2023, you can run Universal Analytics side-by-side with GA4. Your data will track in two different properties, giving you the opportunity to view your website’s analytics data in both instances and compare and contrast the platforms. It’s best to get GA4 installed ASAP so that after the big switch, you have as much historical data as possible in the platform.
You Can Still Connect with Google’s Suite of Tools
One of the biggest advantages of using Google Analytics over other platforms is how well it integrates with Google’s suite of marketing and analytics tools, like Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio), Search Console, Google Ads, and BigQuery. GA4 is no different, as it prioritizes acting on your data, not just analyzing it.
Google Will Always be the Gold Standard
You just can’t go wrong with Google Analytics. It’s free (see below), easy to set up, customizable, and provides robust insights into your website users’ behavior. It even has dedicated training resources marketers can use to refine their data analysis skills.
It’s Still Free
At the end of the day, Google Analytics is by far the most powerful, free analytics tool on the market, and will remain that way as GA4 takes over.
Need help getting started with GA4? Contact us and let our strategy team guide you!
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