Welcome Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and goodbye Universal Analytics (UA)

Welcome Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and goodbye Universal Analytics (UA)

GA4 smart analytics

All of us in the industry knew it was coming, and now we have new dates!  Google has extended the due date that everyone using Google Analytics will be forced to migrate from Universal Analytics (the old Google Analytics platform) to Google Analytics 4 (the new platform) which is July 2023, however, we are noticing they are pushing this to happen before then. 

If you are using Google Ads as well as Google Analytics, you would have noticed that 4% to 5% of your optimisation score comes from just upgrading to the newest version of Google Analytics – so across the Google platform, we are seeing reasons to make the move sooner, rather than later.

But, why the switch to Google Analytics 4?

We get it. Why change when you’re used to UA? This was certainly the sentiments of one of our directors the moment I announced this was happening, and I feel the same. However, there are some logical (and legal) reasons for Google to make the change.

First of all, we have to understand that Google Universal Analytics was launched back in 2005, and the whole internet environment was totally different then. Some key differences include that anything mobile-related was still in nappies meaning most users accessed the internet back then via the desktop. Back then, tablets were still only a medical term (not a device to access the internet), the volume of transactions on e-commerce was significantly smaller, and YouTube was just being launched! Talk about a different world. 

As you can imagine, creating software to collect data from the 2005 internet environment would have been totally different from the one needed nowadays so in that regard a change is certainly needed.

Moving to a cookieless environment

GA4 cookieless environment

Sorry Cookie Monster, but we are moving away from cookies. In case you hadn’t heard the term, “cookies” are small blocks of data created by a web server while a user is browsing a website and placed on the user’s computer or other device by the user’s web browser. Up until now, every time you access a website you are leaving cookies, which is basically a data tracker that the website owner can access to market to you moving forward. This can be handy as it means you can be served with websites you have visited before and shown interest in.

However, research around the world is showing people are pretty concerned about their online privacy and they don’t always like the idea of this, even though cookies are relatively simple and harmless. In fact, I believe that one of the main reasons Google launched Analytics 4 is that it is their way to respond to customer concerns and ensure they are keeping pace with legislation around data protection. For Google Analytics Universal better-functioning cookies are crucial, but not so for GA4.

 Additionally, Analytics will stop storing IP addresses as part of the international privacy landscape.

What are the main differences between GAU and GA4 then?

I get asked this question a lot. I will try answering this question pointing at some of the differences without getting too technical:

  1. Sessions:
    Universal Analytics captures data and identifies this as sessions. Everything you do from when you land on the page until you leave is recorded as a session, which can be very limited. If you want to gather more data than that available through sessions, you will need to set conversion trackers (with a limit of 20 per account) and I can guarantee you this can be a lengthy process.GA4 however works in an event-based environment, where a custom event is triggered, then that data is collected. Just to mention some custom events we have Pageviews, clicks, loads, mouse-overs, etc.
  2. Cross over device data:
    GA4 is able to analyse crossover device data. As mentioned above, with mobile browsing becoming so predominant in the customer journey, GA4 features a really comprehensive way to understand how customers interact with your website. Universal Analytics’ inability to analyse cross-device data prompted this change in GA4. Now we are able to understand the customer buying journey!  As a great example of this, we have the tourism industry that experienced so many leads on mobile that didn’t convert. When analysing this on GA4 the conclusion arose that customers navigate through the top levels of the funnel from their mobile devices, but were more likely to convert  through their desktops (yeah, I’m guilty there too!)
  3. Bounce rate: Say goodbye to bounce rate! As GA4 is not focusing on tracking page views as UA was, we don’t really need to analyse this metric. With GA4 integrations we can better understand how customers engage with the content.  I have never been a great fan of bounce rate as it doesn’t provide clear insights as page interaction does, so I welcome this change!
  4. Google Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking the lead: With so many years in the making, Google has become an expert in providing machine learning insights to predict consumer behaviour. This is such a powerful tool that can create tailored campaigns with customers more likely to convert straight away, others more likely to convert within days, and others within weeks or months.
GA4 interface

So should I move to GA4 now?

As I previously mentioned, Google Analytics Universal will stop tracking data in July 2023 so this is your final deadline. The data gathered will however be stored until October 2023. Although there is time to upgrade to GA4, I would strongly recommend getting it running sooner than later, so you can get used to the interface and progressively start playing with it. 

It’s possible at the current time to have both Universal Analytics and GA4 running for the same website too, so you can better understand their capabilities and of course, their differences.

How can I migrate from Universal to GA4?

If you are one of our active monthly clients and you are reading this, don’t worry, we have already installed GA4 for you.  In case you don’t have someone looking after you, there are two ways to get this sorted:

  • Adding the extra piece of code to your backend (please check recommendations for your current CMS): opening the GA app, under settings, there is a tab for GA4 setup assistant with the extra piece of code to add. Please check with your website developer or an expert before touching the codes on the backend.
  • Through Google Tag Manager: this is the easiest way to do it if you are familiarised with GTM. In this case, you will only need to add a tag using the measurement ID that you can access in your GA4 setup assistant. By doing this, you don’t have to mess with the backend coding at all, and the chances of affecting the website are minimal.

Interested to know more about Google Analytics?

If you believe you can benefit from knowing more from Google Analytics and don’t know where to start, we offer tailored training for all levels. Get in contact with us and we will be more than happy to help you.