Google Analytics is a powerful digital tool that can benefit many businesses.
According to BuiltWith, more than 28 million websites use Google Analytics to better understand how current and potential clients engage with their websites.
The development and launch of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020 were put into action based on a 2018 ruling of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—the world’s strictest data privacy and security law.
The main goal of GA4 was to improve the privacy controls of the current Google Analytics platform, Universal Analytics (UA). In doing so, users and website owners gained a deeper level of privacy and security.
According to Google, as of July 1, 2023, UA will no longer collect or process data which will require an inevitable change to GA4 for you and your business.
In this blog post, I will cover the most important topics around GA4, including:
- What Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is
- The Reasons Behind the UA to GA4 Transition
- The Pros & Cons of GA4
- How to Get Started
- Dos and Don'ts
Although we still have some time before UA is offline, we believe now is the best time to install and use GA4.
Understanding Google Analytics 4
Simply put, Google Analytics 4 is the next generation of Google Analytics and is GDPR compliant.
GA4 replaces UA. The most significant changes include the following:
- The automatic collection of website and app data across devices to provide a clearer picture of the total digital customer journey
- Events-based tracking system instead of a session-based data method
- Privacy controls, including the option for cookie-less measurements
- Predictive capabilities to offer guidance directly to users
Why is Google Pivoting from UA to GA4?
In 2018, Europe launched new privacy and security regulations to protect their citizens online, no matter where their site was hosted.
As a result of these more stringent data standards using the UA platform in Europe became illegal, mainly due to its reliance on third-party cookie data.
Because the European market is such a large piece of the digital puzzle, Google was required to change how it collects, stores, and moves its data.
Unlike UA, GA4 uses complex and safe artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to implement more sophisticated tracking that no longer relies on cookie data.
Although UA provided a host of essential tracking tools, GA4 will be a step ahead in the journey for more complex consumer security and privacy regulation.
What Are the Main Differences Between UA and GA4?
The most significant difference between UA and Google Analytics 4 is how data is collected, stored, and presented.
AI provides a clearer picture of visitors' paths to conversion (without the need for cookie data) to piece together a customer's journey.
GA4 also seamlessly tracks user activity across websites, apps, and devices, which differs from UA, which uses separate data points. This allows you to track meaningful patterns without sifting through multiple reports and manually analyzing data points in search of a trend.
GA4’s Most Impactful Feature: Automatic Event Tracking
In the current Google UA system, you must manually set specific goals and events.
With GA4, data is provided automatically on valuable interactions, including:
- Video engagement
With this readily available data, businesses can see each visitor's journey from browser to conversion, allowing immediate opportunity highlights and quick interactive fixes to boost overall engagement and conversion rates.
GA4 Pros & Cons?
Overall, UA received a significant facelift with the transition to GA4, and we believe that the pros outweigh the cons.
Still, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of during and after your transition to GA4.
Here are the most impactful pros and cons of GA4:
PRO: Predictive metrics are front and center
GA4 uses machine-learning algorithms on your dataset to predict future user behavior—enriching your data. Using predetermined and predictive metrics, you can identify precisely which actions can or cannot lead to the most optimal conversions.
PRO: Cross-device and cross-platform reporting leads the way
As mentioned, GA4 uses an event-based data model. This model allows for cross-device and cross-platform reporting, giving site owners an elevated understanding of customer behavior.
PRO: Reporting and analysis tools are top tier
GA4 provides a simplified approach to reporting and analysis by:
- Providing pre-built reports
- Helping marketers identify trends
- Utilizing cross-platform technology to pinpoint data irregularities quickly
CON: Historical data will not transfer
Although GA4 will carry some pertinent information from UA, historical data is non-transferable.
The new system will require site owners to create a new property, meaning your data collection starts from ground zero.
Due to this, site owners are encouraged to set up their new GA4 properties to gather historical data as soon as possible.
CON: Tracking complex conversions requires some tech-savvy
While GA4’s most significant pro is the automatic collection of event data to make customer journey tracking easier, more complex conversion tracking, like purchases, will require more manual implementation, often only mastered by those who consider themselves tech-savvy.
This may pose an issue for non-tech-savvy individuals who could have more difficulty mapping the entire customer buying experience.
So, What Does All of This Change Mean for Your Business?
While the privacy boost is a no-brainer win for everyone, other robust features can help you build a stronger rapport with your current and future client base.
From understanding their customer journey to growing a better understanding of their digital preferences, GA4 helps with it all.
Let’s explore the benefits of this upgrade in more detail:
Cross-device tracking is crucial in today’s digital world, and GA4 has it.
UA has been king for almost nine years, an impressive feat for any digital tool.
As the pendulum swings toward a more digitized world, so does the buying process.
Most customers want and expect optimized digital experiences in every brand interaction. Customers also like the flexibility of buying where they feel most comfortable, which is most often on their phones.
Today’s consumers expect more—especially online. They want optimized digital experiences at every touchpoint, especially mobile. That's why ensuring your business is capturing this valuable data is more important than ever.
Mobile apps hold invaluable user experience data, and GA4 finally makes it possible to analyze app and web data in the same place.
GA4 makes it possible to analyze web and app data, allowing businesses to understand the customer journey from a brand-new realm of robust and cross-device consumer data.
If users are signed into devices, apps, or sites using their Google account, Google Signals can identify and deduplicate users, making analytics as clear as ever.
For example, suppose your customer prefers to read your latest blog post on their laptop but enjoys shopping and checking out on their mobile device. In that case, Google Signals and GA4 will provide these precise insights so that you can better communicate with your customer and meet them exactly where they are (and, most importantly, where they want to be).
Marketing campaign track-ability increases
Google Analytics 4 makes it easier to track customers across all your platforms leading to the following:
- Higher communication levels
- More comprehensive customer journey mapping
- Increased conversion
- Higher ROI
- Stronger retention, customer loyalty, and long-term brand credibility
Unlike UA (which requires multiple manual steps to complete), GA4 makes it easy to set up cross-domain tracking.
One of the most fundamental pieces of cross-domain track-ability is the ability to segment customers based on their specific interactions and analytics. GA4 goes beyond simple app-based groupings and focuses more on specific and important factors that make your customer’s journey unique.
Visibility into online engagement
As more businesses leverage mobile apps to improve the user experience, they gain valuable insights into how customers learn about their brand and engage across devices. They also identify how and where they prefer to communicate and interact.
Understanding precise engagement levels and actions across platforms and devices can inform business processes and digital marketing strategies and improve customer engagement rates, conversion, and ROI.
How to Transition GA4
We understand that transitioning to new technology can be challenging—especially when it impacts daily business operations.
It is important to note that Google Analytics 4 captures data differently than its predecessor UA, so essential aspects will need to be updated upon the completion of GA4 installation.
The most notable updates need to happen with:
- Data fields
Here are five essential steps you can take now to begin preparing for GA4:
- Install GA4
Google recommends that all current UA users switch to GA4 as soon as possible.
It will start collecting data immediately. The sooner you add and begin using Google Analytics 4, the more data you’ll have to work with.
Running UA and GA4 at the same time allows you to familiarize yourself with GA4 while you still have UA to fall back on.
The more time you have to capture and analyze important metrics, the better you will understand their influence and relation to one another.
- Get familiar with events
As we discussed, GA4 uses events-based tracking, which means that UA highlights total users while GA4 focuses on activeusers. Both systems refer to their definition of the above as “users.” Although the exact verbiage is used, the way the metrics are calculated between the two is different.
GA4 identifies users across multiple platforms more effectively. When you begin using GA4, your "User" metric may decline as it calculates and collects data.
However, GA4 provides the most accurate snapshot of who is visiting your website and the steps they are taking to land there. The customer journey mapping is unmatched.
- Replicate your most-used UA reports
UA and GA4 use separate data models. Because of this, there is not an automatic migration between the two. It is crucial to recreate your most-used reports using the GA4 event-based tags right away to prevent data loss.
Although recreating your best and most comprehensive reports can sound overwhelming, GA4 provides several pre-built reports, allowing you to analyze your data quickly and efficiently post-setup. If needed, building unique and personalized information is relatively seamless.
- Set up site search tracking
GA4 offers advanced measurement capabilities for website search bars.
You can track and measure interactions and content on your website and standard page views using site search tracking.
Setting up GA4 site search tracking can also identify site layout issues and new content ideas, allowing you to see precisely what your target audience is searching for.
GA4 can inform your SEO and content strategy with enhanced tracking capabilities to help you create a more robust website.
- Have a plan in place for UA history
As mentioned, when Google Analytics 4 replaces Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023, you will not have access to track your data interchangeably between platforms. In fact, all historical UA data will be deleted.
Due to this, it is crucial to have a plan in place to track your UA history. We recommend downloading historical data into a Google Sheet or .CSV file, so you can reference it quickly and easily as needed.
Dos & Don’ts
Don’t delay the installation
With strong encouragement from Google to switch to GA4 as soon as possible, GA4 is fully equipped and ready to support and measure your data needs today and in the future. So, don't delay.
Installing GA4 now puts you ahead in data collection and analysis, giving you months to work between both platforms.
Don’t forget to reconnect
GA4 does not automatically connect with other Google products when you switch over.
Once you’ve made the switch, ensure you link it to all your other Google platforms to avoid tracking issues and delays. The most important products to remember to link include Google Ads and Google Business Profile.
Do get comfortable with GA4 event types
Google Analytics 4 has four important event configuration features.
Familiarizing yourself with them, their naming conventions, and how they can impact your data is essential.
The event types to know about include:
- Automatically tracked events
GA4 automatically tracks:
- First views
- Page views
- Session starts
- User engagement
The best part? Manual configuration isn’t required.
- Enhanced measurement events
Enhanced measurement allows you to collect detailed insights about how your website visitors engage with your content.
No code changes are required.
- Recommended events
As the name suggests, recommended events are those recommended by Google and are typically eCommerce-related.
They typically include options such as:
- Add to Cart
- Add Payment Information
It is important to note that recommended events are not automatic. You must manually implement them using Google's exact event name and parameters.
- Custom events
- Custom events fall outside the first three event categories.
- These events are used when a business wants to track a specific website action that isn't pre-defined by Google. They can be manually added and configured in the GA4 admin section.
Google Analytics 4 has made its entrance, and before you know it (7/1/23), it will take its official seat at the top of the digital analytics world.
UA will be replaced, so you must familiarize yourself with GA4’s layout, how it collects data, and what changes you need to make internally to collect valuable data efficiently.
We know that is a lot to take in, so we are here to extend a helping hand.
If your business needs a marketing partner, we can help make the GA4 transition easier. We are here to ensure you continue collecting the data you need and to help enhance your insights for all your business ventures.