In July of 2023, Google’s Universal Analytics will stop collecting new data, meaning Analytics users will need to switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to continue getting valuable information about their web traffic. This means changes in how data is measured, how data is reported, and what automations are available. The time to prepare your business is now.
Here’s what you need to know about the change, and what you can do to be prepared for it.
Understanding the Evolution of Google Analytics
It’s important to understand why Google is making this change. In 2005, Google acquired Urchin Analytics, marking GA1. In 2007, they gave it a facelift and provided their own branding to it, creating GA2.
In 2012, Google launched Universal Analytics (GA3) which is still in use today. Google created Google Analytics Plus Web to track users across websites and apps in 2019 and rebranded that to Google Analytics in 2020—creating GA4.
Google Analytics or GA4 is Google’s latest free web and analytics reporting tool. It’s not an upgrade or a facelift of Universal Analytics; it’s an entirely different reporting tool that collects and measures data in an entirely different way.
A lot of things changed between 2012 and 2019 in terms of how users interact online, and GA4 is intended to meet these modern needs.
Why is Google Making the Switch to GA4?
Universal Analytics is essentially built on the same code base as Urchin Analytics from back in 2007. Think of how you used the internet in 2007 versus today—it’s a lot different. Most web interactions happening in 2007 were on desktop, mobile devices were just starting to appear (the first iPhone was released in 2007).
GA4 will provide cleaner data that more easily tracks sessions across devices and applications, which required a total overhaul of the application. It’s also going to increase privacy standards in preparation for a “cookieless” future, as big tech companies are under the microscope to improve user privacy practices and standards.
What Do You Need to Do to Prepare for GA4?
First, install GA4 as soon as possible and start using it—it has a lot of machine learning capabilities that use previous data for forecasting and additional insights. You can run GA4 and Universal Analytics at the same time on your website—it’s not one or the other. You can install both pixels either on your website or through Google Tag Manager so you can start collecting data.
You can’t transfer Universal Analytic data over to GA4, so if you want any type of historical data in GA4, you must start right away. The more historical data that you have, the more you’ll be able to leverage accurate data when the time comes.
GA4 uses an entirely different measurement model than Universal Analytics. Start using it now to get used to what you’re seeing.
There’s also a heavier reliance on building out custom dashboards, views, and segmentations. There’s a steep learning curve and not a ton of great documentation from Google so far on how to use this for common uses, so the more you can get your head into GA4, the better you’re going to be when this becomes the default tool.
What Is Google Analytics 4 (And What’s Different)?
Universal Analytics uses a measurement model that’s primarily based off sessions, whereas GA4 uses a measurement model that’s based off events and parameters.
Universal Analytics will tend to treat sessions from different devices as separate users, whereas GA4 will tie all these things together to create one cohesive journey that can be tied back to a single user across devices and apps.
One of the biggest differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 is that there are no more views.
Instead, if you have one website, you have one data stream for your website, and then you have data streams for any app that you have associated with your business. All of that information is fed up to the property level. This property level is less about reporting on one specific website or app, and more about reporting holistically on a user base.
Many businesses are running into trouble trying to accommodate for or fill in the gap regarding views. One solution Google offers is sub-properties, but those are only available for Google 360 users… and 360 accounts are about $150,000 per year.
Custom Reports and Data-Driven Attribution
GA4 has fewer predefined reports. Landing page reports, acquisition reports, device reports—all come standard with Universal Analytics. Where UA had about 80 predefined reports, GA4 will come with just 15. This means you’ll need to create custom reports instead—something that seems easy, but is quite challenging.
GA4 will also use a data-driven attribution (DDA) model, something that was only available to 360 customers before. DDA is an algorithmic model that considers each of the touchpoints observed in your website interactions, using machine learning and Google’s secret sauce to give you an understanding of how users interact with each channel across their conversion path.
In Universal Analytics, DDA looked at the last four touchpoints of a conversion—but in GA4, that number goes up to 50, giving a much clearer picture of what that conversion path looks like and how specific channels are attributed to a conversion.
Wondering how to migrate to Google Analytics 4?
These changes are just the tip of the iceberg—and we expect Google to announce more in the coming months. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the details of this post, they come from our recent GA4 Migration webinar. You can view it in full here!
Socius Marketing has already converted 325 websites to GA4 and we’ve created hundreds of customer reports for them. If you’d like help getting ahead of this change, we encourage you to reach out to our team.