The time has come for all of us to make the switch from the Google Analytics that we know, to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It’s been no secret that Google will sunset Universal Analytics (UA) in favour of their younger child, GA4. Simply said, UA will be unusable from July 2023 and we’ll all be forced to start using GA4. Obviously, there’s many differences between the old and new Analytics interface. In this article, we’ll shed a light on the most important ones and highlight what GA4 has in store for us.
Amongst the changes is the fact that GA4 no longer stores cookies, nor does it collect IP-addresses. Since the future holds lesser and lesser cookies in store, this obviously is a major improvement. Of course, that’s not all. GA4 brings a wide range of new features and metrics! However, it still comes with quite some bugs, since the platform currently feels like it’s still in beta.
Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4
As mentioned, the biggest change would be the loss of cookies. UA heavily depended on first- and third-party cookies to track data. This has now mainly been replaced by machine learning. GA4 uses AI technology to fill in the data gaps, which also provides us with predictive data. It’s difficult to tell if this is going to be worthwhile, but it does sound very promising.
Ever since the rise of GDPR, digital privacy has been a matter of utmost importance. This of course impacts how you can collect data and track users. With GA4, users have more control over how their data gets collected, retained and used. They are free to decide whether their data is used for personalised advertising. In addition, users have the ability to submit a request to Google to actually remove their collected data in Analytics.
The reporting interface has changed completely. There are still properties, but no longer views. There’s now data streams. In UA, you needed to create a property per app or website you wanted to track. GA4 abolished this principle. You can now create one property and add several data streams, e.g. one for your app, one for your website, one for its subdomain …
The bounce rate has been buried. Before you panic: this actually is a good thing. It is now replaced with what is called “engagement rate“. It revolves around session quality, which is based on three metrics. A session is considered valuable if 1) it results in a conversion, 2) it lasts longer than 10 seconds or 3) there’s multiple page views.
While it may seem more difficult to gather information, data will be more refined, GA4 uses an event-based data model to track user behaviour. Data is now collected across all platforms; both app and website. This reduces data gaps and makes it easier to follow the customer lifecycle. By combining unique Google signals and user ID’s, behaviour tracking is finally on par.
Since Google now uses events, their tracking model is more user focused. UA was session-based, meaning that predefined actions were considered events. Now, all user interaction is considered an event. This allows you to do more in-depth analysis of your users. The collected data is no longer separate, making it easier to properly analyse behaviour of a user. You’re able to set several parameters per event. For instance, when someone downloads a file, that doesn’t say much. Right? It does, however, speak levels when you add parameters such as location, language, what page the download happened on … All of this is now possible.
While UA was solely tracking clicks, GA4 allows you to go much deeper. You’re not even bound to Google’s defaults. The platform allows you to integrate custom events and parameters. What you want to implement fully depends on what you want to track. This is important to keep in mind. Don’t go overboard for the sake of gathering data, or you’ll drown in all available information. Make sure that what you gather is intentional and will be used. It helps to first create a measurement framework before you start setting up your events.
GA4’s event types
Sure, everything is now an event in GA4. Yet, there’s still event types, albeit different from what we used to know in UA.
- First, we have automatically collected events. These are automatically logged and will appear in every report. Page view and user engagement are examples of such events. You’re able to add extra parameters to these events.
- Next, we have enhanced measurement. These are optional events that you can enable or disable in the GA4 interface. Examples include video engagement and scroll depth. It’s possible to add parameters up here as well.
- Recommended events are events that Google thinks might be useful for your business. Unlike the first two event types, these require implementation through code or Google Tag Manager (GTM).
- Lastly, there’s custom events as previously mentioned. Pretty similar to UA, these are events that you name and implement yourself. You’ll have to add them to your code or use GTM.
What about the disadvantages?
As said, the new interface is still in development. That means there’s still bugs and missing features. The new interface changed drastically, making it quite a challenge to use it. It’ll take quite some time to figure out all possibilities and features. Using GA4 will actually require active learning for all its users. Reporting is furthermore improved in a way, but there’s also quite some metrics we’ll have to say goodbye to. Some were replaced, others weren’t. Needless to say, we’ll need to fully reform our view on reporting. For us, the biggest loss is historical data. You can’t transfer your historical data from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. This is valuable information that’s lost forever; you’ll have to ‘rebuild’ everything – keeping in mind that the maximum data retention in GA4 is only 14 months. And lastly: you’ll have to set up conversion tracking again.
These should be your next steps
It’s obvious that GA4 has a lot to offer, yet it will require some serious adjustment time coming from Universal Analytics. Hence why it’s never too early to make the switch! This comes with two major benefits. The first being that you already start to collect data that can be used in the future for your reporting, as well as for predictive analytics. The second benefit would be that you have more time to practice. And what can we say, practice makes perfect. Since this is basically a totally new way of tracking and reporting, it’s imperative to invest plenty of time in getting to know GA4. The earlier you set up the new environment, the better. Keep in mind: meanwhile, you still track via UA as well. Until July 2023, that is.
Are you ready for the future? Do you want to start using Google Analytics 4? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us, we’re happy to help you get started. Let’s get in touch!