Google’s Universal Analytics, the tracking and reporting lifeblood of tens of millions of websites, is making some changes. In fact, it’s being replaced.
The Google Analytics you currently use, Universal Analytics, is going away. It will be replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA 4) on July 1, 2023. Which sounds far in the future but will be here before you know it.
Why is Google doing this? It’s not to make your life more complicated! Universal Analytics was built for online measurement focused on the desktop web. Since 2012, times have changed. As mobile and app usage continues to accelerate and third-party cookies are going away, a different approach was needed for more accurate reporting and to get a more precise view of more complex user journeys.
It’s actually a good thing.
To help you get started making the transition to GA 4, this post will highlight some key differences to expect with GA 4 and what you need to do now.
Are you sure Google Analytics 4 will impact my site?
There’s no way around making the switch, as Google will sunset the Universal Analytics platform in 2023 (July 1, 2023, for those using the free platform and October 1, 2023, for Google Analytics 360 subscribers). However, it’s true that some sites may not be impacted because they already may be GA 4 properties.
How do you know if your site will be affected? October 14, 2020, is the defining line. GA 4 has been the default for new web properties since then. Therefore, if you created a Google Analytics account for your website before that date, it’s likely you only have Universal Analytics. After that date, you probably have GA 4. If you’re not sure, Google offers a way to check your property type.
What’s different about Google Analytics 4?
Like Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 will still give you the data and insights you need to optimize your eCommerce business and customer experience. However, GA 4 is a different way of reporting.
The biggest difference – that impacts the way metrics are reported – is that GA 4 metrics are “event-driven” (i.e., any engagement such as clicking or scrolling) versus reporting by sessions. This gives marketers a more accurate picture of an actual customer journey.
For example, with Universal Analytics, when a user browses a site on a desktop and then switches over to a smartphone or your brand’s app to make a purchase, Universal Analytics counts that as two sessions and two different users. With GA 4, the user is identified across devices as a single user doing these various activities.
This difference may lead to discrepancies when you compare Universal Analytics metrics to GA 4 metrics. It will be important for you to take the time to compare the data and understand why the numbers are different and what it means.
Here’s a quick recap of some of the key differences with GA 4, with some useful links for more details:
1. More accurate reporting
Event-based reporting on user behavior across channels, such as your website and app, should make your reporting more accurate. For example, with sessions-based Universal Analytics, you may have reported low mobile conversion rates. But, when you dig deeper, it turns out that what users are doing is browsing on mobile and buying on desktop. With GA 4, this journey will be much more obvious and trackable.
2. New user interface and different metrics
There will be a learning curve as you use GA 4 to understand the event-based metrics and how they’re different from what you’re used to in Universal Analytics. For example, new to the game is Engagement Rate, while Bounce Rate has been discontinued. Google helps you out with this overview of how the metrics compare.
3. Better data privacy controls
Google says GA 4 provides more granular controls for data collection and usage and will no longer store IP addresses. Another potential benefit: because GA 4 can associate data by user versus by sessions, companies should be able to more easily locate a user’s data if they request it, per the rules of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
What do I need to do right now?
The good news is, the GA 4 Setup Assistant makes basic implementation pretty quick and easy. Following are a few key steps you should take immediately.
1. Set up GA 4 now
Although Universal Analytics isn’t shut off until July 1, 2023, it’s important to set up GA 4 now/before July 2022. Starting to collect data by July 2022 will ensure you have continuous access to historical year-over-year data when Universal Analytics is no longer available.
Although Google says you’ll have access to historical UA data for six months after July 1, 2023, you will have to export it and make manual comparisons in a spreadsheet – no thanks!
You can use both Universal Analytics and GA 4 simultaneously with no problem. We recommend you do so. This window of overlap is key, allowing you to reference both UA and GA 4 data to see what is different so that you can better understand the new reporting and why the numbers may look different in GA 4.
2. Set up any custom reports
If you have custom reports in Universal Analytics, likely you will have to set them up in GA 4 as well. Google provides information to help you navigate this process.
3. Verify any custom tags
If you had custom tags set up and reporting to Universal Analytics, such as social media pixels or custom events, you’ll want to make sure they’re also reporting to GA 4. Check out this information from Google about tagging.
4. Apply data filters
Google Analytics 4 doesn’t allow users to set up “views” within the GA 4 property as you can in Universal Analytics. Instead, in GA 4 you have a single reporting view, but you can apply filters for internal traffic and developer traffic. Also, check out this article from Google about which Universal Analytics view-related features are available in Google Analytics 4.
If you had other types of views, such as users by geographic region, if you don’t pay for Google Analytics 360, you may be out of luck. To see this view with GA 4, you must have a GA 360 account and set up a “subproperty” structure. Google provides an article with more information about subproperties.
Don’t delay, get underway!
Data is critical to your eCommerce business. If you plan to stick with Google Analytics for data and tracking, it’s important to be on top of switching over to GA 4 – and the ideal deadline to do it is approaching quickly. Note that Google is still working on rolling out GA 4 features, so the tool will continue to evolve. But the important thing is to get it up and running now. If shifting from Universal Analytics to GA 4 feels overwhelming, fortunately, there are data verification partners like Elevar that you can lean on. They can help ensure that the data you’re used to getting in Universal Analytics continues to be reported in GA 4. And eHouse Studio clients: don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions.