What is GA4?
Last year our team spent a lot of time advising our clients about the impact of Google Analytics 4, also known as GA4. As a reminder, back in 2020, Google announced that it will be sunsetting the current version of Universal Analytics as of 1st July 2023, replacing the reporting tool used for millions of websites worldwide with the latest version, Google Analytics 4. Still loads of time to get prepared, right? Not necessarily. With some of the changes to data and tracking that are involved, businesses need to be ready for the switch sooner rather than later. Particularly now the sunsetting is only months away.
Post-GDPR, consent is required for cookies and tracking website performance. GA4 strives to reduce the reliance on cookies for recording events across platforms and devices, using machine learning and automation to fill in any missing data. The hope is that this will allow gaps to be filled where consent is not given, accounting for industry changes and future challenges with reporting.
In short, Google Analytics 4 is built for a future with or without cookies and identifiers. It will look at the complete user journey rather than dividing by devices, platforms or sessions. The aim is to give website managers and marketers a more flexible and future-proof approach to reporting, although making this change will take some adjustment.
What’s the rush?
As part of the switch, Google will be stopping support and tracking for Universal Analytics – the current version that marketers know and love. Google is currently keeping it vague when it comes to how long historic data from Universal Analytics will be available, but the consensus is six months from July 2023. What this means though, is that businesses will no longer be able to access the reports and data they have become used to, and this data won’t continue to track in Universal Analytics.
While July may seem a way away, businesses need to act now to gather as much data as possible. As we are already within a year of the switch, the deadline for capturing data in GA4 for year-on-year comparisons has already passed. To avoid further disruption, the sooner you can start tracking data in GA4 the better.
Planning your switch now will not only allow for as complete tracking as possible but will make sure your team are trained and prepared to use GA4. If you don’t currently have the resource to switch or are unsure if Google Analytics 4 is the right move for your business, we recommend at least weighing up your options and evaluating your reporting tools as soon as possible.
What are the differences between GA Universal Analytics and GA4?
The difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 can’t be underestimated. This isn’t just a change to the look and feel. This is a total re-imagining of how businesses will track and measure their website performance. Some of the key differences include:
- A new reporting interface that offers a more simplified and streamlined user experience. If you’re familiar with Google Data Studio, then navigating GA4 might come more naturally to you.
- The data it uses. As we’ve just discussed, Universal Analytics data isn’t compatible with GA4.
- Changing terminology, for example ‘segments’ will become ‘comparisons’ and ‘channels’ will become ‘user acquisition’. Getting used to these new naming conventions will take some time for your team.
- The reliance on events. GA4 uses an event-based model, meaning that any interaction can be recorded as an event. This will mean greater flexibility and customisation for what can be recorded on your site but will mean that some metrics you are used to reporting on will disappear (including bounce rates and page views). We recommend mapping out your metrics and reporting templates based on the new structure of GA4.
- Identifiers that allow GA4 to link up a user’s activity across multiple devices and platforms to present insights based on the full customer journey rather than individual actions.
- New BigQuery integration so you can export data at no additional cost. This is crucial as GA4 only stores data for a maximum of 14 months (the default setting is actually only two months), so you’ll need to rely on BigQuery datasets to gather the information you need for year-on-year comparisons and reporting.
When do I need to switch?
As we’re already less than a year away from the end of Universal Analytics, you need to start making a plan for your data and how you’re going to continue to measure your website performance. Your Universal Analytics data is not compatible with GA4 and won’t be available to you without a plan of action. We can’t make this point clear enough! So, the sooner you start to make the switch, the better it will be for continuity.
What are the steps to switch to GA4?
- Decide whether GA4 is the right platform for your business, or if you want to invest in a different reporting tool
- Identify measurement gaps between Universal Analytics and GA4
- Set revised KPIs and metrics to bridge the gaps
- Start collecting data in GA4 for reporting by adding your website as a ‘Data Stream’ and adding the GA4 tag to your site
- Train your teams on the new GA4 interface and functionality
How can Reech help?
Get in touch today to discuss your business’ requirements and make a plan for Google Analytics 4.