Google recently announced they’ll be switching off Universal Analytics in July 2023.

Universal Analytics users are being encouraged to switch over to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as soon as possible.

But what does that mean for you?

In this post, we’ll define what GA4 actually is, why and how GA has changed and why you and your organisation need to care.

 *Spoiler alert* - you’ll need to take action before 30 June 2022, so you don't have long to start thinking about it.

 

What is Google Analytics 4, in basic terms?

Google Analytics is a web analytics platform from Google that tells you how users are finding and using your website. Essentially, it’s the go-to analytics tool for anyone looking to track their website performance. 

Universal Analytics is the current version. 

GA4 is, as the name suggests, the fourth version of Google Analytics.

 

What’s changed, and why?

In short, we have.

A recent ‘Digital 2022 Global Overview Report’ by Datareportal found that:

  •  Internet users have more than doubled over the past 10 years
  • Users have increased from 2.18 billion at the start of 2012 to 4.95 billion at the start of 2022.
  • 92.1% of total internet users access the internet via mobile phones

The change is rapid. So it's no surprise that users have become more aware of their online privacy, and are increasingly looking for ways to protect it.

Google has long been aware of the need to react to these changes.

Google Analytics needed a major overhaul to bring it more in line with our changing internet usage and privacy expectations.

The word straight from the horse's mouth is:

“Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.”

So, what are the key differences with GA4?

Let’s look at some of Google Analytics 4’s key features that set it apart from the current Universal Analytics.

GA4 provides predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence

With third-party cookies being phased out, Google anticipates that limited data will become the norm. To prepare for a cookie-less future, GA4 will rely on machine learning to supplement your data with predictions and forecasts of user behaviour. You’ll be able to identify data trends such as rising demand for a product, or the potential revenue you could gain from a specific customer category. Pretty neat stuff.

GA4 allows for cross-platform tracking

Do you have both a website and an app? If so, you're probably keen to analyse your data in one reporting environment. GA4 lets you consolidate data from websites and mobile apps into a single set of reports, allowing you to easily perform cross-platform analysis.

GA4 uses an event-driven data model

One of the main differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 is the way that they measure data.

Universal Analytics bases its measurements on sessions and pageviews. So that's hits on your website within a given timeframe and views on particular pages.

GA4's measurement model is based on events. Every tracked action is classed as an event in GA4 - so a page view in UA will now be an event in GA4. This will make it easier for you to compare factors like page views and transactions alongside each other.

GA4 comes with new visualisations

If you’re a regular GA user, you’ll likely know that funnels can be hard to drill into in UA. With GA4, you’ll get a better visual of your funnels and can split them by device. GA4 also includes a measurement of ‘elapsed time’ - useful to see how long people take to checkout once they put an item into their basket.

GA4 comes with BigQuery integration

Big Query is a data warehouse typically used by enterprise-level organisations to query very large and complex data sets quickly.

Big Query integration was one of the big differentiators between the free (Universal Analytics) and paid (GA360) versions of GA. With the new GA4, the Big Query integration is free, but you do still have to pay for any data use.

 

And what about the downsides…?

You might have heard GA4 getting a lot of stick for basically being, well, not being very good. Here are a few reasons why:

  • No ‘Views’ - In UA, you have Accounts > Properties > Views. Your views are used to create a custom segment of data that you can then filter. Most organisations will have:
    • Raw data (no filter)
    • A main view (excluding the office IP address)
    • Other views (e.g. country view or mobile traffic)

In GA4, there is no concept of ‘Views’. Instead, you have a single reporting view. You can apply data filters at the ‘Property’ level but this will not create a customised view like you’re used to. (We recommend using Google Data Studio reports as a workaround). 

  • Not as user-friendly - The interface of GA4 can be confusing. Many users are finding it difficult to navigate in comparison to UA.
  • Standard reports aren’t great - GA4 doesn’t make as many assumptions as UA does about what you want to measure. So the standard reports that come with GA4 are very limited. You can tweak them a little, but not much, making it feel like a big step back from the standard reports in UA.

Despite the above points, it’s important to remember that GA4 is where Google’s developer resources are going right now. What we see now is not the finished product and we can assume there’ll be improvements before the switchover in July 2023.

 

Why should you care?

GA Universal Analytics - the current version - will be unavailable from 1 July 2023.

Simply put, if you want to continue using GA from July 2023, you must switch to GA4 (or find another option).

So, what do you need to do? 

  • We recommend that you take action soon and set up GA4 before the end of June 2022. This will guarantee that by 1 July 2023, you’ll already have one year's worth of data to use for year-on-year analysis.
  • From July 2022 to July 2023, let UA and GA4 run in parallel. Use this as a transition period to familiarise yourself with GA4. Train yourself up as required and start setting up your customised reports.
  • You will need to put effort into setting up custom reports that work for you. It’ll be time-consuming, and you may need external help. But on the upside, tailored reports are likely to be more useful for your organisation.
  • When the switchover deadline arrives, move all your reporting over to GA4 (if not done so already by then). And don’t forget to move any redundant UA tags from your website at this point.
  • From then onwards, start thinking about exporting and storing key data from your old UA properties - before it’s lost for good.

 

Closing

Big changes are coming to Google Analytics and this recent announcement isn’t one to ignore. Time flies when you’re having fun and it won’t be long before that 1st July 2023 switchover date creeps upon us all.

Don’t get caught in the trap of leaving this until the last minute to sort out. Take action soon, ideally before the end of June 2022, to ensure that your website is set up for ongoing analytics. 

 

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Still unsure about what to do next? If you fancy chatting to one of our digital experts about your transition to GA4, reach out at hello@studiobravo.com.au.