In July 2023, whether you like it or not, your Google Analytics will be switched over from Universal Analytics to Google’s newest Analytics version, Google Analytics 4.
You may have already seen (and possibly even deleted/ignored) the emails from Google and the annoying notifications that pop up in your GA account, but this is our warning to you: the sooner you make the switch, the better!
While July ’23 might seem like an age away right now, switching to GA4 ASAP is vital as you won’t be able to import historical data from your current Universal Analytics into your GA4 properties, meaning the sooner you create your GA4 property, the sooner you can be tracking data.
Why are they changing?
Don’t despair. Sometimes change is a good thing! While GA4 will bring some not-insignificant changes to the data and metrics you’re normally used to seeing and working with, ultimately this should be for the better.
In fact, the reason for the change can be neatly summed up by Google’s own set of priorities laid out for this year: Measurement. Privacy. Automation. GA4 promises to do all of these things more effectively.
UA, which you’ve probably been using up to now, gathers data based on web sessions and hits (page views etc.) These are driven by either first or third-party cookies - with the latter becoming increasingly unreliable thanks to ad blockers, iOS14 and other regulatory changes - and if you wanted to track data from mobile users, platform-specific tracking would need to have been setup. So, while UA was good, the changing landscape (for better or worse) means it’s time for a change. Enter GA4.
GA4’s new event-based model for gathering data solves many of these issues, using first-party cookies and other signals to allow cross-device reporting and data gathering. By reducing the reliance on third-party cookies and moving away from device-specific data, it should provide marketers, analysts and brands a more rounded view of user behaviour.
That’s not all – with machine learning at the heart of it, GA4 is able to make predictions on future actions, such as which visitors are likely to convert in the future, or help fill in gaps in your data, such as reporting revenue from clicks when a customer has used an ad blocker.
What are the key differences to know about?
As mentioned, privacy and the eventual shift to a cookieless world is at the forefront of GA4. Because of this, it doesn’t rely solely on cookie data, using event data to measure and track results.
“Ok, but what actually is an event?” I hear you cry. Well, the short answer is…everything!
User visits a page? That’s an event. User clicks on something? That’s an event. Scrolls down? You guessed it… event! On top of that, all of these events each have their own properties – the text of the link clicked on, the amount you scrolled, the URL of the page viewed.
And, with the shift to multi-device, none of this juicy data is fragmented or split by individual platforms. That means you can track when someone interacts with your site on their mobile on their morning commute, logs into their account on their laptop during their lunch break and then finally checks out using your app in the evening. Unlike UA, GA4 can connect all those moments, leading to a much richer data picture and a greater understanding of your customers & users.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is, a different data gathering model inevitably means some of the key metrics you will have become used to are changing. Perhaps the most significant of these is Bounce Rate, which will henceforth be replaced with Engagement Rate.
Bounce rate was a percentage of sessions which ended without any interaction whatsoever with a page. Engagement rate is a percent of ‘engaged sessions’, defined as either: lasting longer than 10 seconds, having at least 2 page/screen views or lasting longer than 10 seconds. As you can see, these aren’t directly comparable to Bounce Rate, so you’ll need to adjust how you report and it won’t be possible for any apples-to-apples comparison with previous data.
Another significant change is of course the UI, because if a bunch of new metrics to wrap your head around weren’t bad enough, there’s also a tweaked interface to navigate your way around. This also means that not all of the same reports you previously set-up will be available, though you’ll be able to recreate some (and new ones have been added). This new interface is also another compelling reason to get on with the switch to GA4 sooner rather than later so you and your teams can give themselves plenty of time to orientate themselves around the new layout.
What do you need to do?
First of all, if we haven’t already made this clear, don’t wait to make the switch! The sooner you can do it, the more data you’re going to have pulling into GA4 sooner – vital if you want year-on-year numbers. And the more time you’ll have to get used to the new version before UA is turned off in July 2023.
But the move isn’t going to be straightforward or something undertaken lightly. You’ll need a detailed implementation plan, your site will need to be re-tagged and new code added. On top of this, Data Studio or any other dashboarding and reporting tools that draw on Google Analytics data will need updating.
If you’re currently using any goals in UA, these too will need to be updated or, worse still, rebuilt.
Perhaps the biggest effort required when migrating from UA to GA4 will be from ecommerce brands Firstly, you’ll need to reconnect your Google products’ links to your new GA4 property and, sadly, ecommerce events will also need to be transitioned from UA to GA4, with some no longer recognised in GA4.
Another important point to remember when creating your GA4 property – don’t delete your UA properties, and back them up! You’re going to want to be referring to them and using them alongside GA4 for a while yet and Google strongly encourage you to export your historical reports if you’ll want to access your older data.
How can we help?
Some of you reading this may have already started the GA4 migration process (gold star for you!), but for others it might be something you’ve been putting off, haven’t got round to yet or simply weren’t totally aware of. Well, with the deadline fast approaching, we’re happy to help you make the switch and ensure the process is as painless as possible.
Whether it’s providing you with a simple migration checklist, carrying out the whole process on your behalf or simply hopping on a call to talk through some of the changes and their implications for your brand, simply get in touch with us and we’d be happy to help. And did we mention, the sooner you do this, the better?! 😉
Posted 16 November 2022 by Ben Waterhouse