In October 2020, Google announced they’ll be replacing the version of Google Analytics – Universal Analytics – with an all-new version, called Google Analytics 4. We now know too that this replacement will be complete as of July 2023. Although many of us have had a taste of GA4, there is still a lot more we can learn with such a significant change.
Google mentions that GA4 provides a “strong analytics experience that’s designed for the future”, and with its numerous features and benefits we’re excited to explain why.
To help you prepare for the future of Google Analytics, we’ve broken down all your burning questions, including what is GA4? How will this new update impact you as a marketer? And how GA4 can help to grow your business? Read on to learn more.
- A quick overview of Google Analytics
- What is GA4?
- Why is Google changing to GA4?
A quick overview of Google Analytics
Google Analytics 1 ‘Urchin’
It all dates back to 1997, when the Urchin Project was founded by a small company called Web Depot who specialised in business development and web hosting. After attending a trade show in 2004, Web Depot networked with Google and agreed to rebrand Urchin as Google Analytics in November 2005.
Google Analytics 2
In 2007, Google released their new version of Google Analytics which featured a new interface with email reports and detailed graphs, customisable dashboards and plain language descriptions for easier use. Later in 2009, Google introduced a Asynchronous version enabling faster loading times and improved data collection.
Google Analytics 3 ‘Universal Analytics’
In 2012, Google released their new platform also known as Universal Analytics. This new tracking code includes many features such as cross-platform tracking, multi-channel funnels, real-time reports, custom dimensions and metrics, and more.
Google Analytics 4
This is where we currently are. In 2020, Google introduced the all new Google Analytics 4 in response to privacy concerns with the collection of customer data in Universal Analytics. This new platform unifies the best aspects of Google’s mobile analytics and Universal analytics for better management of data. Some great features include its event-based model compared to sessions, cookieless measurement, conversion and behavioural modelling, just to name a few.
What is GA4?
In short, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is considered the new generation of Universal Analytics (UA) and is designed to collect valuable event-based data from websites and apps without using third-party cookies. This new model takes a privacy-first approach in the way they track users across the web to fit with future privacy regulations.
If you’re new to Google Analytics, we’ll break it down even further. Essentially, Google Analytics is an online analytics platform designed to help people understand what’s happening on their websites and apps by collecting event-based data from them. This also helps marketers better understand trends within their customer base to direct future digital strategies.
To save you from reading the words “Google Analytics” over and over again, and to make things a little simpler; for the rest of this article we’ll use the following two acronyms:
- UA for Universal Analytics – the old version of Google Analytics.
- GA4 for Google Analytics 4 – the new version that will soon completely replace UA.
Why is Google changing to GA4?
Google’s launch of UA back in November 2005 completely changed the way marketers understood their customers’ journeys. It offers complete tracking and reporting features that help measure Return on Investment, create better solutions for customers, customise tracking, and measure cross-channel data. UA relies on HTTP cookies, meaning websites can remember your login details and online behaviour. This is a privacy concern for many users and, without sufficient safeguards, makes it easier for bad actors to gather your personal information. HTTP cookies have recently been deemed as a violation under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These serious concerns over privacy have even resulted in Italy, France and Austria banning the popular platform according to the European Data Protection Board.
Although UA has been the primary platform for gathering customer-driven web and app data, the rise in privacy concerns has called for an entirely new approach to web and app analytics that places privacy as the number one priority.
In response, Google created GA4 with the intention of optimum privacy, measurement, and automation. In contrast to UA, it will track users across websites and apps, without relying on cookies. The platform will also use event-based data to model measurements.
Why should we be concerned about data privacy?
Data privacy is a concern now more than ever as unprotected platforms pose the risks of potential misuse of information and loss of identity for customers and can impact businesses leading to loss of trust, loss of reputation and loss of revenue.
‘According to the ACSC’s latest threat report, the agency received 67,500 cybercrime reports in the 2020-2021 financial year – up 13% on the previous year. That equates to one report every eight minutes’. (Taylor, The Guardian)
With the rise in cyber attacks, especially the Optus and Medibank data breaches, customers are more vigilant about who they share their personal information with. According to The Guardian, Over 19.7 million customers were affected in the data breaches. And once a hacker has a hold of stolen credentials they are often used in data exchanges where criminals offer data for sale in hard to trace cryptocurrencies (Bonyhady, The Sydney Morning Herald).
The need for a secure data collection platform is crucial for your company and your customers’ safety. That’s why the switch to GA4 is so important, with the updated privacy regulations this platform not only allows for more accurate measurement of data through event-based tracking, but it also complies with the GDPR. So don’t just wait till the last minute – the time to act is now!
How will this impact me as a marketer?
The gist of it is this: as of July 2023, UA will stop collecting data. This means that, like it or not, there isn’t really a choice as to whether you can switch to GA4. If you still want to be able to measure and analyse performance, it’ll be necessary to set up GA4. You will find there are many different features and processes with GA4 vs UA.
Watch analytics expert Jess Sauer breakdown the Google Analytics 4 platform and show you why the time to act is now!
When will GA4 replace UA?
As of July 1st 2023, UA will stop collecting all data. We recommend setting up your GA4 account early in advance instead of leaving it as a problem for later.
This is very important for these three reasons:
All marketers need to have access to their historical data to compare changes over certain periods and keep track of progression for certain campaigns and other events. As of January 1st 2024 UA will clear all historical data. This is why it’s crucial to begin the migration to GA4 so you’ve collected a significant amount of data. While GA4 is based on event tracking and UA revolves around sessions, having access to historical data and being able to see trends from previous years will still be extremely valuable.
The tracking installation for GA4 is slightly different from UA. Instead of setting up tracking directly on your website, you will need to do it through Google Tag Manager. However, we understand that setting up tracking can be confusing, that’s why we recommend getting a professional to help you with the process.
GA4 has a different reporting methodology than UA as it runs on events. With GA4, you can decide how to display your collected events, measured events, and recommended events. You will then need to build these reports in Google Data Studio.
How should I prepare for this?
While the interface and setup are quite different, GA4 has many of the same functions as UA, so you won’t be missing out on anything important from the old Google Analytics. Getting started with GA4 is easy, wrapping your head around the new platform will take some time. This process often takes a while, so it’s best to get started ASAP!
Here are the best ways to prepare yourself, whether you’re simply looking to migrate from UA or you’re new to analytics altogether.
Understanding GA4 features
Many of the main features known to UA are missing from the main administrative toolset – such as custom filters and channel groups – and must be accessed in other ways. Instead, marketers can set the required filters in the tag manager and create custom UTM parameters for channel groupings to differentiate campaigns from other platforms, or either hardcode it into the website. GA4 also doesn’t feature the common custom dimensions often used for reporting, instead, they have additional custom dimensions.
GA4 tracks events, not sessions
One of the main features known to GA4 is that it tracks events instead of sessions. Universal Analytics works by tracking a session every time someone visits your website and ends after 30 minutes. Therefore, every page view, transaction or click is recognised as a session within the timeframe. In GA4, tracking revolves around events, meaning when you add a GA4 tag to your website Google will track the different events someone undertakes when viewing a page, increasing the accuracy in measurement.
Updating your reports
As already mentioned above, the reporting function is quite different in GA4 and for many of us, this will be challenging to set up. The platform is designed with more flexibility to collect data, including from mobile applications. Because the data collected is more custom to each “data stream” in GA4, the reporting that surfaces all that data also needs to be custom-built.
As the UA reports don’t include similar fields to GA4, they will need to be entirely built again using the new reporting data. Even though the GA4 reporting process may seem hard to navigate, the sooner you learn the platform the easier reporting will become!
Update your tags
As GA4 captures data differently, all your existing tags will need to be rebuilt in the Google Tag Manager. With each event in Tag Manager, they must have an accompanying tag to be able to send accurate data into GA4.
Need help setting up GA4?
Completely changing the way marketers manage and report data can be daunting for many. There are a lot of technical steps involved with migrating your analytics over to GA4. And setting it up incorrectly can have big implications, that’s why we’re here to lend a helping hand.
If you need help setting up GA4, the team at Kwasi is more than happy to do all the work for you. Our experienced strategists and technical specialists can assist you with:
- Setting your measurement strategy
- Creating and configuring Google Analytics 4 correctly
- Creating a Google Tag Manager account
- Backing up GA4 data and ongoing review
- Setting up event tracking in Google Tag Manager
- Implementing the tracking code to your website
- Setting up monthly reports
- Retaining data from UA
- Providing training
What are some of the benefits of GA4?
You may be asking yourself “why is GA4 better?” So hang in there, because we have many exciting benefits to share with you. Although many of the common features and processes in Google Analytics have changed, they’ve created a wealth of new GA4 benefits to help you best manage your progress and make informed decisions.
Access to more data
With the old UA, there is a monthly limit to how much data can be collected (around 10 million hits per property) and even well below this limit UA will report based on sampled data.
However, with the new GA4, there is no limit to the amount of data you can collect as sampling isn’t used to generate reports. This makes it easier for you to have access to accurate data and prompt future decisions more confidently.
Although GA4 includes fewer features out-of-the-box compared to UA, you’ll come to realise there’s a lot more you can do with it. GA4 is packed with a bunch of features you’ll love. This includes greater flexibility in data tracking and generating your reports, just to name a few. Another advantage we love with this new platform is you won’t find yourself navigating through a whole lot of menus and reports you don’t need.
Google Analytics 4 is built with a stronger focus on privacy. With UA many marketers found the use of data transfers and analytics cookies ethically questionable and didn’t respond to the current GDPR. With this in mind, GA4 has been designed for a more privacy-centric world. It allows marketers and users to have more control over which data is being collected, while also complying with the current privacy regulations.
GA4 will start anonymizing IP addresses, avoiding the collection of third-party cookies in preparation for a cookie-less future, place stricter limitations on how long personal data can be stored and place restrictions on data transfer, in addition to a range of other privacy features that are consistent with GDPR requirements.
GA4 features cross-device and cross-platform tracking to help build a more complete picture of your customers and marketing efforts, all without relying on third-party cookies. UA tracks website and app engagement separately, which can lead to more inaccurate metrics. Now that GA4 uses Google Analytics data from websites and Firebase Analytics from apps, this allows for a complete overview of how customers are engaging with your content.
What are the next steps?
Now that you know a bit more about the changes Google is making with GA4, we hope you can see the benefits of getting as setup as possible with Google Analytics 4 before the July 2023 deadline arrives. As we’ve discussed there are many benefits and powerful tools that will help you and your team gather better insights about your audience.
If you need help with setting up GA4 or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us today.