GA4 has officially replaced Universal Analytics. We've updated the end of this post with our first impressions of life without UA.
If you’re relying on Google for any aspect of your business — and really, who out there isn’t to some degree — you need to be ready to adapt to changes they make to their products, whether that’s search ads, Google My Business, or whatever combination of their offerings you’re using to help make your business more findable on the world’s biggest search engine.
One of the changes announced recently is the update to Google Analytics that will transform it into what Google is calling GA4. Google Analytics is, as you probably know, where all the data about who’s visiting your site, where they came from, and all sorts of useful data is collected.
The official change isn’t coming until summer. But, CID’s digital marketing strategists have already been diligently shifting our clients to GA4 over the past several weeks in order to ensure that when the change comes our clients are already used to the shift (and that no data is lost in the process).
What is GA4?
Simply put, GA4 or Google Analytics 4 is being introduced as “the next generation of Analytics.” Google describes it as an entirely new property that was intentionally designed for “the future of measurement.”
According to the most recent updates from Google, GA4 is expected to:
- Gather web and app data that offers more clarity on customer journeys
- Use data that is event-based rather than session-based
- Offer privacy control for cookies and behavior modeling
- Drive actions on websites and apps with direct integration to media platforms
- Provide guidance and predictive insights without complex models
What GA4 Means for Marketers
Part of what makes preparing for GA4’s arrival so crucial is that it isn’t optional. At the same time that the update was announced Google also shared that they will be sunsetting GA4’s widely-utilized predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA).
As of now, UA and its affiliated properties are scheduled to be discontinued before July 1, 2023. And, while users will still be able to access their historical data and reports for a short period of time afterward, any and all new data will flow into GA4 exclusively.
That means the data you’ve had access to through UA is going away, too. In fact, one big reason CID’s team started moving our clients to GA4 already is to help make archiving what for some is a decade’s worth of data easier.
But the impact isn’t just on historical data. There are enhanced features and bells and whistles that GA4 is offering that seem really promising. Something we’ve noticed already is that tagging is better and more useful, for example. The more we dive in, the more we’re learning about how to make the most of the new features that have been rolled out.
Getting Ready for GA4
Learning any new system can be a challenge, but It’s important to remind ourselves that none of the challenges GA4 presents are insurmountable. And fortunately, there is still time to prepare so that the switch will be as smooth as possible.
More information and instruction from Google will surely be made available in the coming months. But in the meantime, here are a few steps we recommend taking based on what we’ve seen so far that should help make your GA4 migration a bit easier:
Set Up Your GA4 Property as Soon As Possible - Even if you’re not ready to fully migrate just yet, getting your GA4 properties implemented early will give you time to familiarize yourself with the dashboard and start gathering historical data. It will also ensure you don't get stuck waiting on any required updates later on.
Review Your Setup Options - Whether you are making the switch or you’re a brand-new user, you’ll have a few different options to choose from for the initial setup. You can set up a data collection for the first time, add GA4 to an existing site with UA, or add it to a website builder or CMS. Google has instructions available for all options so you can familiarize yourself with whatever route works best for you ahead of time.
Archive and Prep Your Universal Analytics Data - You will still be able to access your UA reports and data for a short period of time after it is formally sunsetted, but Google has not yet confirmed what that exact timeframe will look like. We’d recommend archiving or backlogging as much as you can just to be on the safe side.
Adapting and acclimating to a new platform can be a big undertaking, especially if your business has been used to doing things one way for years. From what we’ve seen so far, we are hopeful that the enhanced features and the added focus on user journey data will result in a better experience for marketers and analysts, particularly those who work with large and complex accounts.
September, 2023 Update:
GA4 is here, and even though it's just been a short time working exclusively in this environment, there have been a few things our team has noticed (some positive, and some...with potential, let's say).
First, data thresholding -- a situation in which Google limits the type and amount of data in certain cases -- is real. It's meant for instances where the user count is low and is an effort to protect the identity of individual users whose information may be part of a data set. The threshold can be imposed for up to 14 months, which means some year-over-year data may be incomplete -- at least for a little while.
Google is also still actively rolling out updates. The good news is that some of the updates are simply bringing back metrics that were initially left out of the GA4 system. Others are updates that seem more aesthetic than anything else.
The bottom line: There's still a lot to explore in GA4 and no doubt there will be hiccups here and there. But, as we make our way deeper into the platform we keep learning and adjusting to give clients the best, most useful data possible about their digital marketing programs.
Get help with your transition to GA4 from CID’s digital marketing strategists. Contact us and we’ll help figure out where to begin.