Back in October 2020, Google launched its newest web reporting tool, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). We knew this meant the end of Universal Analytics was on the horizon. Today, we officially have an end date.
Google will be sunsetting Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023 so now is the time to begin transitioning to GA4. But you don’t have to panic. We’ll fill you in on everything digital marketers need to know about Google Analytics 4.
What’s Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is more than a redesign of Universal Analytics; it’s Google’s next-generation measurement and reporting tool. Google Analytics 4 was created in response to the changing consumer behavior and increased focus on privacy. It combines data from websites and apps into a single resource (previously you had to use a separate Analytics tool to measure traffic from apps) while prioritizing user privacy and consent management.
What’s new in GA 4?
Google Analytics 4 has been completely redesigned, not only from how it looks but also in how it measures data. Universal Analytics’ measurement model is based on sessions or pageviews. A session is a group of user activity (or hits) that take place on a website within a certain amount of time. That means a single session can have multiple hits depending on the user’s activity.
However, Google Analytics 4 is event-based. That means every interaction on the website or app is measured as a standalone event. Unlike in Universal Analytics, most events are now measured by default so you don’t need to customize the tracking code like before. Google Analytics 4 uses parameters to provide context to each event and user properties to describe the user who started the event.
These events are grouped into 4 categories:
- Automatically collected events are triggered by basic interactions on your website or app without having to write additional code. These events include first_visit, page_view, or session_start.
- Enhanced measurement events are automatically collected when you enable the enhanced measurement option. These events can include scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, or file downloads.
- Recommended events are predefined names and parameters. Google has created a list of events that are recommended for different industries. Depending on your industry or the events you need to measure, these may not be necessary.
- Custom events are events you name. You can create a custom event if no event in the other 3 categories work for your use case. If you create a custom event, you will need to set up custom reports for analysis because they won’t show up in most standard reports.
This shift to event-based measurement is huge. It deemphasizes sessions and page views in favor of users. In fact, marketers should expect to see lower session counts after moving to Google Analytics 4 because it does not have a session timeout like Universal Analytics does.
Benefits of Google Analytics 4
It will take some time to get used to how Google Analytics 4 measures and processes data but there are a lot of benefits with the new platform.
Unified reporting. Prior versions of Google Analytics required a separate property to track app data. GA4 now allows you to combine web and app analytics with the same property. This gives you consistent reporting metrics and a fuller view of the customer journey.
Customer journey insight. The new emphasis on users and events means you can get a better understanding of how buyers flow through your website. The addition of User ID tracking makes it easier to track users across devices and platforms, offering more in-depth insights.
Future-proof reporting. With the shift towards consumer privacy, Google Analytics 4 was created to last a long time. It gives you and your website visitors more control over what personal data is collected, helping you comply with current (and future) privacy regulations. It also uses machine-learning and AI to fill the gaps in data that can occur when users opt-out of cookie usage and data collection.
Do I need to update to GA 4?
In short, yes. Universal Analytics will stop recording new hits on July 1, 2023 and you’ll have access to previously processed data for at least six months. There’s no guarantee for further access after that time. We recommend prioritizing updating to Google Analytics 4 to minimize data loss; if historical information is important for you, it’s strongly encouraged to export historical reports while you can.
How to set-up Google Analytics 4
Here’s how to set up GA4 property alongside an existing Universal Analytics property:
- Login to your Google Analytics Account.
- Navigate to the Admin section (look for the gear icon on the bottom left sidebar)
- In the Account column, select the account you want to create the property for
- In the Property column, select the desired property for your website.
- Select GA4 Setup Assistant (should be the first option in the Property column)
- Click Get Started under “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property” and follow the prompts.
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What happens next?
Google Analytics 4 is the next great thing for good reason. It’s worth setting up a GA4 property now to not only give you time to become familiar with it but to also start collecting historical data.
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