Google recently announced they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics in favour of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), with plans of fully transitioning by July 1, 2023.
What does this mean for your analytics? Firstly, Google has made it clear that Universal Analytics will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023 — it will be out with the old and in with the new. Basically this means that it will not be processing any new data after July 1, 2023. In order to prepare for this we are recommending that current Universal Analytics users have a GA4 property set up no later than June 2022, to ensure you have more than a year’s worth of data collected before Universal Analytics is sunsetted.
Whether you are a marketer, data analyst, or website owner, if you are responsible for or are a regular user of analytics, fear not! We can help guide this transition from the familiar territory of Universal Analytics to the realm of the unknown (aka GA4).
What is GA4?
Launched in 2020, GA4 is the newest iteration of Google Analytics. It offers promising features that are designed for the future, with cross-channel tracking that now captures user’s journeys across a variety of channels, including websites and apps.
It also promises to use machine learning to predict new insights and analyze data, while also prioritizing user privacy. There’s also much more flexibility for customization, including custom reports and tables.
The biggest changes that GA4 brings about are regarding security and privacy, with an updated platform with privacy at its core and more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage.
When it comes to making this switch, we suggest a sense of urgency in setting up GA4, for the main purpose of enabling the tracking metrics and building the necessary historical data before Universal Analytics is phased out.
Why Change is Good
We get it—change like this can be daunting, especially if you’re already comfortable with Universal Analytics. But, this isn’t the first time Google Analytics has made an update. When Google came out with Universal Analytics in 2012, there was hesitancy and resistance in the industry to transition from Classic Google Analytics. And now, website owners are so used to Universal Analytics, they think they can’t live without it! With the phasing out of Universal Analytics, it’s time to accept progress and embrace the next generation. Universal Analytics was designed around the desktop web and was missing a key measurement: capturing the increasing traffic and data generated from mobile devices.
GA4 has seen many updates in the past two and half years, and Bluetrain’s own digital marketing experts agree GA4 is still in the developmental or “beta” phase. But remember, GA4 is an evolution of Universal Analytics, not a replication. GA4 is extensive in its ability to scale, and with great features like custom reports, soon Universal Analytics will seem as old-school as VHS and cassette tapes!
“Privacy At Its Core”
Google announced GA4 is designed with “privacy at its core” to ensure website owners and users had access and control over the data being captured. There has been speculation that the move to fully transition to GA4 is Google’s way to reposition themselves as a “privacy-first” analytics platform, in lockstep with other major players, such as Apple. Though, as some experts point out, all of the privacy features in GA4 are also available in Universal Analytics, so the upgrade should be regarded as nothing but a step forward in user privacy.
Now, Google has focused on empowering the user to take control of their own data. A major difference is that GA4 will not have the option to store IP addresses like Universal Analytics did, which is likely in response to recent privacy legislation.
GA4 Features to Get Excited About
- App Integration: Previously, Google Analytics was only able to monitor traffic over web browsers. Webmasters had to use two platforms (Google Analytics and Firebase) to track their website and apps respectively. With GA4, you can track visitors across various platforms with the “Web+App” property, for unified reporting.
- Free Predictive Analytics: GA4 leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning unlike any other free product on the market. Particularly for eCommerce clients, predictive audiences (i.e., using predictive analytics to predict sales cycles/possibility of purchase) will be of great benefit.
- Custom Reports (Not Dashboards): One of the big differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 is that now users are able to customize their reports. In Universal Analytics these reports were pre-configured based on what Google decided was best. Now, you can customize this reporting based on what best suits your needs with more flexible naming conventions. There’s also an option to build your own sections (or “Collections”) to include reporting on specifics such as Mobile Users.
*Since this reporting is fully customizable, it really should be set up by someone who has experience with GA4. An “objective” report, in the hands of someone without the skills to properly set it up, could cause an inaccurate representation of your data. This, in turn, can lead business owners to make incorrect decisions based on what they assume are factual metrics.
- Automatic Measurements (Events That Are Automatically Tracked): GA4 has ‘built in’ event tracking (what they refer to as “Enhanced Measurement”) for a number of basic Events like Outbound Link Clicks, Scrolls, Video Watches, File Downloads, etc. This feature makes it really easy to set up advanced event tracking with just a little bit of configuration work, but the GA4 system also includes user-friendly ways to set up custom events.
- Track up to 30 Conversions: Users can now both create, track and delete up to 30 conversions with GA4, whereas, Universal Analytics only allowed for tracking 20 conversions (Goals) and they were static.
- Custom Tables – Now you can easily manipulate data within tables to show the metrics you want to see. Better yet, you can save the customized table configuration so it’s showing you the data you want to see, and your style of reporting will be remembered. Users can now make changes to the tables, adding or deleting columns as needed.
- Anomaly Detections: Essentially this is artificial intelligence and machine learning at work for you — anomaly detection is designed to alert you if Google detects something amiss. This feature is built into most line graphs you’ll see. Used to identify outliers, anomaly detection can perceive, for example, a sudden drop in sales. Since the theme of GA4 seems to be customization, users can set the sensitivity level to fit their risk level and preferences.
Next GA4 Steps for Website Owners
We’re not assuming the average user will have the desire or ability to set up the whole GA4 platform, but it’s important to (at minimum) install GA4 so that you have historical data to reference going forward.
*Note: Bluetrain still recommends a dual implementation: i.e, if you are starting a new analytics account, we highly recommend installing both Universal Analytics and GA4. This is because GA4 is still going through lots of testing and changes over the next year. Universal Analytics is far more reliable (currently) and will at least be useful to export current data in the lead up to July 2023.
Bare Minimum – GA4 Configuration/Page View
At the very bare minimum, we are recommending that all website owners have the basic GA4 Configuration installed by June 2022. This is to ensure that once Universal Analytics is sunsetted in 2023, your GA4 will have YoY comparison available.
If you’re the DIY type, there are plenty of great resources and instructions available. We recommend watching some of Julian from Measure School’s videos to get started.
Otherwise, reach out to us to have our Digital Marketing Experts handle every piece of your GA4 Transition for you.
Proper Setup – Reconfigure Events and Conversion for GA4
At the end of the day, GA4 is a brand new beast and the implementation for event and goal tracking is very different (ie, Universal Analytics event tracking will no longer work). If you do not want to commit to hours of training and ‘testing’, then reach out to the Bluetrain team to talk about your GA4 Migration.
Get Started With GA4 Today
Google has given everyone over a year to make the switch to GA4 and we think it’s best to start sooner than later to enable tracking metrics and start collecting historical data. We know it can seem a bit overwhelming to get started — we are here to help! Connect with us to discuss the future of your analytics.
And remember, we’ve seen Google adjust and make new announcements before and we’ll keep you updated on any new information that comes out.
*If you are interested in training your staff or are in need of a “GA4 101” session, we are happy to chat about customized training options.