Google Analytics 4 is replacing Universal Analytics in 2023. Are you ready?
Google has announced that its new platform, Google Analytics 4, will be replacing Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023. Get ready for this change in the platform by starting the transition today!
By: Hannah DeRoche, Senior Data Analyst
Since 2012, Universal Analytics (UA) has been a common source of truth for all website reporting. This platform has been a staple for measuring the effectiveness of campaigns and understanding the user experience on your site. In March, Google made the announcement that starting on July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer process new data, and all website reporting will be done through its new, advanced platform: Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This new platform boasts new modeling, metrics, and reporting capabilities. With a sleek look and a new reliance on events, GA4 has refined its data modeling and even leveraged machine learning to offer a treasure trove of new insights into how website visitors interact with and flow through a website.
Through our experience in transitioning from UA to GA4, we found five differences you will want to keep in mind:
Measure events vs. pageviews
GA4 measures “events,” while UA measures “hits.” This fundamentally different modeling means that GA4 focuses on events rather than sessions and pageviews, opening up new opportunities for funnel analysis and page pathing within the platform’s reporting capabilities. With this event-driven model, pageviews, clicks on engagement points throughout the site, and even conversions can be connected in the same funnel analysis or page pathing report, giving a more holistic view of the user’s journey.
Pro tip: GA4’s page pathing and funnel analysis lives in the “Explorations” section of the interface – a new and modern way to view data! The reporting within this section unlocks enhanced capabilities in a sleek interface that is more intuitive and customizable to meet your reporting needs.
Say bye-bye to bounce rates
With GA4’s new event-driven model, it has changed the key metrics that are reported on and highlighted in its platform. GA4 has a stronger reliance on users and engagement rate. Active users and engaged sessions not only track the traffic to your site but also separate out those who are actively viewing pages in the foreground of the browser and engaging with content vs. those who open the page and leave it in the background of their browsers. Engagement rate has thus replaced bounce rate as a primary metric, and we couldn’t be happier!
Pro tip: Strategize internally around which new metrics you want to use as your core KPIs and communicate early with key stakeholders in reporting how these new metrics relate to the Universal Analytics metrics you may have relied on in past reporting. GA4 is the future of website analytics – educate your teams early and often on the ever-advancing Google platform!
Use at your own risk – Google Tag Manager event tracking
Event tracking through Google Tag Manager has been transformed for GA4, with Google removing the restrictive category/action/label taxonomy that was offered for UA. Instead, GA4 event tags are based around a single event_name parameter and then offer the opportunity to add up to 25 unique parameters (100 with GA4 360) to each individual event tag. This has opened up a world of possibilities for each event tag, but this change has created an even larger need for teams to generate a strong tagging and tracking strategy for websites. Be smart around the data you are collecting through these new and flexible event parameters!
Pro tip: New event parameters must be manually configured in GA4 before pushing them live in Google Tag Manager to prevent any lapse in tracking or reporting! The new DebugView in GA4 makes sure every tag will track correctly before you make any changes live!
Segment users and build audiences like never before
Visitor segmentation and audience builds become key to taking full advantage of GA’s new capabilities, as we can now group site visitors based on purchase behavior, specific sequencing of events, demographics, and the more traditional pageviews. Further, in an effort to leverage machine learning algorithms, Google has introduced predictive metrics and data-driven modeling within the GA4 platform. This modeling looks at users to determine purchase probability, forecast churn, or predict revenue. While we don’t yet know all the details of Google’s machine learning algorithm, these metrics offer interesting insights into your website visitors that were not available in Universal Analytics.
Pro tip: Segments and audiences serve different purposes in GA4. Make sure to plan out your segment and audience builds!
Store historical data
Google is maintaining access to historical data in the UA platform data for only six months after pausing data collection on July 1, 2023. This means that before 2024, all data needs to be exported and moved to a separate data warehouse to prevent the loss of valuable insights into seasonality, trends, and overall historical performance. While the metrics may not be one-to-one between UA and GA4, we highly recommend housing the historical data in a platform like BigQuery. This data warehousing decision will also be important for future data, as GA4 retains only 14 months of data. Start planning a cadence of exporting your GA4 data now to get ahead of future data loss.
Pro tip: Be sure to discuss and come to a consensus with key stakeholders on how to report on YoY performance come July 1, 2023. If you are just now setting up GA4, there will be months with no historical GA4 data. We recommend using pageviews to get as close a comparison as possible between UA and GA4, as these metrics tend to be within a few percentage points of one another.
To keep up with advancing technology, changing privacy policies, and maturing reporting teams, Google has continued to alter and advance its products and platforms. The tech giant continues to expand, with each acquisition offering new data and reporting capabilities. In fact, in October 2022, Google rebranded all business intelligence services under the Looker brand, an acquisition they closed in 2020.
What does this mean for marketers and reporting teams? We must stay flexible in our reporting and be alert to the ever-changing state of platforms. Google is updating and refining GA4 every day, making changes to its capabilities and enhancing the interface for an optimal user experience. Getting ahead of the transition is key to securing future reporting and taking advantage of Google’s new analytics capabilities, ultimately enhancing the insights we can offer into campaign performance and user behavior.
What are you waiting for, then? Don’t delay! July 1 is fast-approaching. Will you be well positioned for the retirement of UA? Need help transitioning to GA4? Contact us at CommCreative today!