Mark your calendars! As of 1st July, all websites will have to migrate across to Google Analytics 4 as Google’s Universal Analytics will no longer process data. Any sites not migrated to the new dashboard by this date will not be able to track their analytics until they have set up GA4.

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Google has been pushing GA4 for some time now, with all new properties set up defaulting to the new system since its release in October 2020.

Google stated “We’re focusing our efforts and investments on Google Analytics 4 to deliver a solution built to adapt to a changing ecosystem. Because of this, throughout 2023, we’ll be shifting support away from Universal Analytics 360 (UA) and will move our full focus to Google Analytics 4 in 2024.”

But what does this mean exactly?

Google Analytics as we know it will be shut down and replaced with Google Analytics 4, a more complex but more customisable system. Hopefully with July fast approaching you have already started getting to grips with the new Google Analytics and are familiar with creating bespoke reports and dashboards for your business.

What are the differences between GA4 and UA?

There are lots of differences between UA and GA4, but as a snapshot, the data is slightly more accurate, and the reports can be more customisable and detailed. The main disadvantage is now you have to spend quite a bit of time setting up your own reports and getting accustomed to the new terminology, data sets and layout.

A key difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is in the way it tracks user activity and reports data in the first place. Universal Analytics was a page-based tracking system focused on measuring insights from metadata and cookies, whereas GA4 is event-based – meaning it tracks interactions on your website rather than just passive page visits. GA4 was developed with a focus on user privacy, although it still requires 1st party tracking cookies. It will provide more accurate data for businesses and advertisers whilst providing a better digital experience for users by adhering to evolving digital privacy laws.

What are the benefits of Google Analytics 4?

One of the main upsides to Google Analytics 4 is that it provides more advanced cross-device tracking capabilities for websites and applications, giving marketers a better understanding of customer journeys across multiple devices and touchpoints.

Additionally, whilst you’ll still need Google Tag Manager for some events, with GA4 you don’t need to rely on Tag Manager and can configure your own custom events inside GA4.

GA4 is uses machine learning to not only predict user data but to be more accurate in this prediction as well, like when analysing engagement times vs session durations. Advancements can also be seen in the pageviews section as more data can be collected without extra configuration, including events such as file downloads, scroll, searches, and outbound links.

The dashboard-type interface provides visualisation for quicker data consumption. You can choose the data you gather and control how you collect personal data to match your privacy policy and regional legislation, and you can also choose how you display your data! You are given a lot more customisable options to choose how you structure your report.

However, this ‘build your own’ aspect isn’t as greatly received by everyone…

The Downsides of Google Analytics 4

The option to build your own reports came at the sacrifice of the number of default ones available, which means that setting up reports in GA4 demands more time than UA did. Equally, eCommerce tracking is more complex and does require implementation through Google Tag Manager. Those who have already set up Universal Analytics to pick up the events they want to track will not see much difference in GA4 but will have to configure the reports again.

The data element is also causing a nervous buzz around GA4’s arrival as there is a small data retention window of 14 months for exploration reports and some user data, meaning you will not be able to track back further than this period for some of your reports. Some data will be missing when you want to compare last year to the previous year, for example.

The way that the data is counted is also different. GA4 only counts the tab that is open than the tab that is inactive as Universal did, which could show a reduction in your average engagement time. This however does provide a more realistic impression of your users’ engagement with your site. GA4 also records the session time of each page visited but universally measures the average between all the pages they visited.

Lastly, some reports from Universal Analytics are missing in GA4, for example Speed and some eCommerce reports. Google are still working on GA4 so it’s unknown whether these reports will be made available in the future.

Despite some drawbacks, Google has made clear for some time now that Universal Analytics will be replaced, and now the adoption date for GA4 looms, it’s time for marketeers and digital teams to ensure they have everything in place to ensure a smooth transfer of reporting.

What do you think about this new software? Are you excited and raring to go with new customised reports, or are you apprehensive about the unknown? Either way, contact us for help navigating the new Google Analytics 4 system.