Google Analytics is changing. The transition from Universal Google Analytics, which you’re probably using unless your website was built in the last two years, to Google Analytics 4 means business owners and marketers will get more capabilities, but they’ll need to make some changes as well. Here’s what business owners need to know about moving to Google Analytics 4.
What Business Owners Need to Know About Moving to Google Analytics 4
Before we learn more about Google Analytics and moving to Google Analytics 4, let’s talk about the highlights. Here are a few things that business owners need to know about moving to Google Analytics 4.
- If your website was built before October, 2020 or you installed Google Analytics before this date, you’re using the old version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics.
- Universal Analytics will stop gathering new data on July 1, 2023.
- You cannot migrate Universal Analytics data to the new version, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). The sooner you make the transition, the more useful and reliable your GA4 platform will be.
- GA4 is a significantly different platform with a novel data organization system. Making this transition and continuing to gather useful data will require some set-up time.
What is Google Analytics?
First of all, what is Google Analytics? Why is it important? Google Analytics is Google’s suite of tools that business owners, marketers, webmasters, and others can use to see how their site functions, how visitors navigate and use their site, how they discover their site, and much more. Without Google Analytics, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of how well your website serves your customers’ needs, and whether or not your content is actually being found when user’s make a relevant search.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google’s latest version of this suite of analytical tools. The original suite of tools is dubbed Universal Analytics, and it will stop working a year from now on July 1, 2023. This change is significant, and it requires a few active steps to make the transition smoothly. We’ll discuss this in more detail a bit later in the post.
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Why is Google Analytics Changing?
First, why is Google making this change? Is GA4 better than Universal Analytics?
One reason for the move to Google Analytics 4 is consumer privacy protection. GA4 is, in part, Google’s response to a growing body of legislation limiting tracking cookies, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). You’ve almost certainly seen pop-up boxes and notices explaining what cookies a website uses, how they use them, and how you can opt out. These notices can be annoying, but they’re a part of an important trend towards limiting tracking and consumer data collection and sale. Third-party data brokers, in particular, create a multi-billion-dollar industry on packaging and selling user data, sometimes in directly harmful ways. Limiting cookies is an important step towards protecting consumers’ privacy and well-being online, though there is still much more to do.
Google’s transition to GA4 still provides important data to website owners and marketers. Another reason for the transition to GA4 is to update the data organization and collection process, and make it more powerful. One of GA4’s advantages is the ability to connect data across mobile apps and websites, so businesses can see how customers use each of these. It also provides additional tools to see why customers take a particular action on your site (such as making a purchase) or even predict what they might do next, such as delete an app or make another purchase soon.
Is GA4 Better Than Universal Analytics?
While “better” somewhat depends on your point of view, GA4 offers greater data visibility across apps and websites, adapts to a cookie-less world, and can even help you predict what users may do next. It’s a pretty powerful set of tools, and it’s a necessary change to balance the need for users’ privacy with the need for usable business intelligence.
According to Google, GA4 offers a number of advantages, including the following:
- Collects both website and app data to better understand the customer journey
- Uses events instead of session-based data
- Includes privacy controls such as cookieless measurement, and behavioral and conversion modeling
- Predictive capabilities offer guidance without complex models
- Direct integrations to media platforms help drive actions
What’s Different With GA4?
GA4 is significantly different from Universal Analytics. It uses a different user interface, new data points, and a completely different data model. This means, to maintain the data you need to track sales trends, marketing campaigns, traffic numbers, and business growth, you’ll need to take some time to adjust GA4 around your goals and reports, and get familiar with the platform.
For example, Universal Analytics is session-based, and the data is built around particular actions within a set time. So, if a visitor takes a conversion action four times in the same session, it will only count as one conversion. However, the new GA4 is event-based, so each event will count individually. This can provide more actionable data, since webmasters, business owners and marketers generally want to know whether a user is taking valuable actions, according to their sales funnel stages.
Should Business Owners Transition Their Websites to GA4?
In short, yes, business owners should transition their websites to GA4, the sooner the better. There are a few important reasons for this.
Firstly, Universal Analytics will stop working as of July 1, 2023. This means that no new traffic will be recorded, so the data you gather from Universal Analytics will stop. You’ll still have access to historical data, but you won’t be able to see how users are navigating your site, how they’re finding your site, new sales or conversions, and more. Access to Universal Analytics won’t be supported forever, so neglecting the transition too long will put your data in jeopardy.
Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, you cannot migrate your data from Universal Analytics to GA4. This means, if you wait until the last minute to start using GA4, you may have gaps in your data. However, if you make the switch now, you’ll be able to gather data with this new suite of tools sooner. When you make a GA4 account, it will actually create a new property, so you’ll have access to your historical data as well as your new data. So, you’ll have some overlap time where your Universal Analytics accounts will still be functional, and your GA4 account will build historical data.
Is It Difficult to Transition from Universal Analytics to GA4?
To create your new GA4 account, Google provides a set-up assistant wizard. However, making your new GA4 account usable, and tracking the data that you need, may be a bit more complex. So, taking the first step to start your GA4 account may be easy. However, actually getting utility out of this powerful new suite of tools will take a bit more set-up. Google Analytics, including Universal and GA4, can gather a lot of data and crunch the numbers in insightful ways, but it has to know what you consider important to actually give you actionable insights.
Different content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress, GoDaddy, Shopify, Weebly etc. will have slightly different processes for this. If you use Google Tag Manager to manage the code fragments that record triggers and other tracking variables, you’ll need to configure fields and set parameters accordingly, so that your data remains consistent. Remember, the data variables and the information gathering interface is significantly different in GA4.
This transition process from Universal Analytics to GA4 can be intimidating. Take it one step at a time, and set aside some time to familiarize yourself with the new GA4 platform. This will help you gather powerful data about your online properties that will help you build a better business that is ready for the future. If you’re not sure about how to make this transition, but you’d like to use this powerful data toolset to improve your online marketing and sales efforts, contact us. Our marketing experts have already brought dozens of clients to GA4 to support highly effective marketing campaigns, and we can help your business too.