The newest version of Google Analytics (GA) is here and it’s time to start moving away from Universal Analytics (UA) to embrace the new platform. While we're not the experts in GA, our team has done some research to help get you started on the right track. We've put together background information on Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and what your organization can do between now and July 2023, when UA becomes obsolete.
Different Tool, Same Purpose
As always with analytics, the most important thing to remember is that it is a tool for answering questions and making better informed decisions about adjustments to your website’s organization and content. Though there are a lot of new ways of doing things in the latest version, GA’s core purpose remains answering those key questions. For that reason, we recommend first asking yourself, well, what you need to ask yourself! What core questions are currently being answered by analytics? How does GA4 help me get this answer?
As you make this transition, remember that this is likely a big shift from what your organization is used to and there will definitely be a learning curve. Importantly, we’re not the world’s foremost source on GA4 expertise; that would be Google themselves. But, we’ve been learning and researching it recently and wanted to share some helpful steps your organization can do now to prepare.
Google announced in April 2022 that all standard UA properties will stop recording new traffic on July 1, 2023. Any organization that uses UA will need to make the switch to GA4 on or before then. By the end of 2023, historic data for all UA properties will no longer be accessible within Google Analytics which means your tracking, reporting, and data will also need to change.
We strongly recommend that you turn on GA4 as soon as possible so that come summer of 2023, you have as much historical data as you can. But turning on GA4 doesn’t mean you need to shut off Universal Analytics - you can run both at once for the next year.
Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4
The biggest difference between these two generations is their measurement model. UA uses a model based on sessions and pageviews, while GA4 uses a model based on events and parameters. In GA4, any interaction can be captured as an event. As a result, all UA hit types will translate to events in GA4. Practically speaking, that means that many of the events that needed to be custom-tagged in UA are now baked into GA4. A few examples include video metrics, file downloads, and scroll depth.
The second major difference is in the reporting. UA has several standard reports with select customizations possible. GA4 has only top-level reports built in, and if you want specific reports then you’ll have to visit the explore tab.
The setup of GA4 will allow your organization more freedom when it comes to how your reports can look and will let you drill down to find the data that is most important to you. This provides you with the ability to create custom reports with the data you need, while significantly reducing the number of irrelevant, pre-made reports that can clutter your dashboard.
It’s important to note that while GA4 won’t be able to give you all this data off the bat, early implementation will help you take advantage of this enhanced experience and data sooner rather than later.
What Your Organization Can Do Now
Activate GA4. Capture as much historical data as you can in GA4 before Universal Analytics goes away by activating GA4 now. Your organization should also officially switch your analytics practice to GA4 prior to July 2023.
Take advantage of Dual Tagging. Your organization is able to run both GA4 and UA parallel to one another through a process called Dual Tagging. Read more about Getting Started with GA4 Dual Tagging to see how your organization can add GA4 tracking onto your website while keeping your existing UA tagging up and running.
Clean up existing tags. Map your Google Tag Manager (GTM) tags in a spreadsheet to allow your organization the chance to review your current UA tags to identify which ones you are actually using, and remove any you no longer need in GA4. This will give you the opportunity to pare down the number tags from UA that you’ll need moving forward, along with determining what new tags (if any) you’ll need to set up in GA4. If you’d like more information, we recommend looking at this spreadsheet example provided by Google.
Save historical data. At this time, there is no easy way to transfer existing UA data to GA4 so determining how far back in analytics your organization plans to review in the future will be a great first step. Your organization can transfer its data by exporting individual reports into a number of standard formats or using the Google Analytics Reporting API to export data.
Making the move to GA4 is a big undertaking, and it’s important to recognize that going forward. As with anything, making this switch will come with some time spent learning the new system, setting it up to best meet your organization’s needs, and migrating any data from UA over. Below are some resources from Google to help your organization navigate this transition.