Google Analytics 4 - What Marketers Need to Know About GA4
Apr 13, 2022
Originally published in
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You won’t see it in theaters, but for anyone with a stake in a website’s success, the definitive summer blockbuster will arrive on July 1, 2023.
That’s when Google officially unplugs Universal Analytics, its ubiquitous, data-collecting platform that has dominated the website analytics industry since its 2012 debut.
This means you’ll no longer be able to see your Universal Analytics reports in the Analytics interface or access your Universal Analytics data via the API, among other things that could create ample headaches if you’re not prepared for the change.
Its replacement? Google Analytics 4, representing a complete makeover with a new data model, new interface, and a ton of new functionality.
According to W3 Techs, Google Analytics is used by 86% of all the websites whose traffic analysis tool is known, or roughly 55% of all websites. That’s huge – and puts into context the impact of Google’s change in how Analytics operates.
It’s not so much that Universal Analytics (UA) is broken, but 10 years into its lifespan, internet technology and how we use it has leapfrogged UA’s capabilities.
While Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been around for a couple of years, its adoption rate has been slow, leading Google to show UA the door. This move is expected to:
increase GA4 adoption
improve privacy on the web, a key aspect of GA4
boost Google’s ad revenue
simplify compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (an important component of EU privacy law and of human rights law) and other data regulations
No matter the reasons for the UA to GA4 change, all marketers must get ready for this change.
Google says dance, we dance.
How Will It Affect Me?
No matter how you slice it, the end of Universal Analytics is important, but especially for website owners, digital marketers, and web analysts. How we measure a site’s success is about to change entirely, and it’s time to prep for that change.
According to Google, if you created your website after October 14, 2020, you're likely using a Google Analytics 4 property already, and no action is required.
But if your site was created before October 14, 2020, you're probably using a Universal Analytics property. That means how you collect and measure all the data for your site will be totally changing. Don’t get caught off-guard.
Not sure if you’re currently using UA or GA4? Find out here.
What Can Google Analytics 4 Do?
Aside from impending changeover chaos, Google indicates there is plenty to like with the completely event-driven GA4, such as enhanced measurement, which automates many tasks you used to have to do by hand, like measuring outbound clicks to other sites, video engagements, file downloads, and more.
Cross-device tracking is also new, and it uses Google Signals to understand when someone is switching between using a mobile device and a laptop, and still knows that it’s one single person on each device.
GA4 also promises:
measurement using your own identifiers for more stable data
better data accessibility, with all accounts now able to export raw data to Big Query for more complex analysis
closer integration with Google Ads on attribution and activation
And there’s even more, as analytics expert Charles Farina details in this series of tweets.
What Should I Do Next?
While Google is quite clear in its directive…
“We strongly encourage you to make the switch to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible. Doing so will allow you to build the necessary historical data and usage in the new experience, preparing you for continuity once Universal Analytics is no longer available.”
…most experts say it’s important to first craft a sound strategy for the change over, and that might take months.
Expect lots of internal Q&A sessions. Does your organization rely on historical data? If so, how do you plan to preserve that data? There’s a lot to consider.
In a poll of 250 marketers, Search Engine Land found 70% said they planned to switch to GA4 and will handle the migration internally.
Another 14% of respondents said they planned to switch but would hire outside consultants to help them get set up with GA4 (Whereoware can help).
Only 12% said they planned to explore other analytics platforms to use instead of GA4. The remaining 4% cited “other” scenarios.
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It’s fine if your team isn’t ready to make the complete switch to Google Analytics 4 just yet, but you should set up GA4 tracking as soon as possible, and that can be done through your development team or with Google Tag Manager.
We highly recommend installing Google Tag Manager, as it lets you seamlessly track events in GA4 and will greatly help in your US-to-GA4 migration process.
With Google Analytics 4, we’re expecting valuable new levels of data collection, deeper customization, and more privacy.
But if you’re not ready for those changes come 7/1/23, you might find it hard to celebrate the occasion.