Google Analytics has become ubiquitous in marketing for gathering and analyzing data. But change is on the horizon – Google is updating to Google Analytics 4, and many people are understandably nervous about this change. Now is the time to start understanding, integrating, and using GA4 so your brand is prepared for this new frontier.
Google Analytics 3, or Universal Analytics (UA), as it’s more commonly known, has been a popular data analysis tool for over a decade. But now Google is making a seismic change to its analytics platform — the introduction of Google Analytics 4 — as it shifts to new standards and measurements.
GA4 launched in December 2020 as a cookie-free method of measuring website traffic with additional data like predictive insights and deeper integration with Google Ads. One of the biggest changes, and the one that has many people concerned, is the change in data storage. GA4 will NOT carry over historical data from UA, and will not be able to integrate old data with new data. While this may sound scary, there’s a little bit more to the story — and a number of avenues you can take to preserve your historical data while preparing to switch to GA4.
So what’s different? While UA gathers session-based data, GA4 will use a flexible, event-based model to capture data instead. A “session” typically encapsulates the time a customer spends on your website.
The logical thought is, “a longer session means more interest or engagement,” right? But UA can’t tell you what was happening during that session. Was the person actively engaged with your site, or did they just happen to leave a window open for 20 minutes?
GA4 hopes to eliminate some of this ambiguity by tracking event-based engagement. Instead of time as a measurement, “events” like link clicks, form submission, conversions, and downloads will be tracked, giving a clearer picture of what your audience is doing.
GA4 will also offer more comprehensive cross-device tracking, better Google Ad integration, and machine learning to help with insights and discoveries, such as user behavior, consumer behavior across apps and web properties, and more detailed information on actions consumers take.
Universal Analytics will be shut down as of July 2023, and all historical data will be deleted six months later. GA4 will not retroactively add data, either. This means you need to start your preparations now!
First, you should download any UA data you don’t want to lose. You should also pay attention to what your data actually tells you. Create a list of insights to gather, and determine what stories those insights tell. Understanding your data and how to use it in your marketing and brand strategy is far more important than simply hoarding data.
You should also activate Google Analytics 4 ASAP if you have not done so already. This will help you see both programs side by side, begin to familiarize yourself with GA4, and most importantly, begin building data in GA4 NOW. Don’t wait until crunch time to get GA4 moving.
If the switch to GA4 seems a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone — people, brands, and organizations everywhere have shared concerns. With the official replacement of UA still a year away, Google still has some fine-tuning to do.
Some of the things people hope to see improved are GA4’s user interface and accessibility, as well as functionality — there are concerns about Google removing popular features, but the tech giant has said many will actually be rolled into GA4. It’s also important to remember people often initially balk at change; when UA first rolled out, there were plenty of people displeased with it. As the 2023 phase-out date approaches, more guides and resources are becoming available from both Google and third parties to help users make the switch.
The most important thing you can do to ease your transition to GA4 is start running it TODAY. You can run it alongside UA to see the differences, and most importantly, begin gathering new data.
Keep up to date on GA4 news and start planning for how the changes will affect your data gathering and analysis. WITHIN’s Head of SEO Chris Tatum advises, “If you do nothing else with GA4, at least get it installed as soon as possible to start gathering data. You can always learn the tool later, but the longer you wait, the more data you are going to lose out on. Don’t hinder yourself or your marketing team just because of GA4 hesitations.”
It’s also worth noting: this may actually be a good opportunity for a fresh slate. The last three years have been anything but normal, and recent consumer data isn’t the most stable or reliable. GA4 offers a fresh start in a new digital ecosystem.
For expert advice on how to improve data reporting and plan for G4 changes, get in touch.
Bex Del Pizzo Bex (she/her) is a Content Writer at WITHIN. She’s always down to talk literature, marketing trends, DEI work, anime, the MCU, Iceland, memes, mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, and other general nerdery and pop culture.