In the world of digital analytics, innovation and evolution is the norm. With platforms like Google constantly updating their algorithms, and thus the metrics for success, using the latest tools and techniques is crucial to ensure you are making data-driven business decisions effectively.
That’s why it’s important to get to terms with Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the new version of Analytics which gives us new insight into user behaviour, streamlines data collection, and empowers marketers by giving them more control over how they see their data.
GA4 is the successor to Universal Analytics (UA), which Google launched in 2012. With the full launch of GA4, UA is reaching the end of the line, and UA properties will stop processing data very soon if they have not already. To ensure you’re still capturing the data that’s important to you and to make sure you’re caught up on the differences between UA and GA4, this article will highlight what you need to know to make the switchover.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Like its predecessor, GA4 tracks all the important metrics on your website, providing valuable insights into its popularity and visibility. From the number of users visiting your site to their engagement levels and frequency of return, Google Analytics can meticulously track metrics down to the minute, offering a wealth of data to inform your marketing decisions. However, GA4 has some significant differences to UA that means it tracks data in a completely different way.
GA4 has simplified its data modelling
In contrast to Universal Analytics' hit-based model, which focused on pageviews and sessions, GA4 employs an event-based model that tracks every user action on the site and converts it into a metric. This shift allows for more detailed tracking of user engagement without the need for complex workarounds.
GA4 has advanced tracking capabilities
Thanks to its new data model, GA4 enables more robust tracking and analysis of user interactions compared to UA. Custom events can be defined, offering a deeper understanding of user actions on the site. These enhanced tracking features also provide a holistic view of the user journey across different touchpoints, identifying the same user across various platforms and offering comprehensive insights into user behaviour.
Conversions are more accurate in GA4
GA4's enhanced tracking capabilities and event-based model result in more accurate tracking of conversions – i.e., actions that provide potential or actual value to the business. Improved attribution modelling allows a better understanding of how different marketing channels contribute to the conversion rate. Cross-platform tracking ensures proper attribution of conversions across different devices, reducing data gaps.
GA4 was designed with privacy in mind
Despite its advanced tracking features, GA4 was built with user privacy in mind, offering features that allow users to have greater control over data handling. Users can configure data storage periods and manage data sharing settings directly within GA4. Built-in support for Consent Mode helps comply with data privacy regulations by adjusting data collection based on user consent choices. GA4's event-based model focuses on user actions rather than individual user identifiers, further protecting user anonymity.
GA4’s interface is more user-friendly
Google has made significant efforts to make GA4 more user-friendly than UA. The interface presents data in a simplified manner while still providing in-depth analysis tools for experts. It offers intuitive navigation and visualizations to facilitate easy understanding and interpretation of data. The learning curve to start using GA4 is reduced, making it more accessible to those working with digital marketing data.
Switching from UA to GA4
Now that you know a little bit more about how GA4 expands and improves upon UA’s functionality, how do you make the switch?
Officially, Universal Analytics stopped processing data on July 1, 2023, although some UA properties continue to collect data. Google is warning that these properties will stop functioning very soon, so it’s never been a better time to switch if you haven’t already.
Thankfully, Google will automatically create a GA4 property for you based on the settings of your UA property if you haven’t created one for yourself. However, it’s best to transfer the settings to your new property yourself to prevent any unintentional errors and make sure everything is set up correctly.
Using the GA4 Setup Assistant
Once you’re confident data is being collected, you can navigate to the Admin settings of your GA4 property to finish using the Setup Assistant. Here, you’ll be presented with seven different tasks which you’ll need to manually mark as “complete” once you’re happy with them:
- Collect website and app data: If you’re confident you’ve set the tag up correctly and data is flowing to your GA4 property, you can mark this as complete.
- Turn on Google Signals: This is a tool that allows you to use aggregated data from people who have turned Ad Personalisation on, which can be useful if you get enough traffic to utilise it to its fullest extent. However, you should be cautious about using this as it will apply thresholding to your Google Analytics, meaning some data is likely to be withheld. Either way, mark it complete once you’re happy.
- Set up conversions: You can import these from UA, but you’ll need to check whether they’re set up correctly. You can also create them from scratch if you prefer.
- Define audiences: You can define custom audiences in GA4 that track a certain set of visitors.
- Link to Google Ads: If you’re using Google Ads, we recommend you link your account to GA4 to get the full benefits of data collection.
- Bid on GA4 conversions: If you’re already happy with how Ads is tracking and bidding on conversions, you can leave this as-is. However, you can also import your conversions from GA4 into Ads for a more holistic experience.
- Target ads to GA4 audiences: After defining your Audiences earlier, you can import them into GA4 and start using them for remarketing purposes.
Can I import my UA data into my GA4 property?
The simple answer to this is no. That’s because of the differences in data modelling we’ve mentioned previously. Because UA data is based on pageviews and sessions, the data simply does not translate to the model that GA4 uses. This is also why you may see discrepancies if you are comparing Universal Analytics data to Google Analytics 4 data.
However, your UA property will not disappear immediately. We highly recommend you export all of your data from UA to different spreadsheets so that you can still observe and analyse historical data. UA properties will disappear in July 2024, so you only have a certain amount of time to archive your UA data.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in our article on GA4, so you may still have questions about the big switchover from UA to GA4. Verto is always here to help you manage your digital marketing data, and we offer services to help you switch over to the new version of Analytics. We also host bespoke training sessions suited for your needs that take you through everything you need to know about Google Analytics 4. Get in touch with us by filling out a contact form or calling our offices on 01536 411153 and find out how we can help you make the big switchover.