As the sun sets on Universal Analytics, are you ready for what's next?

Written by Cristina Merino

From July 2023, all standard UA properties will stop processing new hits. So, if you haven’t upgraded to the new version, you need to work on a plan to get your house in order and implement Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – sooner rather than later – to avoid losing any valuable data.

But what’s the deal with GA4?

Two and a half years ago, Google introduced its latest analytics tool; Google Analytics 4.

Since the launch, there have been many updates as the tool continues to improve its capabilities and meet the evolving needs of the new digital data collection era.

But with Google now confirming the timeline to sunset UA, the move to GA4 will be mandatory. So, if you’re still using UA, it’s critical you’re aware of what this move will entail, and are clear on what you need to do next.

What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and what will it bring?

'In today’s privacy-focused landscape, Google needed ‘an analytics tool that was able to navigate the complex, multi-platform journeys while prioritising user privacy’.

But compared to its predecessor (UA) there are some clear differences in how this tool operates. Here are three of the key differentiators:

Session-based vs Event-based model

UA uses a session-based data model that focuses on sessions and page views, grouping user interactions within a specific timeframe. GA4, however, uses an event-based model with data structured around users and events. This means that each user interaction is seen as a standalone event which offers greater flexibility for collecting unique interactions with your content.

So, while UA has page views and manually configured events in separate reports, GA4 simplifies this approach with a single system of events.

Website only vs Web & App

UA was built to work on websites and independent sessions. To measure app engagement and website engagement you needed to use two products in tandem – Firebase (an app analytics tool) and Google Analytics. While this combination offered powerful insights, the lack of full integration stopped you from gaining a real picture of unified engagement across app and website (at least not without going through some painful manual work!).

GA4 introduces a new property type that helps you combine app and web data for unified reporting and analysis. What this means in practice is that you’ll be able to easily answer more complex questions. For instance:

  • Which channel is bringing the newest users across different platforms?

  • How many total unique users do you have (regardless of which platform they use)?

  • How many conversions did you get from app and web?

Cookies vs AI machine learning

Balancing privacy and insight can be difficult, but Machine Learning has all the options to win in this new era. GA4 takes advantage of AI’s powers to strike that balance and make the most out of a Machine Learning model that benefits both users and marketers.

While UA relies on cookies to track users, GA4 uses predictive data to fill in the gaps of cookie-free environments by providing sophisticated insights about user behaviour, trends, and anomalies. This model also offers user-centric measurements that aren’t restricted to a single device or platform.

So, what does this mean to you as a business?

In the B2B landscape, it’s very rare that a user will come to your site and buy straight away. Instead, they follow a rather tricky and complex path to hit that ‘contact us/submit button’ on your site.

By only focussing on what happens during a session or on a single device, you lose the opportunity to see which journey your users are most likely to follow, or even identify obstructions that you could easily solve.

Because GA4 is a paradigm shift for Google Analytics (with lots of metrics/reports changing or disappearing), brands should work on a list of metrics and dimensions they absolutely must have and identify how they've changed from one tool to the other.

For instance, if you rely on Session Count, there are important differences between the two systems. Another important change to be aware of is how events are structured. The removal of Category > Action > Label identifiers for events has the potential to make the switch difficult if you rely on a specific set of naming conventions adapted to UA. 

Although GA4 will surely continue to evolve and adapt some of its functionality over the coming months, the limitations of the UA model in today’s digital world are clearly superseded by the new tool – so look at this as a blessing not a curse!

Why should you act now?

There’s still time to get your GA4 property set up before the deadline (July 2023) and we recommend working on a plan for the transition now, to avoid any potential loss of reporting data and ensure that all your tracking capabilities are transitioned to GA4.

With historical Universal Analytics reports not being accessible around six months after the 1st of July (Google is yet to confirm the precise date), it would be ideal to have everything set up correctly by the end of 2022 to obtain YoY data between GA4 and UA.

Google have also developed a helpful guide that may help with your transition plan.

Now that there’s a deadline, timelines will need to be specific, and it may be difficult to decide what to do and in what order.

Our data and analytics team are already supporting our clients to take the headache out of the transition. Feel free to get in touch for more information on how we can help you with a pain-free solution.

Book a meeting with us here.



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