BLOG

GA4: Everything you need
to know right now

In July 2023 Google will stop sending data to Universal Analytics (UA) properties and move fully to GA4. This article looks at why Google Analytics users should start planning their migration to the new version sooner rather than later and covers the key things you need to know right now to get started. 

Google announced they would be retiring Google Analytics Universal in July 2023, and have recommended its new version, GA4 (Google Analytics 4), to succeed it.

Unfortunately for many businesses, this move and the changes to the measurement model for GA4 may feel like somewhat of a step backward due to a loss in access to data and information that was once visible through analytics.

Yet, there are also benefits to be had from the new version, largely in terms of ease of setup of the previously more complex elements of Analytics implementations - goals, cross-domain tracking and attribution are all now much easier for example.

However, replicating the views and data you have become familiar with from your Analytics will, in most cases, require some action to effectively prepare for the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA) and mitigate any loss in information as a result of the change.

In the following, we’ll cover the key things you need to know right now about GA4 to help you get started.

 

What is GA4?

GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics that can not only be used on websites but also apps, allowing businesses to easily track cross-channel and more easily track cross-device too.

GA4 is being promoted as a privacy-centric analytics tool that has been designed to work either with or without cookies. With the death of 3rd party cookies on the horizon and privacy becoming a focal point for users throughout their daily internet usage, this is a sensible and beneficial move.

Since the introduction of GDPR, websites require users to consent to cookies to track performance, including information on how users are interacting with your website. GA4 will start reducing the reliance on cookies to record certain events across web platforms/devices and instead use machine learning to ‘fill the gaps’ in data where user consent is not given for tracking. This makes GA4 more stable to industry change with regards tracking cookies and prevents gaps in data.

 

What the move to GA4 means for your analytics

New measurement model

A key change between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 is the change to the fundamental measurement model between the two versions, meaning some changes to both reports and metrics which many businesses will have become familiar with. However, the change also brings some opportunity for greater level of insights too. Some “give” to go with the “take”.

Universal Analytics:

  • Uses a session-based measurement model to collect and report on data, meaning user interactions are grouped within a given time frame (session).
  • Can pass up to 4 event parameters with each event (Category, Action, Label, Value)

GA4:

  • Uses a more flexible, event-based measurement model, which allows for potentially more accurate reporting through additional information that can be passed into GA with each interaction – such as value for purchases, page title, user location etc.
  • Can pass up 25 additional event parameters with each event meaning up to 500 distinctly named events can be sent to GA4

 

New account, new data

From now on, any newly created Google Analytics accounts will be GA4 accounts, with old versions of GA (Universal Analytics), due to be deprecated in July 2023.

All Universal Analytics properties can be ‘upgraded’ to GA4 – meaning a new Analytics property will be created for collecting the new GA4 data. While your existing UA properties will not lose any data, and you can continue to use and track with these properties (until July 2023), the GA4 properties won’t have any historical data within the property.

This is an important consideration for businesses using Year-on-Year (YoY) comparison and analysis or historical/annual trending.

We recommend having both Universal Analytics and GA4 properties running in parallel on your website, ideally with your GA4 property created before 1st July 2022 to enable YoY data analysis in 2023.

In addition, because of the change in measurement model, data such as the number of sessions recorded between UA and GA4 may not match exactly. So it’s best to start building a view on the scale of the difference while same data time period comparison is still possible.

Maintaining historic data

Have we mentioned that from July 2023, UA properties will no longer track any future data? The good news is, you’ll still be able to access, export and make changes to the data within any UA properties – for a time at least.

If you’re seeking to maintain historic data from Google Analytics UA properties though, you will need to consider exporting and storing the old UA data. Google is unlikely to maintain the tool forever, making exporting and storing historic data important for future comparative analysis.

Positive can support you if you’re looking to do this and will be happy to discuss requirements and planning. Feel free to contact us to discuss.

Metric Changes

GA4 also brings with it a substantial volume of changes to API dimensions, metrics formatting and semantics of values (a current list can be found here). This means implementations of any custom tracking events and elements within tag manager will need to be reviewed and updated appropriately. This is of critical importance for businesses or websites using any kind of analytics setup beyond standard, out-of-the-box implementation (so most cases!).

In addition, there are a few metric changes to be aware of:

Goodbye Bounce Rate, hello Engagement Rate

Bounce rate – the percentage of people that land on a page and leave within 30 mins – a regularly misused metric among marketing professionals who frequently identify a high bounce rate as bad, is gone. GA4 looks to stop this misuse or misunderstanding of the metric by removing bounce rate and replacing it with engagement rate.

Engagement rate defines the percentage of users who have been on a landing page longer than 10 seconds, or clicked a conversion on that page, or visited more than one page on the website. Ultimately, it helps track a more valuable user journey.

Goodbye Goals, hello Conversions

In UA, conversions were marked when a goal was completed. You could set up to 20 goals per property and to track more, you were required to create additional views for a property or edit existing goals.

In GA4, the concept of goals is gone.

You can now define the conversion for the website directly in the GA4 reporting interface based on the captured events.

You can also set up as many conversions as you want and there is no limit to marking any event as a conversion.

Any event can also be modified or you can create a new event based on the occurrence of other events and parameters and then mark it as a conversion.

In short, there is much greater flexibility in tracking conversions in GA4.

Changes to reports

In it’s current state, out of the box GA4 is quite basic in terms of reports available. However, with an entire year until UA is phased out and GA4 becomes the default, Google still has plenty of time to release updates and further develop the standard report suite.

Still, it’s important to establish a GA4 property sooner rather than later and it is possible to configure and customise in advance to suit your reporting needs – however some reports you may be familiar with (such as the “Landing Page” report from UA) might not be available out of the box and will require some custom setup to replicate, at least in the short-term.

Reporting Dashboards & Data Studio Implementations

An unfortunate side-effect of both the change to GA4’s dimensions and metrics formatting, reporting metrics and requirement for creation of entirely new properties is that many custom dashboards and Data Studio dashboards will need to be updated to pull from the new data sources and definitions.

Therefore, if you use Data Studio or custom dashboards, its worth starting to plan and create GA4 versions now to ensure your dashboards continue to be useable in GA4.

Cross-channel tracking

Because GA4 is designed to integrate website and apps, you are now able to track visitors as they go from your app to your website. In addition to this, GA4 offers ability for advanced analysis through funnel and path tracking.

Easier cross-domain tracking

While possible in UA through additional setup, GA4 has the capability of adding cross-domain tracking built-in. This means implementing tracking for instances where a visitor ever leaves your website to either pay for something or complete a journey requiring an external 3rd party system, before being redirected back to your site (common in eCommerce and Events for example) is much easier and won’t see tracking consider such visits as coming from a referral or direct traffic source, but instead, part of the same originating source. 

Cross-device tracking

Cross-device tracking in Google Analytics is the tracking of users’ activities across mobile, tablet and desktop devices. Essentially tracking users’ activities across multiple screens and web browsers.

In UA Google Analytics, an element of cross-device tracking was possible to some limited extent using Google Signals, however, because users would be tracked as either a Client ID, User ID or Google Signals ID, the output was a disjointed view of data.

By contrast, cross-device tracking is at the heart of GA4 as it stitches users based on the following priority:

  1. User ID
  2. Google Signals
  3. Client ID

This is a universal feature of GA4 applied to all user reports, with the data essentially looking like the illustration below (right) and providing a much better and more insightful view of cross-device tracking, your customer journey and insights from this.

Anonymised IPs

GA4 will (eventually) no longer collect IP addresses. Currently, UA collects IP addresses from users who visit your website with IP anonymisation or ‘masking’ being an opt-in feature for those outside of the EU.

With GA4, IP addresses are automatically anonymised and will eventually stop being collected altogether. Whilst this may cause issues for some, the need to collect IP addresses should be less important in a post-GDPR world and GA4 has other tools to take advantage of for anonymised user tracking.

First step recommendations & how we can help

The arrival of GA4 brings with it a period of necessary change for analytics implementations for all users of Google Analytics.

While July 2023 seems far away right now, its worth taking action sooner rather than later to ensure effective continuity in your web analytics.

At a minimum, we would recommend the setup of GA4 properties to run in parallel with existing UA properties in order to begin capturing data and enable for Year-on-Year comparison from next July.

As every analytics implementation is unique to specific businesses and their tracking and reporting requirements, Positive can support you in delivering both analytics consultancy for mapping over current implementations in UA to GA4 and in the set-up and implementation of GA4 properties.

Please feel free to give us a call or contact us now to arrange an initial discussion on how we can support you.

Share article

Read more

The shoe brand Vans was a major player in the skate scene. However, the brand became mainstream with the help of a fascinating brand strategy - all without losing its credibility among its original target group.

Digital designers can learn a lot from the so-called 'starchitects', architects who have been given star status by the distinct style of their buildings. 

In digital marketing, personalisation is the golden ticket to rounding out your digital strategy – everyone wants to do it, and few get it right.

Let's work together to build powerful brands