Are you ready for Google Analytics 4?
Posted by James Pearce on June 30, 2022
In just over a year’s time, Google will retire its Universal Analytics (AKA GA3) platform. From July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer collect new data – so you’ll need to move quickly if you want to get a full year of data captured. If you’re a GA360 customer, you’ve got a bit longer, with Google opting to retire its premium offering on October 1, 2023.
While you’ll be able to access data for 6 months following the July 1, 2023, retirement date, no new data will be collected and, after this period, UA will be fully shut down and therefore inaccessible. So while it may seem like we have plenty of time, historic UA data will not be transferred to GA4, so the sooner you get set up and familiar with GA4, the better.
What’s the difference between UA & GA4?
Since its introduction in October 2020, GA4 has been largely ignored in favour of UA. However, it is not a like-for-like replacement for the existing version of GA. Historical data, analytics strategy and setup will need revisiting.
Google has pushed its GA4 offering forward largely due to several changes in how data is collected, including an increase in user expectations of increased privacy protection and how users cross devices and apps more frequently now than when the previous GA model was established around 15 years ago.
With these considerations in mind, GA4 now uses “Events” rather than solely relying on cookies to capture data. However, these are not the same kind of events that you have set up historically in UA. This is another area that will need revisiting as part of your GA4 strategy for a smooth implementation.
Learn more about the key similarities and differences from KS Digital’s handy PDF.
What are the benefits of GA4?
There are a number of benefits to using GA4 that are worth noting and can help actually improve your reports with more actionable insights.
Data-Driven Attribution – This was previously only available for GA360 users, but now is on GA4 as standard. Data-driven attribution provides an improved method of allocating a value to the various channels in your marketing mix. Last Click Attribution (whereby the final channel or page is attributed to the conversion or goal) has always been unreliable for reporting, so this will help attribute your website’s sales performance more thoroughly.
Improved user journey & lifecycle reporting “Pathing” – Users behaviour can be tracked across platforms, allowing you to have a better understanding of the complete journey, not just isolated sessions.
Report Collections & Library Customisation – The left-hand navigation in UA that was standardised is now customisable, allowing you to build a GA dashboard for data that’s relevant for you and your business.
Machine Driven Insights – Improved machine learning promises to generate useful insights about customer behaviour, predict critical insights and even create new audiences based on behaviour.
Less sampled data – Luckily, with GA4 there is no longer a 500,000 sessions cap before data becomes sampled, and there’s no hit limit within GA4. Notwithstanding, sampling does apply when queried data exceeds the quota for free accounts (of 10,000,000 events, which should be plenty for most cases!).
App Tracking via Firebase Integration – A huge benefit to GA4 is the integration with app data, using Firebase (which is the data model precursor to GA4, so uses the same model). This gives businesses a better view of web-to-app journeys.
While it may take some time to get used to GA4, which is a different beast to UA, these benefits should give the platform longevity and increased insights for you and your clients or business.
What can you do about GA4 now?
The main things to do are firstly, don’t panic, and secondly, get your GA4 setup as soon as possible. historic data cannot be migrated over from UA, so if you want year-on-year data when UA is retired, you need to start collecting data now. This can be done in parallel with your UA data, so you’ll still be able to use both for now.
You’ll likely want to take time to assess which reports you’re currently using in UA, and take steps to ensure that similar reports are set up. Once you’ve got to grips with GA4, then taking advantage of the improved reporting will help you start using it more regularly and be more comfortable by the time UA is retired. Google has a guide to dual-tagging events to help set up GA4.
Will GA4 connect with Google Search Console (GSC)?
Yes, GA4 does have GSC connectivity. The integration in GA4 can be created using a GA4 Web Data Stream and a Search Console website property.
Will my UA historic data be imported into GA4?
Sadly, GA4 will not have historic data from UA as the data modelling is different (unlike previous GA changes). Existing GA4 360 users will be able to export all raw events from UA to BigQuery and use this to query that data. Within BigQuery, you can export historic data externally or import external data to combine with your GA4 data.
There are also third-party tools like Scitylana that exist to help manage your Google Analytics data outside of the Google Analytics ecosystem. (Blue Array does not endorse or have partnerships with any third-party analytics management tool.)
Will GA4 work with Google Data Studio?
Yes, GA4 will work with Google Data Studio. It uses the same connector as UA, however there are some limitations that come from changes to how GA4 works. Segments are gone – they are no longer part of the GA4 architecture. Data control option has gone – this was used for connecting new accounts from the same dashboard but will no longer be available. You will still need to revisit your existing dashboards as part of your review, as the data model has changed, reports will need to be updated – or new ones created.
Is there a 360 version of GA4?
Yes, there is a 360 version of GA4, and it is very similar to the current pricing model, however instead of using hit-based pricing, it is event-based.
What happened to engagement metrics such as bounce rate, time on site/page etc?
For a long time, these metrics have been not particularly useful and potentially easy to misread, therefore they’re being replaced by a more accurate measurement of user engagement. Engagement metrics have been replaced by: Engaged Sessions, Engagement Rate, Engaged Sessions Per Users, and Average Engagement Time. These are now under the Acquisition section instead of Engagement. Google defines an engaged session as: a session “that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had two or more screen or page views.”
Can I use GA4 to build audiences for remarketing across the Google Marketing Platform, Salesforce Marketing Cloud etc?
Within the standard GA4, you’re now able to publish up to 100 remarketing audiences, and you’re able to do this for not only Google Ads, but also SA360, CM360 and DV360. With GA360, the limit is increased to 400 audiences and you’re able to publish these to Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Additionally, new audiences made in GA4 will be automatically pushed to Google Ads.
GA4 Key Dates
July 1, 2023: All free Universal Analytics (GA3) properties will stop processing new data.
October 1, 2023: All 360 Universal Analytics (GA360) properties will stop processing new data.
Historic data will be available for 6 months after these dates. After this, your UA reports and properties will not be visible in the GA interface and your access to UA data using the API won’t be available either.
Next steps for your GA4 transition
Assess your current setup
In order to make the transition as easy as possible, start by understanding which reports are valuable within your current UA setup, and how they’re being tracked. This will help quickly establish the key areas of GA4 to get up and running straight away. Document your architecture and areas of UA that provide value and this will be your guide to setting up GA4 in a meaningful way.
With your documentation, you can begin to build the GA4 dashboard to match the needs of your business and ensure that critical reports are ready and in action, and ideally being used. This includes mapping relevant events from UA to GA4, including custom dimensions, key metrics, goals etc. This is an opportunity to consider what data is actually useful. Arrange a time with key stakeholders to help scope out new reports and make GA4 work for you.
Decide on a Data Model
While taking the time to decide what the ideal reports look like, you can also begin to choose which data model is right for your business or client. This includes if you want to follow GA4’s new conversion modelling or look at other traditional attribution models.
Consistent Event Naming Conventions
It’s important that anyone creating events in the business uses a consistent format, and this will help ease the transition to GA4. Google recommends events and parameters to be formatted in lowercase with underscores for spaces, as it uses this format to bring in data to the build-up GA4 reports. Read Google’s guidelines for more.
GA4 & UA in Parallel
Here at Blue Array, we highly recommend having both GA4 and UA tagged at the same time, to ease this transition period and allow you to use both, identifying any missing reports or data that you may not have considered earlier in the process. This will allow you to create new reports and potentially improve on existing ones while you’re in this process.
As GA4 will now see an influx of adoption, we will inevitably see a rise in functionality and improvements as more users are on the new platform. It’s critical that you set up early to get your YOY data at the time of UA retiring, and you’ll be familiar with GA4 by this point as well, and the more users are on GA4 and providing feedback the better GA4 will become.
Where can you learn more about the changes?
Where can you learn more about GA4?
Getting Started with GA4 with Krista Seiden, Google Analytics (free)
Advanced GA4 with Dana DiTomado, Linkedin Learning (paid)
GA4 Mini-course with Benjamin Mangold, Loves Data (paid)
GA4 Events Reference – Google resource about Events