Transitioning to Google Analytics 4: Now or Later?

Are you familiar with Google Analytics GA4?

It’s Google’s most advanced, most up-to-date web analytics tool that enables the tracking of traffic and activity on your website and app simultaneously!

Google Analytics has been widely used by millions of organizations around the world to gain deeper and more nuanced insights of their website traffic, while providing the best possible, personalized experiences for visitors.

At the same time, big changes are coming to data and metrics you were used to in previous versions, such as Universal Analytics (UA).

But what should you do during this transition? When should you carry it out?

Let’s take a look at GA4 and what you can expect from the transition, so you can prepare for it one step at a time!

What’s GA4? What’s Happening with Universal Analytics?

As the 4th version of the line, GA4 was once rebranded (from App+Web Property) and re-released as Google Analytics 4 in the fall of 2020. On March 16, 2022, Google announced that “GA4 will be the sole choice available to marketers and business owners, commencing in July of 2023.”

This means that GA4 will replace Google’s previous analytics solution, Universal Analytics (UA), in ten months, which means that every organization currently using UA will have to change their code by then or risk losing the ability to track website activity.

Benefits of GA4

Tracking Across Website and Mobile Apps

In previous versions, one tool (Google Analytics) was used to track traffic on the website, and another (Firebase) was used for the apps. With GA4, you can now do both from a single platform.

Increased Number of Statistics

GA4 introduces a greater number of statistics, such as scrolling, outbound link clicks, document link clicks, and website searches, allowing your marketers to track and process more on their own.

Purchase Step Visualization

With GA4, the buyer journey will become more visible as you’ll see the flow that customers follow while navigating your website, allowing you to understand the steps and processes they take to reach the final conversion point.

Tailor-made Reports

A much more user-friendly dashboard that allows you to quickly choose segments to work with and then add dimensions and metrics, leading to more streamlined and versatile analyses.

Exporting BigQuery Data

In UA, you had to pay a hefty sum for an upgrade to GA 360 in order to export raw data. In GA4, you can export raw event-level data to BigQuery without any additional cost.

Strategy Evaluation

GA4 enables the assessment of a complete tracking system, which provides the means of thoroughly examining your current metrics to see whether they correspond to your strategic KPI goals.

Easy and Impactful

GA4 is less complicated and boasts more capability than previous versions, making it easier for your marketers to use the data they collect.

What’s New in GA4?

How will the transition affect your existing analytics strategy?

GA4 Offers a Fresh Start, But Back Up Your Data!

As a first step, new properties must be set up in GA4. There’s no workaround.

It’s a bit of a downside, but you won’t be able to import your data from UA because the structure is different; for instance, the data collection method and most of the metrics are changing.

So, in case it is required, or you want to keep historical data for your site or clients’ sites, make sure that export UA data before it is shut down. You can then use a different application to visualize it.

GA4: Combining Multi-Platform (Web & Mobile) Data

If you are familiar with Google’s Firebase SDK, then you will notice that GA4’s data model is an evolution of that, bringing in the functionality that enables the seamless tracking of users from various devices.

Ultimately, this unlocks brand new insights about cross-device journeys, providing a much more granular overview of interactions on your site.

No More Third-Party Cookies

GA4 will not track 3rd-party cookies. Instead, it will focus on 1st-party cookies, since 3rd-party ones are not too considerate about privacy—they need to be phased out.

But what difference does this change make? And why it important?

  • 1st-party cookies track are put there by the website’s owner and they are tracking your activity on the website.
  • 3rd-party cookies have been placed on a website by someone other than that site’s owner, and they automatically track your activity to be sent to 3rd-party companies.

And since Google is overall removing 3rd-party cookies from Analytics and Chrome, the data collection and activity tracking “landscape” will change considerably. 

Key Metrics Being Replaced or Undergoing Changes

As we’ve mentioned, a brand new data collection model leads to major changes in the metrics you used in UA.

For instance, one such metric is bounce rate, which is a percentage of user-initiated sessions that end without any interaction on a page. Instead, GA4 will operate rate with engagement rate, which is the percentage of “engaged sessions”—however, despite the naming, the engagement rate is not exact opposite of the bounce rate.

So, what is an engaged session?

  • Its lasts longer than 10 seconds,
  • There’s a conversion event, OR
  • It has at least two page views or screen views.

Agencies will need to be prepared for these changes and new metrics, spending time adjusting their reports to clients.

Should You Make the Switch Right Now?

We highly recommend starting the transition now, as that will give you enough time to collect year-over-year data, and help you and your clients adjust to GA4’s fundamental changes. These 10 months until the deadline provide plenty of time to get accustomed to the new system.

However, even if you’re already considering carrying out the transition, DO NOT delete your UA properties just yet! As we suggested earlier, it doesn’t harm if you back them up first. Same can be said about any integrated tools, which will also break if you make a hard switch right now.

Furthermore, make sure that any 3rd-party tools you use have been updated before you make the switch. If you don’t expect them to be updated in time, search for new tools instead.

How to Migrate from UA to GA4?

Fortunately, setting up a new GA4 account from scratch is relatively quite simple, as it’s basically a matter of creating a new Google Analytics profile or a new GA4 property on an existing account. Google has written a great step-by-step guide to help you along the whole transition, providing answers to beginners and pros alike.

In case you are using an existing UA account and want to upgrade it to GA4, Google also created a helpful setup wizard.

While you still have 10 months until the deadline, and are in no hurry to ditch UA for GA4 right away, keep in mind that if you want YoY comparison data for next year, it’s best if you start setting up your GA4 accounts as soon as possible.

As you can see, GA4 will bring a sea of changes that ensure a range of Quality of Life upgrades, making analytics and monitoring significantly more precise and easier. However, making the switch will cause a lot of stress for marketers and agencies in the very beginning. Fortunately, the benefits outweigh the efforts, but you will need to start planning today and not leave the transition to the last moment.

Would you like to receive professional help on planning or implementing your switch to GA4? Are you not sure how your current analytics tool is performing? As an international marketing agency that has already completed the transition and supported clients in this process, we’d be happy to help you, too!

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