If you run a website or websites and use Google's Universal Analytics, you need to read this.
Google will be turning off Universal Analytics on the 1st July 2023. You'll still be able to access historical data but no new data will be collected from that date.
It is being replaced by Google Analytics 4. A new and improved version that comes with a whole raft of changes and improvements (hopefully).
If you haven't yet switched from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, here's what you need to know.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is the replacement for Universal Analytics (UA). It has been in testing since 2020 and has now been released into the wild.
Upgrading is optional right now but we strongly recommend it.
We also recommend backing up your UA data before you switch. GA4 will be a blank slate, with no data to use. There’s also no telling how long Google will store your old data.
Therefore we strongly recommend backing up your UA data so you don’t lose it.
What are the differences between GA4 and UA?
There are a number of differences between the two systems, many of which you’ll need to know if you use analytics.
The biggest change you’ll notice when you upgrade is how everything looks. It may be a little overwhelming at first but it’s easy to get to grips with if you give it time.
Most reports and controls have been moved and not a lot is in the same place it used to be.
We would recommend spending a good couple of hours familiarising yourself with GA4 when you upgrade so you don’t get lost. Google has a great guide on GA4 that covers most of the changes.
You can set up 25 different reporting views covering just about anything you could possibly want to track.
Even though metrics may have different names, you can track most of what you could in UA, just in slightly different ways.
Mobile and Web
Google Analytics 4 will be able to analyse data from both the web and mobile. It now uses the Google Firebase SDK to be able to track across devices.
Given how web use has changed and mobile use increased, that should provide much clearer coverage of how people access your sites.
You may have heard that third-party cookies are being phased out and this change is part of that.
Third-party cookies are placed by a range of organisations other than the website owner and can track a multitude of data points. They can be used for lots of legitimate uses but they don’t have the best reputation, especially for tracking.
Various privacy laws such as GDPR and other national legislation is interrupting the usability of third-party cookies. That’s why they are being used less and will eventually be dropped altogether.
Google Analytics 4 will only track first-party cookies, those that track activity on the website placing those cookies.
Bounce and engagement rate
If you use Universal Analytics, you’ll probably know bounce rate. A hit on a website that doesn’t result in an interaction. It’s a key metric for some marketers.
Bounce is being replaced by engagement in GA4.
Engagement is a little more detailed and will only count sessions lasting longer than 10 seconds, have some kind of conversion event or have two page or screen views.
It’s a big change to understand if you use bounce rates as a measure.
In UA, a session is the umbrella term for a visit, interaction, transaction or event within a single visit. We treat it like the container we peek into to see what a user does on each visit.
Those sessions were timed so a single longer session could be counted multiple times.
GA4 is changing that. Sessions will no longer be timed so any interaction within a single visit, no matter how long it takes, will only be counted once.
It’s great for accuracy but will mean lower session numbers.
IP address anonymisation was a setting in UA. It’s going to be universal in GA4 to comply with GDPR and other privacy laws.
It’s a small thing but important in the drive for privacy.
Holistic website and app monitoring
If you monitor both websites and apps, you will probably be used to managing them separately in Universal Analytics.
The good news is that Google Analytics 4 will monitor them both in the same place.
It’s another small but useful change.
Switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4
Switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 is going to require a change in approach to tracking.
While it still has teething problems, GA4 will get a lot of attention from Google and should see a steady raft of improvements over the coming years.
There are some changes between UA and GA4. Some are better, some will take some getting used to.
All are mandatory as you only have until July 2023 to make the switch.
We would suggest making the change sooner rather than later so you can back up your old data, control the switch and give yourself time to familiarise yourself with the new system.