Why Migrating to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Should be a Priority
“Often, when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Fred Rogers
There has already been a lot of buzz and panic around Google Analytics 4, but we’d like to offer you the highlights of what this change means and how you can react. According to Forbes, 50% of businesses say that Big Data and Analytics have fundamentally changed business practices in their Sales and Marketing departments. From enhanced data accuracy and real-time reporting to tracking customer journeys across different niches, GA4 has much to offer and will likely stay for years.
The backdrop: Google revealed that Universal Analytics would be deprecated on the 18th of March, 2022. (GA3). What happens next?
- On the 1st of July, 2023, all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits.
- On the 1st of October, 2023, all 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits.
- Following that, previously processed data will only be available for six months.
What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was previously called an App + Web property on the 31st of July 2019. Since then, Google Analytics 4 has experienced considerable revisions, feature upgrades, and significant reporting and analytical capability improvements. GA4 migration fills in gaps where businesses cannot understand their customer base because users opt out of cookie usage and data collection.
The need for something like Google Analytics 4 stems primarily from new privacy protection legislation (such as the GDPR and CCPA) and the reduced stability of traditional analytics. Many organisations that use the traditional Universal Google Analytics may have challenges with inaccurate or missing data as a result of cookie consent choices mandated by these laws.
Here is a bit of an introduction to concepts in GA4:
Introduction to concepts in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) | Perficient
What are the differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?
Now that we know the backstory, let’s look at some of the most significant differences between Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4.
#1 GA4 tracks events, not sessions or page views. Every “HIT” is an event; there is no longer a distinction between hit types. They are all treated equally by the processing platform.
There are 4 event types in GA4:
Automatically collected events are triggered by basic interactions when you install the GA4 code base. Some examples of this type of event are page_view, first_visit, and session_start.
Enhanced measurement events are also collected automatically, allowing you to track interaction with your content. For example, with enhanced measurement events, you can see data related to scrolls, outbound clicks, site searches, video engagement, and file downloads. Some specific measures in this event type can be disabled manually in settings.
Source - Google
Recommended events are not automatically collected, but they can assist you in gathering additional data and so generating more informative reports.
Custom events are specified by names and sets of parameters exclusive to your business. Before setting up a custom event, review the list of automatically collected, enhanced measurements and recommended events first to avoid duplicates.
#2 Account structure: In Universal Analytics, the account structure contains 3 elements: Account – Property – View. GA4 only contains two elements: Account – Property. Also, Google introduced a new concept in GA4: Data Streams. They represent a flow from your website or App to Analytics.
Unlike Universal Analytics, which collects data at the property level through a tracking ID, GA4 collects data at the stream level with a unique stream ID. Each GA4 property can have a maximum of 50 data streams and 30 app data streams.
Google defines a session as: “A session is a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. For example, a single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and ecommerce transactions. You can think of a session as the container for user actions on your site.”
In UA, a session represents the period a user actively engages with your site. After landing on your site, these are the things that end a session in Universal Analytics:
- 30 minutes of inactivity or based on your session timeout settings
- The clock passes midnight and results in a new session – new campaign parameters are encountered
In GA4, the session_start event generates a session ID with which all subsequent events during the session are associated. Like UA,
- A session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity or based on your session timeout settings.
- However, sessions can now carry over across midnight and are not affected by encountering new campaign parameters.
#4 Cross-device tracking
In GA4, you can combine several data streams—a website or an app—into a property, generating reports showing cross-domain traffic and aggregate statistics while allowing you to break down data by a stream.
Benefits of the new Google Analytics 4
- It’s built with machine learning as the main form of data measurement, using modelling that can extrapolate from existing data and make assumptions about site traffic/user behaviour. The new AI-powered “Insights” feature automatically highlights helpful information for marketers.
- It gives marketers a complete understanding of the customer journey across devices. And it seems more focused on measuring an end-to-end shopper journey and not just individual metrics across devices/pages/segments.
- Enhanced integration access from Google Ads, Search Console and Merchant Center to the almighty cloud data warehouse BigQuery, GA4 provides a range of more sophisticated integrations than were previously available.
- Future-proof cookie-less event-based data model
- Hassle-free user ID tracking
- Google BigQuery linking: This allows analysts to get their fingertips on valuable business data in a single place where SQL processing and transformation can be done to tell meaningful stories and derive incredible insights into what’s happening in their digital landscape.
- Cross-channel data-driven attribution models
When should I migrate to Google Analytics 4?
Migration to GA4 should be done as soon as possible. From the 1st of July 2023, UA will be discontinued. Google themselves have put together an extensive guide on switching to Google Analytics 4. However, the transition from UA to GA4 takes time. It might take weeks or even months, depending on the complexity of your analytics setup. Dive into GA4 today to start familiarising yourself and feel more comfortable leveraging these data insights to inform your business decisions!
If the migration process seems like something you’ll need assistance with, we’d be happy to demystify it for you and support you in making the big move. Contact us today, and we’ll take it from there.
Notes and Sources