If you’ve looked at your Google Analytics (Universal) account lately, you may have been surprised to see a scary countdown timer that looks like this:
You have two options and Google is pushing you to “Go to Setup Assistant,” however, if someone on your team has already started GA4 configuration, you don’t want to overwrite work that has already been done, so we encourage you to think carefully about which button you click here.
Either way, it is essential to start preparing for GA4 now. The new version of Google Analytics will bring significant changes with it and there will be a slight learning curve as you start using GA4; so, we encourage companies to adapt quickly to ensure a smooth transition and the ability to continue collecting valuable data for analysis.
What are the differences between Google Analytics Universal and GA4?
GA4 is a more advanced version that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide better insights into user behavior. It also focuses more on events and user interactions instead of sessions and pageviews, providing a more holistic view of how users interact with your website.
In Google Analytics Universal we could see interaction events by wrapping buttons in small pieces of code call scripts to best understand what people were clicking on or downloading. In GA4, this event tracking is essentially built-in and ready to go without having to add code around buttons. There are several default events that GA4 magically already tracks. All you need to do is decide which ones need to be marked as conversions.
Universal Analytics was all about sessions. A session is another word for a visit to a page or website. Conversely, GA4 is all about the event or individual interaction with an element on the page. Want more details? Learn more from the Google Help Center.
With GA4, Google relieves itself as the storer of user data, which will now become the responsibility of the business owner. This means if a user requests their data be removed, your analytics team will need to comply with that request.
We believe Google is incorrect in calling it a migration because a migration would be like switching from a 2015 Toyota Camry to a 2023 BMW. Both cars use gas, but we have migrated (upgraded) to a newer and more powerful engine.
The truth is that we are actually switching from a car that runs on gas to an electric vehicle, so special configuration is required. If we simply migrate, we may lose some of the functionality and efficiencies that come with the new engine, not to mention that putting gas in an electric car will break it.
How to prepare for the switch from Universal to GA4 Analytics
In order to be prepared, you will need to follow several key steps listed below:
- Upgrade your Google Analytics property to GA4. This is a relatively simple process that involves creating a new GA4 property and linking it to your existing Universal Analytics property. You can find detailed instructions on how to do this on Google’s official documentation.
- Update your tracking code. With GA4, you need to use a new tracking code that’s different from the one used for Universal Analytics. This is usually a piece of code that you add on every page of your website or through Google Tag Manager.
- Set up conversion tracking. GA4 has a different way of tracking conversions, so you need to set up conversion events to track the actions that matter to your business. This could include things like form submissions, product purchases, or email sign-ups.
- You may need to recreate your tags using Google Analytics Universal in Google Tag Manager so that those tags will now work with GA4.
- Create custom reports. GA4 has a more flexible reporting system that allows you to create custom reports tailored to your specific business needs. You can create reports based on specific events or user properties, which can provide valuable insights into user behavior.
- If the out of the box reports are leaving you wanting something more visual, try Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio).
- Explore new features. GA4 comes with several new features that can provide valuable insights into user behavior, such as machine learning-powered insights, cross-device tracking, and user lifetime reports. Explore these features to understand how they can help your business.
The switch from Universal to GA4 Google Analytics is a significant change that requires careful planning and strategic execution. By the steps outlined above and familiarizing yourself with the new features of GA4, you can ensure a smooth transition and continue to gather valuable insights into user behavior.
At E29 Marketing, we’ve been working with GA4 since early 2022. We recommend upgrading as soon as possible in order to give GA4 time to learn how you and your website visitors use your website. It’s not as simple as switching to a newer car. It requires a different mindset and attitude around how data is collected, stored and scored.
Ready to see what E29 Marketing can do for you? Contact us today to get started!