Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) will stop collecting data on July 1st, 2023.
For six months after that date, you’ll still have access to historical data in UA. Then, that data will be gone, too.
After that, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the default platform.
With the new version comes big changes to the data and metrics you’re used to.
What can you do during this large shift?
Changes like this can cause a lot of stress for marketers and agencies, but they can also bring some blessings. With the right transition planning, you can find new opportunities in this change.
So, let’s take the change one step at a time and focus on your next move.
Should you switch right away?
Should you wait until GA4 has more integrations and functions?
Before making that decision, it’s important to understand what’s changing between GA4 and UA and why.
For a comprehensive look at what’s changing and how to prepare, download CallRail’s Guide To Google Analytics 4.
What Is GA4?
GA4 stands for “Google Analytics 4,” and it is the new version of Google Analytics.
Its predecessor, Universal Analytics, is what most people currently use.
Google first released GA4 in October 2020, and in the announcement post, Google cited changes in user behavior and privacy standards as major reasons for the switch.
If you want to keep collecting data in Google Analytics after the deadline of July 1, 2023, you’ll need to transition to GA4.
What’s The Difference Between GA4 & UA?
To help you better understand how to transition to GA4, let’s dive into their differences.
Universal Analytics & Its History
UA, which you’ve likely been using up to this point, collects data based on web sessions and hits, which are either pageviews or events, that you can generate using a narrow set of descriptors.
It is powered by first- and third-party cookies.
By default, event tracking isn’t set up, and you must configure this manually.
If you wanted to track data from mobile app users, you’d need to use Google’s Firebase SDK and set up platform-specific tracking.
In 2019 Google released a web + app property type in Google Analytics, and GA4 has evolved out of this combined approach.
Google Analytics 4 & Its Features
GA4 features a new data collection model that aims to solve:
- A need for tracking that doesn’t discriminate by the device.
- Privacy concerns about third-party cookies.
GA4 uses first-party cookies and signals to enable cross-device data collection and reporting.
The primary data point in GA4 is a different kind of event.
These GA4 events are much more granular and descriptive of the specific action that triggers them by default. Additionally, you don’t have to manually configure them.
GA4 makes it easier to follow a visitor’s journey without having to implement Google Tag Manager.
So, while the data model is changing, GA4 makes cross-device tracking easy and the data points are more precise.
What’s Changing In GA4?
So, what does this mean for you and your existing analytics strategy?
GA4 Will Be A Blank Slate – So Back Up Your Data
Right out of the gate, you’ll have to set up new properties in GA4.
You can’t import your UA data because the structure is not the same; the data collection method is changing, and so are many of the metrics.
If you want to keep historical data for your site or clients’ sites, you’ll need to export your UA data and use a different application to visualize it.
GA4 Will Combine Web & Mobile Data
GA4’s data model is an evolution of Google’s Firebase SDK. It allows GA4 to seamlessly track and report on users from different devices.
This could unlock new insights about cross-device journeys and allow you to get much more granular about specific actions on your site.
Third-Party Cookies Are Going Away
As you’ve noticed, GA4 will not track third-party cookies; its focus will be on first-party cookies.
Privacy is one of the main reasons that third-party cookies are being phased out.
What is the difference between first-party cookies & third-party cookies? Why does it matter?
- First-party cookies are cookies that track your activity on a website and have been put there by that website’s owner.
- Third-party cookies are cookies that have been placed on a website by someone other than that site’s owner, allowing your activity to be automatically tracked by third parties.
Google is removing third-party cookies from Analytics and Chrome.
Removing third-party cookies changes what Google and other advertisers are able to track and how they collect data.
GA4 Will Change Key Metrics, Such As Bounce Rate & More
A different data collection model means that many of the metrics you’re used to can’t remain the same.
One example of a metric that’s changing is bounce rate.
Bounce rate is a percentage of sessions that end without any interaction on a page.
GA4 replaces bounce rate with engagement rate.
What Is Engagement Rate?
Engagement rate is a percentage of “engaged sessions.”
These sessions either:
- Last longer than 10 seconds.
- Have a conversion event.
- Have at least two page views or screen views.
As CallRail explains in their GA4 ebook, engagement rate is not a direct inverse of bounce rate.
If you’re an agency, you’ll need to spend some time adjusting how to report to your clients about these new metrics.
How GA4’s Engagement Rate Vs. UA’s Bounce Rate Provides Better Opportunities
With change comes opportunity, especially when you have enough time to prepare.
As you’ll see in the engagement rate example below, you’re getting more helpful information than what bounce rate provides.
SEJ contributor and analytics expert Kayle Larkin argues that bounce rate is not necessarily a helpful measure of engagement or how effective pages are because it focuses on actions and not time.
For example, a user who reads an entire 2,000-word blog post and then leaves without any other actions is considered a bounce in the old model. But they were clearly engaged with the content.
By adding a time element, the engagement rate includes readers and is a better indicator of a page’s effectiveness.
It may take some time to change your reporting processes and educate clients, but you may find a lot of positive results.
Learn more about what you’ll lose and what you’ll gain from switching to GA4 with CallRail’s guide to GA4 for agencies.
Should New Site Owners Use GA4 Or UA?
If your site or your client’s site is brand new, your new account will default to GA4. You probably shouldn’t go out of your way to set up UA.
UA is going away, so it doesn’t make sense to set up two new properties.
Hit the ground running with the new technology, and don’t worry if there’s a learning curve.
You’re learning at the same time as everyone else.
Should Existing Site Owners Use GA4 Or UA?
Don’t delete your UA properties just yet! Back them up, first!
In addition to losing your data, any integrated tools will also break if you make a hard switch right now.
The good news is that you still have plenty of time to get your feet wet.
Pro Tip: Start the move sooner so that you can start collecting year-over-year data now.
Just make sure that any third-party tools you use have been updated before you take the dive. Or, if you don’t expect them to be updated in time, look for new tools.
Should Agencies Use GA4 Or UA?
For agencies and marketers, the situation is more complicated.
If you want year-over-year data for next year, you should have GA4 set up already. If you don’t, start now. The longer you leave it, the longer you’ll have to wait for that year-over-year comparison data.
But you may have to stay with UA for a while, too.
Your clients will all be doing this at a different pace. Some might not even be aware that they have to make the change. Many won’t expect significant changes to the reporting that you provide them with.
You might have multiple team members who need to learn GA4.
You’ll also need to start a data archive if you don’t have one already.
While you’re doing all this and changing your processes to account for the new types of data, you want service to your clients to remain interrupted.
You’ll need a clear project management plan for each client’s migration if you handle their analytics accounts.
Chances are you’re going to have to continue using UA alongside GA4 until it is officially retired.
How To Set Up GA4
It’s simple to set up and migrate to GA4.
How To Set Up GA4 From Scratch
Setting up a new GA4 account from scratch is simple.
It’s a matter of setting up a new Google Analytics account or a new GA4 property on an existing account.
Google’s documentation can guide you step-by-step.
How To Migrate From UA To GA4
If you’re using an existing UA account and want to upgrade it, Google created a helpful setup wizard.
CallRail provides a step-by-step guide with screenshots in their ebook, or you can use Google’s support documentation.
You’ll also find these helpful instructions in CallRail’s ebook:
- How to set up GA4 in Google Tag Manager.
- How to set up goals in GA4.
- How to set up custom events in GA4.
Remember that you don’t have to cancel your UA and go all-in on GA4 right now. But if you want year-over-year comparison data next year, set up your GA4 accounts now.
CallRail provides a step by step guide with
screenshots in their ebook
The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor's own.