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What You Need To Know About the Switch to GA4

by Thomas Bacon on
Illustration of a woman looking at analytics with "Google Analytics 4" written on it.

Adaptation is the nature of marketing. In this house, we like to throw pasta at the wall and see what sticks. That’s the nature of a successful marketing strategy. Marketing isn’t just creating a pretty picture or writing a funny catchphrase. It’s science. It is trial and error and learning as you go along. You have to be able to attempt an approach, analyze your results, and see if there’s a better, more impactful way of doing things. The same can be said for the switch from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

What’s Happening To Universal Analytics?

While GA4 is currently available for use, beginning on July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer process new data. Because UA cannot deliver insights across apps, devices, and websites, the application has become outdated in its ability to track user behavior. Furthermore, information stored in UA will be inaccessible beginning January 1, 2024, six months after the official switch.

How are GA4 and Universal Analytics Similar?

In short, Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) are intended to give marketers and analysts a better picture of who their consumers are and what they do on your website. By tracking demographics, page views, traffic sources, etc., analytics applications give you the ability to obtain a more thorough understanding of your audience. You get a clear picture of who they are and how to market your product to them effectively. The good news is both applications include standard features like capturing page views, filtering out unwanted traffic, tracking traffic sources, etc. The bad news is that’s pretty much where the similarities end. It’s important to remember that these are two totally different applications. As frustrating as it is to accept, GA4 is not a modification of UA.

How are GA4 and Universal Analytics Different?

For starters, you cannot look at GA4 through the lens of what you had before. The application has been completely rewritten, making this an apples to oranges situation. Secondly, GA4 is entirely event-driven. Everything that happens is an event. A login, a page view, a purchase, you name it, it’s an event, whereas, in UA, events must be manually created. Lastly, Google Analytics 4 was rewritten to use machine learning to detect patterns and anomalies, making the app more useful across multiple platforms.

The more things change – however – the more they stay the same. Like Universal Analytics, GA4 is quickly building a reputation for changing within a moment’s notice. Bounce rates, for example, are bouncing all over the place. One week they’re a thing of the past, the next week they’re back up to bat. In UA the term bounce rate was used to refer to the percentage of sessions where a visitor landed on a page without interacting with your site and was thought to be indicative of poor user experience. However, a high bounce rate is not always an accurate reflection of that. At the onset of GA4, bounce rates were deemed an inaccurate measure of success and were replaced with engagement rates. Rather than focusing on an end to a session, engagement rates focus on how long a user interacts with the content on your site and if they complete desired conversions. However, as quickly as bounce rates were cast aside, they were brought back into the fold to be used alongside engagement rates to offer a more holistic view of the performance of your overall website (although with a slightly different meaning). It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin and all the more reason this complicated process should be left to the experts…P.S. It’s us. We’re the experts.

Now we have to talk cookies, and not the kind you find at the bakery. UA is reliant on cookies. Cookies can be used for the purpose of analytics; however, cookies do not track users across different devices and browsers. Furthermore, due to privacy concerns, this data collection method is starting to become more and more restricted. Ad blockers, for example, block Google analytics cookies. Great for the user, but for a business, it feels more like a blindfold. Because of these restrictions, cookies are becoming increasingly unreliable. Thankfully, GA4 is more focused on being able to track data across devices while keeping privacy concerns in mind. That’s where machine learning comes in. Because of this new feature, GA4 can make smarter predictions about who the user is. 

How do I make the switch?

With more sophisticated analytical capabilities comes better quality data. GA4 offers you more control, but many find it more difficult to operate. In order to get the most out of the new application, you’ll need to either learn how to configure and use it yourself or hire someone to configure it for you. Misconfiguration will generate inaccurate reports and incomplete data which will inevitably lead to misinformed decisions when it comes to your marketing strategy. You wouldn’t drive at night without using your headlights and the same can be said for your marketing strategy. Our team of developers and marketing experts can help you transition your current Universal Analytics dashboard to the new GA4 platform seamlessly so that you can continue to make informed and strategic marketing decisions.