Transitioning to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – What Marketers Need to Know

Andrew Michael 10.13.2022 6 Minutes

Marketers across all industries face an uphill climb in transitioning to GA4 for their analytics and reporting needs.

Google recently announced that they will discontinue Universal Analytics on July 1st, 2023, meaning that marketing departments are facing crunch time to make sure everyone is trained and everything is ready in time for the switch.

The first step in this process is understanding what GA4 is, why Google is changing things up, and why you should care about the transition.

What is GA4, and why is Google changing things?

Since 2012, Universal Analytics has provided marketers with a centralized platform through which they could track user sessions on their websites. However, the software upon which Universal Analytics is built uses code that’s almost two decades old.

Further, despite a few user interface updates and some changes relating to privacy laws such as GDPR, Universal Analytics has remained largely the same since its release 10 years ago.

For these reasons and more, Google has decided to pivot to a new event-based tracking model known as Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Importantly, Google will sunset Universal Analytics on July 1st, 2023, meaning that UA will no longer collect and report user data after this date.

Can I keep using Universal Analytics?

Yes. Google is still regularly updating and tweaking GA4, so it’s wise to continue using Universal Analytics during the transition period.

However, keep in mind that Universal Analytics will no longer collect data as of July of 2023, so it’s critical that you implement GA4 as soon as possible so you can leverage the benefits and reporting capabilities of both platforms as you transition to using GA4 exclusively.

What are the benefits of using GA4?

Put simply, GA4 is the future of Google’s website tracking software, so the largest benefit is being able to continue using Google’s ecosystem for your visitor tracking needs.

At a more nuanced level, GA4 takes a session-based approach (as opposed to a user-based approach) to visitor tracking. This has a variety of benefits:

  • Seamlessly measure events across a variety of data streams, including all your firm’s websites and apps.
  • Access a more robust system for setting up custom reports — GA4 is intentionally designed to integrate perfectly with Google Data Studio and other Google properties (such as Google Ads).
  • Use machine learning to predict user behavior and analyze patterns in your website traffic, leading to more accurate reports and predictions.
  • Add GA4 to your website without configuring any cookies or other tracking measures that might infringe on privacy laws such as GDPR.
  • Leverage automatic events tracking and conversion optimization settings to more accurately analyze the actions users are taking on your web properties.
  • Future-proof your website’s analytics tracking by using events-based software that doesn’t need cookies or any form of identifying data.

What are the key differences between Google Analytics and GA4?

The biggest difference between the two platforms lies in how you review and get answers from the data.

Universal Analytics was created to be a one-stop-shop for your user tracking needs. This means that Universal Analytics could collect information, store that information, display it in a presentable fashion (in the Universal Analytics dashboard), and help you build reports to best present that data.

Google Analytics 4, on the other hand, was built for the sole purpose of storing information — with limited features for viewing the stored data from within the dashboard. Instead of acting as the single tool from which all insights flow, GA4 acts as the database where information collected using Google Tag Manager is stored.

Marketers can then use the information stored within GA4 to create detailed reports in Google Data Studio and other reporting platforms.

Why marketers should care

The transition from Universal Analytics to GA4 sets a very specific clock for when you need to have all your assets, templates, reports, and other resources updated. Remember, Universal Analytics will no longer collect data as of July 1st, 2023.

This means that any reports or other analytics materials will no longer work if they are not updated by that point.

It will take time to explain the gravity of this transition to senior leadership, and you’ll need time to learn how to use and integrate GA4 into your existing workflows. Further, it will take some detailed coordination to make sure you don’t lose any data in the shuffle.

The switch from Universal Analytics to GA4 will likely have a lasting impact on how marketers collect and present analytics data, and this change puts immense pressure on marketing teams to make sure they leverage this new tool effectively.

Marketers should expect some turbulence during this process, which is why it’s more important than ever to partner with an experienced agency with knowledge of how to set up and optimize the new GA4 ecosystem.

Transitioning your firm to GA4

There are two basic steps you’ll need to follow to transition your firm from Universal Analytics to GA4:

Update your tagging structure and event tracking

GA4 uses a different method of collecting data, which means you’ll likely need to install a new tracking code on your website. Generally, this means (1) adding the Google Tag Manager snippet to your website’s code, and then (2) adding GA4’s tracking code as a tag in Google Tag Manager.

In doing so, you’ll future-proof your setup and create a system where you can quickly and easily add, remove, or edit any tags you may need on your website to account for any future tagging needs (such as adding more advanced GA4 events or installing a tracking code for another product).

Update your reports to use the new metrics

Because they collect and store data in different ways, GA4 and Universal Analytics are not interchangeable when it comes to reporting and integrations. This means that you’ll need to update the connections for any reports or tools that use Universal Analytics as a data source.

While there are several metrics that are comparable in both platforms, not all Universal Analytics dimensions and metrics are available in GA4.

For this reason, you’ll need to take the time to update any and all reports to use the new dimensions and metrics available in GA4.

Making the most of the switch

Despite the numerous benefits that GA4 offers over Universal Analytics, it’s still a work in progress. For this reason, it’s wise to make the most of both Universal Analytics and GA4 in the near future as we approach the official transition date in July of 2023.

Marketers should take note of the ways in which GA4 allows for better user tracking and analytics reporting — and should take the transition as an opportunity to step up their reporting game for the months and years ahead.

While Universal Analytics is still available for now, it’s important to remember that the clock is ticking, and the importance of making a smooth transition only becomes more important as we get closer to the July 1st, 2023 release date.

About The Author

Andrew combines a love for creating powerful digital content with a passion for helping B2B organizations optimize their websites for search.

Learn More About Andrew
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