So, they've finally done it.
After years of biding their time, Google finally announced the end of Universal Analytics (UA). July 1, 2023 is the deadline for users to make the switch to the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as all reporting is set to cease in UA.
Despite having over 12 months until the change comes into effect, don’t wait! From privacy gaps in Universal Analytics (UA) to reporting limitations, continuing to use UA while GA4 is available is like choosing to use your phone with a smashed screen when you have a brand new one you just haven’t set up yet - it still works but you’re missing out on a much better experience.
In this article we look at the issues with UA that GA4 resolves, what your business is missing out on if you’re waiting until next year to make the switch and what your team needs to do from here.
This change has been introduced for many reasons. The most prominent being the increase in data and privacy regulation such as GDPR in the European Union and CCPA in California, USA.
There are large privacy gaps in the traditional way analytics collects and stores user data, particularly around Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is only expected to accelerate as enhanced data regulations spread around the globe. UA in its present state is incapable of filling these gaps and would not be able to do so without a complete re-work. Using advanced modelling and artificial intelligence however, GA4 meets the challenges that data and privacy-conscious environments present.
GA4 serves as an analytics platform built around the idea of maintaining privacy, while collecting detailed analytics and advancing data collection into the world of ubiquitous phone and desktop usage.
So, why should your business move over to GA4 sooner rather than later?
UA (the version that is going to cease being supported) has a limit on how much information can be supplied easily to the end user. As you can imagine, this very limited set can’t provide the level of context required to gather the desired detail about a customer on the website.
While there are ways to get around those limits in UA, they’re quite clunky pieces of work, with significantly longer time required than if they were part of the base product.
Now with GA4, parameters are effectively unlimited (max of 25 per event) and can be used to grant near-infinite context about the interactions that occur on-site. With the constraints broken away from that 3-layer structure that has been the standard for the past decade in UA, it gives far more capability to deep dive into context rich events. This allows activities such as lead scoring and propensity analysis to be done far more easily as information from any individual button click will be more readily available.
Let’s take a look at just how valuable this is. An easy example is a user clicking on a piece of content to take them to a product page. With UA, 3 pieces of information is the limit (see below). With GA4 these parameters open up to 25, providing far more valuable insights for not only stakeholders right across the business, including cx, sales and marketing teams.
By making the information so easy to access, it prevents your marketing and analytics specialists from having to kludge together multiple pieces of information to find the right solution.
Finally, and perhaps most noticeably, is that GA4 has moved away from the long list of reports which UA provides as a generic set to customers. Instead, it relies on user-made reports to give the end user unprecedented access and control. It’s worth noting that not all generic reports have been taken away, many of the most useful reports have been maintained to aid in the transition, while several outdated metrics, such as bounce rate, have been removed.
Furthermore, with the so-called cookie apocalypse coming our way, it’s becoming far more difficult to track all those incoming users in UA. GA4 helpfully sidesteps many of the issues with data collection, thanks to some advanced modelling. GA4 is able to stitch together the “closest approximation to true” that one can get when the lack of pixels give rise to these specific issues.
So now that you know what GA4 can do for your business…
Everyone with a UA property will need to establish a GA4 property to make sure that your reporting lasts beyond the July 2023 end date. While UA analytics will not delete all of the data it has collected up until that point, no further information will be added to its reports. Meaning that the sooner a GA4 property can be established for testing as well as historical purposes, the better prepared you will be when the switchover eventually happens.
If you use Google Tag Manager, you will also need to change over to the GA4 framework. This can be quite a lengthy process depending on how substantial your tagging setup already is, and care should be taken so that all current information is still being captured while additional context from parameters is being added.
While this guide does provide a brief overview of many of the major changes to come, there is still much more to tell.
If you need help managing this transition over to GA4 or have any questions about these changes, get in touch and our data analysts can help you make the switch.