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Google Analytics 4 – is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Jen Naiff
28 March 2022

With Google’s latest announcement that it’ll be sunsetting universal analytics on the 1st of July 2023, does this mean we should be switching to GA4, its latest version today, or should we wait until closer to the deadline?

Google Analytics has been around in some form since 2005, and is now used by millions of websites to track traffic, providing insights into where visitors are coming from, what they are doing on your site, and how you can improve your marketing efforts. However, it can also be complex and overwhelming, especially for new users.

Having undergone a number of changes over the years, Google has made a concerted effort to make it more user-friendly with each new release and the latest version, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), is (apparently) specifically designed to be more intuitive and easier to use than previous versions, with a focus on providing actionable insights.

So, what’s new in GA4?

One of the most significant changes is the switch from a cookies-based tracking system to a device-based system. This means that GA4 will now be able to track users across devices, even if they clear their cookies or use incognito mode. This is a major improvement, as it will provide more accurate data on how users interact with your site across multiple devices.

On top of this, Google has also made a number of other changes under the hood, including updating the way GA4 processes data by using a streaming data architecture, which allows for near real-time data processing and analysis. They’ve also made it easier to import data from other Google products, such as Google Ads and BigQuery (although they’ve still not integrated with Search Console) and have introduced a number of new features, including cross-device reports, attribution modelling, and audience insights.

GA4 also introduces a new reporting interface, which is divided into three sections; Explorer, Analysis, and Reporting.

  • Explorer is designed for exploring data and allows you to quickly identify trends and outliers.
  • Analysis is designed for deeper analysis, and provides more options for filtering and customizing your data views.
  • Reporting is designed for creating customized reports and allows you to save and share your reports with others.

While the differences keep stacking up, some of the same features of Universal Analytics are found in GA4, they’ve just been tweaked slightly, which is somewhat annoying as it means breaking old habits.

For example, in Universal analytics you’ll be recording hits; e-commerce hits, page view hits, event hits. In GA4, these are all now tracked as simply events.

So, what’s missing then?

Currently, there is no way to have different views in GA4 which may cause some a load of problems as many have their analytics set up in such a way that different teams, internal and external, have different views depending on their permissions levels.

There’s also a significant gap where the behaviour-flow report was, which will be a tough loss for many. There are ways to sort of replicate the data by utilising the path exploration tool or funnels, but those using the behaviour-flow report will find this fiddly to begin with.

One big error we found is that the expiration of data going from ‘never’ to just a measly 14 months. We’re really hoping this will change by the 1st July 2023, but perhaps Google just doesn’t want to store unlimited website usage data anymore…

So, is Google Analytics 4 worth upgrading to?

If you are using an older version of GA, then the answer is definitely yes. The new features and improvements in GA4 make it well worth the upgrade.

However, if you are already using Universal Analytics, then the decision is less clear.

Google has stated that they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics on the 1st of July 2023, so you will eventually need to switch to GA4. However, GA4 does not yet have all the features of Universal Analytics, so you may want to wait until closer to the deadline before making the switch to give Google more time to add further functionality to GA4.

I’m ready to make the jump, what now?

First things first do not, we repeat, do not just delete your current Universal Analytics set up! In order to migrate over to GA4, it’s best to set it up on your site in tandem with Universal Analytics. This pro-tip comes directly from Google and it’ll act as a backup in case anything goes wrong.

To do this go into your Google Analytics Admin view and under property, you’ll find a GA4 setup assistant which will guide you through each step and ensure all your data and setup from Universal Analytics is copied over into GA4.

Make sure you select the ‘I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property’ option and click ‘get started’. Now, there’s a check box on the next screen which you can select if your analytics is installed via gtag.js. In selecting this checkbox, the wizard will automatically update all of your event tags and convert them into GA4. If your analytics is set up via GTM, don’t check this box.

Once you’ve hit ‘create property’ you need to get the new tag installed onto your site so that you begin capturing data straight away but once that’s done all you need to do is configure the rest of the set up with the wizard and then go and have a poke around the new UI.

Need some help?

If you’re ready to make the jump but nervous to play around yourself, just give your Project Manager or Account Director a call and we’ll get this all sorted for you.

Have you already upgraded to GA4? If so, what do you think? Jump on over to our LinkedIn post and let us know in the comments.

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