If the relatively short notice regarding Google switching to GA4 has thrown you off a little, you're not alone. On March 16, 2022, Google announced that it was putting Universal Analytics to rest soon. Although GA4 is not new and made its appearance first in the autumn of 2020 (nearly two and a half years ago), it has still seen slow adoption across industries.
Many are concerned that the tool is still in its infancy and it might be too soon to make the switch, while others worry about potentially losing their historical data if GA4 isn't compatible with the old Universal Analytics. But don't worry — we've got everything you need to know about the shift to GA4.
What Should I Know About GA4?
So, what is the deal with GA4, anyway? Here are the basics. First and foremost, Universal Analytics is going away and brands will need to adapt to the newer GA4 (Google Analytics 4 ) to understand any data with regard to their online presence.
For the first time, users will be able to analyze data on both apps and the web together. This offers a unified reporting experience for brands, which is especially useful for those that may have multiple websites and apps or umbrella sub-domains. Sounds good in theory, but you may still have questions, such as:
- Should you upgrade to GA4 now or wait a little longer?
- Should you keep both?
- Should you simply not make the switch?
The answer to all of these might depend upon how much you rely on analytics (which isn't going away) and extract data across platforms, domains, and sub-domains. However, if you're genuinely not ready, one feasible way to go about it will be to set it up alongside Universal Analytics so you slowly start understanding the tool.
Will I Lose Historical Data While Switching to GA4?
It's a very legitimate concern but also a bit of a misconception. Classic Analytics, which was introduced in 2005 and ran until 2012 when Universal Analytics was introduced, has many brands still using the old platform even today. It's surprising but true. So, some experts suggest it might be a few years until you worry about losing your historical data.
But if we look at it logically, tracking web and apps data in Universal Analytics relied completely on the integrations between GA and Firebase. So, if you're already using Firebase, your historical data will get carried over. However, since GA4 is built on a different data model, it won't pull in historical data from Universal Analytics.
So, what can you do about it? There's a way to pull in as much data as possible now by adding the global tag to GA4. If you don't want to make the switch right now, this would be extremely helpful for when you do.
Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: What Are the Core Differences?
Before you start upgrading your system, it's crucial to understand what you're getting into. So, let's list some differences to make your decision to adopt or not clearer:
1. Unified data from web and apps: Who wouldn't like a single place for their apps and web data to be tracked together? We bet you would. If you own multiple apps and websites, then GA4 will be your single source of truth as you can track everything to the same property.
2. Event-based GA4: Things like page views (which were predominant with Universal Analytics) are now more simplified with "events." Anything worth tracking is all going to be events, which you can segregate with different names (you could even call it "page views" for that matter) to make tracking even easier. This change is because apps aren't necessarily based on "page view" tracking but more on "activity" tracking (such as a transaction or a download). So, even if you have a thank-you webpage set up after a purchase is made, you can simply tag it as "purchase event." Isn't that super convenient?
3. Time-based actions: In Universal Analytics, when it comes to "time," we look at time spent on pages. It is extremely challenging (though not impossible) to track how long a user took to conduct a set of steps. Now with GA4's "elapsed time" feature, you can easily track how long it takes on average for users to complete a purchase after watching a video, for example.
4. Funnel and tracking paths: Earlier reserved for only GA360 users, you can now build audiences on the fly, customize steps and user segments easily, or start with default funnel templates. This especially helps with tracking events for different buyer personas and building a journey that's much easier to track. This also potentially eliminates, to an extent, any other tool you may be using to track user experience, if at all.
Can I Use Universal Analytics on the Web and Switch to GA4 for Mobile Apps?
Unfortunately (or fortunately), if you're a GA360 customer, then you'll be forced to switch to GA4 soon, and if you're using the free version, you could continue to do so for your website. For mobile apps, the current GA version isn't great, which is why GA4 is a far more suitable option with a lot of ways to customize how you track that data.
We recommend that even if you don't have a mobile app (for now), switching to G4 anyway will get you used to the new tool and a ton of great features that you can leverage. Who knows, you might need an app in the coming years or even months. Most importantly, GA4 offers the best reporting experience so far.
When Should I Migrate to GA4?
It's important to call out that GA4 is still in the infancy stage even though the "beta" tag has been removed. So, technically, it's ready to be leveraged if you're ready to explore what it can do for your business. Basically saying, it's ready if you are! However, take a look at some of the considerations below for a better idea.
It's a good call to start connecting your historical data now so you don't lose it all when you're ready to make the switch. This also gives you an opportunity to test out both of the tools side by side and help you get familiar with what is to come.
If I Switch, Would That Affect My Google Ads Campaign?
As per Google, if your Universal Analytics property and Google Ads accounts are linked, Universal Analytics data will stop flowing to Google Ads after July 1, 2023. (October 1, 2023, for Analytics 360 properties.) This would affect your Google Ads campaigns if you're:
- Bidding on imported Universal Analytics goals or ecommerce transactions
- Using a Universal Analytics audience in your campaigns
- Importing Universal Analytics site metrics
To further secure your campaign, you can migrate your Universal Analytics property's Google Ads links to GA4 property and import GA4 conversions.
Yes, we are. It's a great time for brands to grow beyond their current tech stack and invest in future tools that are more aligned with how platforms such as Google are constantly evolving. If Google is your main source of marketing or sales or general business growth, then it's also your single source of truth to map your business success path.
Need some help getting started? Our data and analytics experts know what's up, and they know what's coming. If you want to get a better handle on your data this year and use it to drive long-term, sustainable growth, First Page is here for you.