Google Analytics is changing. In July 2019, Google announced that a newer and more future focused Google Analytics 4 (GA4) would replace its current tracking and reporting system Universal Analytics (GA3). Though the announcement has been greeted with mixed reviews from both merchants and ecommerce professionals alike, the latest version will marry both web and app tracking to create one cohesive programme which gives clearer insight into how customers progress through the buyer journey.
Coined in 2005, Google Analytics has undergone significant changes since its initial launch in order to adapt to an ever changing ecommerce landscape, however Universal Analytics (GA4’s predecessor) is still utilising data driven through cookies and based on interactions from desktop users. In the UK alone 96% of residents are using mobile devices to access the internet, and 81% use mobile devices to research or look for goods, thus it is imperative to merchants that Google adapts their model to favour mobile interactions.
What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
Universal Analytics, the current version of Google Analytics, is reaching its end of life. The original model, released in 2005, was based on data which primarily focused on desktop users and relied on cookies to give insight into user behaviour. Since its inception, the way that users browse the web has changed, and is still changing. As already stated 96% of UK residents use a mobile device to access the web! GA4 is the latest step in Google embracing those changes.
GA4, which has already come to fruition, still offers insights into acquisition, audience and more. However, it has a heavier focus on mobile and app users, and shows the cohesion between these two platforms. Following the success of global companies using GA4 they predict that these types of statistics and insights into user journeys and how they navigate the sales funnel will help merchants to drive sales or increase app installs.
Further to this, GA4 has a much higher focus on user privacy. Though the death of the 3rd party cookie is cause of major concern for marketers and business owners alike, GA4 will use different methods to provide reliable metrics and thus no longer rely on cookies for user data. GA4 will also stop storing users IP addresses - again promoting user privacy.
When Do I Need To Switch To Google Analytics 4?
When something like this is announced, we all want to know just how long we’ve got until we absolutely HAVE to make the switch. Well, on the 16th March 2022 Google announced they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics on the 1st of July 2023. In theory this means that you have just over a year before you absolutely need to make the switch. However, we don’t advise that take it right up to the finish line as this could cause issues later on.
Data is only relevant when it is comparable to other data. GA4 is a completely new platform and as such when you begin using it, it will be empty.
It is really important to note that there is no easy way to migrate data from UA to GA4.
Therefore we advise that you start using GA4 by 1st July 2022 at the very latest so that when Google stops Universal Analytics collecting new hits on the 1st July 2023, and new hits in Analytics 360 two months later on the 1st of October 2023, you will already have at least one full year's worth of data to start analysing and comparing.
As mentioned GA4 is a completely new platform, and as such any historical data which is stored in Universal Analytics won’t be present. Google has stated that unfortunately once the programme is sunsetted your historical data will become lost, however, this won’t happen straight away. Google is giving merchants 6 months from 1st July 2023, in which you will still be able to access your data. Up until this six month cut off point the data stored in Universal Analytics will be available to export, to ensure that year’s worth of data is not lost.
GA4 Improves User Tracking and Insights
Change is a good thing. Change often means progression and this is no better evidenced than with the improvements which we can see within GA4 and the benefits they bring to users.
Users very seldom go on to a website, choose an item, and purchase. In fact, 85% of UK residents conduct online research before purchasing a product. This research spans company websites, social media channels and apps. One of the key improvements that GA4 has made is the improved user journey, and cross-platform tracking. Merchants will now have the ability to get a better insight into the sales funnel and how your customer ended up at purchase. Having these key statistics at your fingertips will help you to better understand your customers, and make informed decisions and improve based on real data - something which is extremely important to any business.
Another brilliant feature of GA4 will be improved user engagement analysis. This will provide businesses with a clearer picture of how users and potential customers interact with their brand. Gaining insight into the people that you are selling to is imperative to any brand.
Though sometimes as human beings we cower at the thought of change, this change is a good one! As long as you get yourself over to GA4 sooner rather than later you should see an improvement in the kinds of data that you have access to, and with an ever changing ecommerce landscape the more clear and concise vision of how customers are interacting with us across multiple channels, platforms and outlets should help to improve sales, and marketing tactics resulting in more sales, and a higher revenue.
Moving To Google Analytics 4: Key Takeaways
- Universal Analytics is coming to end-of-life on 1st July 2023.
- Make the switch before 1st July 2022 to ensure a years’ worth of comparable data.
- Historical data could become lost, ensure you export all data from Universal Analytics.
- GA4 will offer a deeper insight into your customers interactions over a cross-channel dataset.
- GA4 is still having new features released regularly, so if you find your usual reports aren’t available, they should be there by July 2023
- Even if you aren’t planning to use GA4 until July 2023, it is essential to get the tracking set up and the data pulling through.