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Google Analytics is Dead Long Live Google Analytics

From July 1st 2023 Google will retire its widely used and much loved Universal Analytics platform. This change means you need to start the transition to Google Analytics 4 sooner rather than later, ideally now would be a good time and it is possible to run Universal Analytics and GA4 side by side this will allow your GA4 properties to be collecting data ahead of the retirement of Universal Analytics. Are you still fuzzy on what the main differences are between UA and GA4? To begin with if you aren’t already using Google Tag manager I would strongly advise setting this up for your site and hopefully this list will help you prepare for the transition.

1. Google Analytics 4 Properties

The first thing you  need to know about GA4 is that it is essentially a redesign of Universal Analytics. It seeks to eliminate siloed data from your web and app analytics and unify it in one data collection and reporting interface. This way, you can collect data from your website, Android and iOS apps under one property to track and analyse the customer journey across devices. Google is coming under a lot of fire about data privacy and GA4 aims to continue to give you as much relevant data as possible while complying with ever changing privacy laws, using cookieless measurement, and behavioural and conversion modelling

2. Data Streams

Currently Universal analytics runs by individual properties however data streams are a new way of collecting different sources of data under one property. You can add multiple web and app streams to each property—think of each data stream as an unfiltered/raw data view. Views themselves will no longer be available in GA4. Filters will be applied at the property or subproperty level (subproperties are a GA4 360-only feature), and have features for testing before making active and for inactivating active filters.

3. All Hit Types Become Events

GA4 was created to give a unified view of the customer journey across web and app. To do this, the UA approach of several different kinds of hits, custom dimensions and metrics was changed to reflect the app approach of events and parameters that will be familiar to most current users. Pageviews from UA can still be passed as an event in GA4, instead of custom metrics and dimensions, parameters are used to customise events. This alignment with the way things are done on apps will help to create a comprehensive view of the customer journey as they switch between device and web. 

GA4 automatically collects these events. You don’t have to do anything to activate these events. There’s no setting to turn on, and there’s no code for you to write.

Here are some examples of automatically collected events.

  • first_visit – the first visit to a website or Android instant app
  • session_start – the time when a visitor opens a web page or app
  • user_engagement – when a session lasts longer than 10 seconds or had 1 or more conversions or had 2 or more page views

Here are some of the available enhanced measurement events. The scope for enhanced measurements is huge and listing them all here would not be practical but using Google Tag Manager chances are if you want to track an action on your web site it is possible.

  • page_view: a page-load in the browser or a browser history state change
  • click:  a click on an outbound link (i.e., a click that goes to an external site)
  • file-download: a click that triggers a file download, such as downloading a PDF file
  • scroll: the first time a visitor scrolls to the bottom of a page (i.e., viewed 90% of the page)

4. Fewer Standard Reports, Easier Ad Hoc Analysis

There are fewer standard reports, but it is easier to create custom ad hoc reports using Explorations in GA4. The explorations UI is similar to Data Studio, and you can easily create custom reports that suit particular users/roles we have found one downfall with this in that a shared report cannot be edited even at the date range level however a quick work around is to clone the shared report by the new user and it will become editable. In addition, there is a wide template gallery to help you get started. Most of these aren’t fully formed templates, they give you enough information for you to tweak the report and making these small changes to the templates is a great way to test and learn how to create your own custom reports. Templates are grouped by techniques, use cases, and industry and include everything from free form to funnel and path exploration, acquisition and conversion, and ecommerce report templates. While a version of some of these reports was included in standard UA reports, the templates in GA4 provide a starting point that you can customise according to your needs.

5. Recommended

Recommended events are events that aren’t implemented in GA4. If you need an event that’s not collected automatically or in the enhanced measurement, you should check to see if what you need is in the recommended events. If it is, then follow the guide for that recommended event. That makes sure that the recommended event you created is compatible with future GA4 releases.

Examples of recommended events include login, purchase, on page clicks and sign_up.

6. Custom

As mentioned earlier, custom events are your last option when you need to track an event that doesn’t fall into the first 3 categories.

There are a couple of ways to do this, the easiest and possible 1st route to check out is Using Google Tag Manager to create the tag. Alternatively you’ll need to design and write custom code to implement the custom event you want to track. And, there’s no guarantee that Google will support your custom events in the future so this should really be a last resort.

Writing code to create a custom event should not be confused with creating a custom event from the triggering of an existing event.

7. Goals Become Conversions

In UA, conversions are measured as either ecommerce transactions or goals. GA4 simplifies this by labelling any events you identify as contributing to your business objectives as conversions.

The takeaway: GA4 creates a unified view of the user journey and adds greater reporting flexibility. Google Analytics 4 is unavoidable and a key element of ongoing management of your website or ecommerce store the good news is once set up GA4 is an extremely powerful tool to have in your armoury.  Please get in touch below if you would like any help, support or guidance on transitioning to the new platform.