Google Analytics 4 Is Here: Are You Ready?
6 Minute Read
For years, Google’s Universal Analytics has been the go-to product for online data collection. But all good things must come to an end, and Universal Analytics is no exception.
On July 1, 2024, Google will retire the Universal Analytics platform. Businesses and agencies will have to turn to the latest version, Google Analytics 4, to monitor traffic to their websites and the actions users take online.
Google Analytics 4 (also called GA4) is a different animal from the old Universal Analytics. Although the end of Universal Analytics is still more than a year away, savvy marketers (including Twelve Three Media, of course) are already implementing Google Analytics 4 and experimenting with the platform to ensure clients do not lose any crucial data when the change occurs.
The question is: Has your marketing agency informed you about the shift to Google Analytics 4 and what it means for your business? If the answer is “No,” your agency is not future-proofing your data.
Analytics and reporting is essential for the success of your marketing and advertising. Here is what you need to know about Google Analytics 4 to make sure your agency is not lying down on the job:
How Is Google Analytics 4 Different from Universal Analytics?
There are a few important ways in which Google Analytics 4 differs from Universal Analytics:
- Google Analytics 4 tracks user activity across platforms rather than relying on the more rigid tracking employed by Universal Analytics (which was firmly rooted in the desktop computer experience)
- For the most part, Universal Analytics employed a last-click attribution model; GA4 offers a more multifaceted approach for tracking a multitude of touchpoints that lead to conversions
- Whereas Universal Analytics tracked individual sessions, GA4 tracks events (i.e., the actions on your website that align with your business goals)
- Universal Analytics relied extensively on cookies, while GA4 does not
- In GA4, machine learning capabilities provide more in-depth information on your audiences – including recommendations for new consumers to target
- Webmasters have greater control over the data retained and stored in Google Analytics 4
- No IP addresses are stored by Google Analytics 4 (a key component of abiding by the varying strictness of international privacy laws)
- GA4 offers superior integration with other Google products, including Google Ads, Google Display & Video 360, etc.
The Internet being what it is, the coming shift to Google Analytics 4 has elicited no shortage of strong opinions. Naturally, the loudest come from either the Google evangelists (who will laud every product from the tech giant as if it will turn the world on its head) and the bellyachers who think every change is a defect.
Having been exploring Google Analytics 4 for some time now, we at Twelve Three Media have found pros and cons to the new platform. These insights can help businesses and marketers take advantage of new features within Google Analytics 4, as well as adjust to quirks inherent to any unfamiliar platform.
Making the Switch to Google Analytics 4: 3 Easy Questions for Your Agency
Universal Analytics access will expire 18 months from the start of the new year. That might sound like a lot of time, but it is crucial for businesses and marketing agencies alike to hit the ground running now so they have a good understanding of how Google Analytics 4 works and how to leverage insights from the platform to achieve their business goals.
In the early days of this “countdown,” the following questions can help you determine if your agency has a game plan to move clients to Google Analytics 4:
1. Are You Tracking My Website Data in Google Analytics 4?
Owners of Google Analytics accounts can set up a Google Analytics 4 profile (or a property, to use the Analytics term) to run concurrently with Universal Analytics. So, the first thing you should ask is whether your agency has created a Google Analytics 4 property to collect data for your website in both GA4 and Universal Analytics during this transition period.
Simply put, there is no reason not to enable data tracking for your website in Google Analytics 4 while you are also getting reports from Universal Analytics. Running both versions of Google Analytics simultaneously will enable you and/or your agency to compare data from the two versions, understand the similarities and differences, and continue to make data-driven decisions to reach your marketing and advertising goals.
2. Have You Enabled Historical Data Retention?
Longtime users of Universal Analytics are accustomed to having a retrospective view of data that stretches all the way back to when the property was first set up. Seemingly, Google Analytics 4 will not operate in the same way.
As of right now, the default period for historical data in Google Analytics 4 (classified as “event data retention” in GA4) is set to just 2 months. Webmasters can easily change the event data retention period to 14 months, but you have to know where to look.
If you or your agency sticks with the default retention option, you will have very little historical data to draw from in Google Analytics 4. This is a fatal mistake when it comes to making key decisions about your marketing and advertising, especially on an unfamiliar analytics platform.
May 1, 2023, is exactly 14 months from the date Google will sunset Universal Analytics. If you or your agency doesn’t opt for the 14-month event data retention by this date, your data will be incomplete when Google Analytics 4 becomes the only option.
3. What Should I Expect from Google Analytics 4?
Small and medium-sized businesses (particularly those providing services and not products) generally focus on session data (i.e., the people who come to the website and what they do). If this describes your business, you can generally rest easy once you confirm that your Google Analytics 4 property is set up and 14 months of data are being collected.
It is important to explore Google Analytics 4 over the coming year-plus and/or consult with your agency on an ongoing basis to make sure you understand how the platform works and how you can take action based on the data in GA4. However, for the most part no additional action will be required for the time being.
Businesses in the e-commerce space should dig a little deeper and take additional steps to prepare. Make sure your agency has set up or is in the process of setting up events, campaign attribution, and other key tracking parameters in Google Analytics 4.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Google Analytics 4 is that it places a much greater emphasis on sales and revenue than Universal Analytics. So, if your agency does not do the legwork upfront, you will miss out on GA4 data during this year’s transition and your business may be unprepared once July 1, 2024, rolls around.
Make the Most of the Transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4
Ultimately, no matter what kind of business you have and what types of data you need, your agency should strive to demystify Google Analytics, not engage in scare tactics. The data and terminology may be changing, but the purpose of Google Analytics 4 remains the same: tracking the actions customers take on your website and identifying opportunities to optimize conversions.
Another reason to follow Google Analytics 4 is the rapid pace of change. Now that users know the end of Universal Analytics is at hand, the SEO community is pushing for change. To Google’s credit, updates are consistently being made to the platform to make it closer to the reporting everyone knows from Universal Analytics.
GA4 is just the latest version of a tried-and-true analytics and reporting tool. The platform is still free, and it will continue to provide valuable insights for your business and your agency. If your agency acts like the sky is falling or tries to sell you snake oil when it comes to Google Analytics 4, it may be worth looking for a new marketing partner.
Is Your Marketing Agency Making the Move to Google Analytics 4?
Knowing how something works is not the same as being able to build and operate it yourself. Hopefully this introduction to Google Analytics 4 provides you with useful questions you can ask the marketing reps to ensure your agency is setting you up for success in the new data ecosystem.
If you are not satisfied with their answers or can’t wrap your head around how to set up Google Analytics 4 yourself, Twelve Three Media is here to help! We win when you win, and we take all the steps necessary to ensure that our clients have access to complete marketing and advertising data.