Google is sunsetting from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Come July 1st, 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer process data. This will result in major impacts on businesses across the globe. This blog explores the differences between GA4 and UA, how this will impact your business, and tips on how to make the transition easier.
Urchin was a web statistics analysis program that analyzed web server log file content and displayed the traffic information on that website based on the log data.
Classic Analytics was an improved version of Urchin with several important changes. The changes included several improvements to the user interface, the introduction of several real-time reports, new APIs, and a plethora of reports to help you understand visitor behavior through new segments and acquisition reports.
Universal Analytics was Google’s response to the uptake of technological devices. The main goal of Universal Analytics was to track the same user across different devices (laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.). It aimed to show the engagement activity of a user across different screens and visits to your site to provide a more user-centric view of your traffic and help you build a more tailored experience for your customers. Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions, and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.
Google Analytics for Firebase
Google Analytics 4
The main difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is that Universal Analytics highlights Total Users (shown as Users) in most reports, whereas GA4 focuses on Active Users (also shown as Users). So, while the term Users appears the same, the calculation for this metric is different between UA and GA4 since UA is using Total Users and GA4 is using Active Users.
Why is Google Making the Change to GA4?
Google's Universal Analytics is the #1 tool used by digital analysts and digital marketers internationally. So, what would prompt Google to make this abrupt change?
Universal Analytics’ heavy reliance on cookies. Harsher laws are coming out regarding user privacy, and cookies are being ‘phased out’ as legislation catches up to technological advances. Users value privacy more than ever, forcing Google to find another way to track data besides cookies.
Measurement Types differ between data sets. In Universal Analytics, businesses couldn’t track the same data between websites and applications. The inability to combine app and website data was crippling those businesses with web applications. This is causing a critical data gap as it paints an incomplete picture of the user’s journey.
Limited reporting capabilities. In Google Analytics 4, the reports are fully customizable with more meaningful metrics. This is because GA4 captures different data from conversions than Universal Analytics, making the reporting capabilities more insightful.
Universal Analytics doesn’t have any artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities. Google Analytics 4 has integrated this advanced analytic capability to enhance insights and predictive analytics. GA4 can fill the data gaps that UA doesn’t.
Taxonomy and hierarchy changes. At the center of the Google Analytics 4 data model are events and event parameters. Most aspects of collecting data for Google Analytics 4 are event-based and also usually include parameters. In Universal Analytics, the basic unit of collected data is referred to as a hit. A hit is essentially a package of descriptors that is sent to the Analytics servers to record a user interaction such as page views and events. Google Analytics 4 is based on a different kind of event and offers a more flexible and agnostic data collection paradigm that has its origins in Google Analytics for Firebase.
Limited funnel capabilities. Universal Analytics funnels are retroactive, meaning you build the funnels with data already collected and processed. With GA4, you can test, open, close, customize, and visualize the steps your users take to complete a task and quickly see how well they are succeeding or failing at each step.
Differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4
Properties and views are siloed
Fairly complicated interface
Limited cross-device and cross-platform reporting
Full-cross-device and cross-platform reporting
Session and cookie-based tracking
Minimal automation capabilites
Machine learning and Artificial Intelligent capabilities
Tracks conversion events on a high-level. For example, visiting pages.
Conversion is tracked based on specific actions and events. Increased ability to drill down into data.
Common GA4 Pitfalls
There are some common issues businesses will face in making the move from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.
GA4 not showing revenue. A currency value is now mandatory. By default, it makes the value set to USD. You must tweak this as necessary for your business’s operating currency.
Missing reports in GA4. The reports interface has completely changed in GA4. Any custom reports that you have created in UA will need to be re-created in GA4. It’s important to note that available tracking metrics have changed (more have been added, and some have been removed), so this will also impact reports.
GA4 not showing conversions. In UA, you were able to track conversions with events. GA4 tracks conversions differently than UA. GA4 events are triggered as users interact with your site or app. Using the user interface, you will need to flag any events that contribute to the success of your business as conversions. Whenever any of these flagged events is triggered, a conversion is registered in your GA4 property.
GA4 missing metrics. An example of a metric that has been retired is average sessions. There isn’t any way to bring this metric into GA4. You will need to learn how to set up, read, and track new metrics that can paint the picture of this metric.
Tips for Making the Move to GA4 Easier
Create a comprehensive implementation plan.
Use a tag management system.
Outline and follow naming conventions.
Set up customized measurements to capture important metrics that matter for your business.
Use data streams to collect data from multiple sources.
Set up data filters.
Test and validate your implementation.
Make sure your currency tracking is appropriate for your business.
Enable debug mode.
Seek professional help to make the transition as smooth as possible.
The sooner you switch the GA4 the better. Learning and adapting to GA4 will take some time. Use the interim to use the historical data from UA to identify key metrics, events, and conversions you would like to integrate into GA4.
As of July 1st, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data. Without this data, it can be devastating for businesses' online conversion rates.
Google Analytics 4 unlocks the power of understanding how users, visitors, and customers use your websites. Having behavioral data can drastically improve the results of your online business. Without behavior data, optimizing a website's performance is impossible.
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