How Google Analytics 4 Will Replace Universal Analytics
The time is nigh! The Google Gods have once again stricken us with some pretty heavy news. This time with the execution date of our old, dear friend. We all knew Google Analytics 4 would replace Universal Analytics. But now we have an actual date for it, it just all seems a bit too real.
So, naturally, we wanted to exploit the death of our friend by creating a great article explaining what businesses should do to prepare.
When Will GA4 Replace Universal Analytics?
I suppose this is a good place to start… Russell Ketchum, Director, Product Management, at Google Analytics says that GA4 will replace UA on the 1st of July 2023. GA360 Universal Analytics properties will meet their end on the 1st of October 2023. That’s 11 years after UA was created and about 1.3 years from when this article was written.
How Will GA4 Replace Universal Analytics?
Admittedly, I’m being a bit doom and gloom. I keep referring to this as the death of UA. Although, essentially, there is no migration path, only the option of a fresh GA4 account.
On the dates listed above, new GA3 hits will stop being processed and no data will be processed for those properties. Hence GA4 is a replacement, not an upgrade.
After those dates, you will have 6 months to access historic data.
How to Know if You’re Using a Universal Analytics Property or GA4 Property
GA4 was released on the 14th of October 2020. It was also made the default when you created a new property. With that in mind it’s probably safe to say the following:
If you created your GA property before the 14th of October 2020, you’re probably using Universal Analytics. If you created your GA property after that date, you’re probably using Google Analytics 4.
If your accountID is UA-xxxxx-x then it is GA3 (Universal Analytics), if it is G-xxxxxxxx then it is GA4.
How The Change to GA4 Will Effect Your Business
If you’re already using GA4 and GA4 only, then this change will have no effect on your business at all. However, if you’re using Universal Analytics, this could have some significant effects on your business.
You Will Stop Receiving New Data on UA Properties
If you continue to use UA, you will stop receiving data after the 1st of July 2023. This is pretty significant. You obviously don’t want to miss-out on valuable marketing data after that time. So you need to make sure you set up Google Analytics 4 before then.
How This Will Effect Your Google Ads Campaigns
If you are using GA3 goals or transactions imported into Google Ads, then these will stop working after the 1st of July 2023. This will mean:
- UA site metrics such as bounce rate will disappear
- Remarketing audiences will stop adding new users
- CPA bidding on goals or transactions will start underbidding
So again, it’s highly recommended that you migrate to GA4 and then link your Google Ads Campaigns to your GA4 account instead. You should then:
- Import GA4 conversions for bidding
- Disable GA3 conversions to prevent double-counting
- Add GA4 audiences to a campaign or Ad group for remarketing
How to Ensure That You Don’t Have Any Problems During the Switch to GA4
- You should add a GA4 pageview straight away and run this in parallel with UA so that you start building historic benchmark data. Just remember to add GA4 goals.
- For new GoogleOptimise tests, you should use this new GA4 property.
- Once you have 30 days of data then switch your DataStudio dashboards to use GA4 as a data source. I suggest duplicating DataStudio dashboards so you have a backup to compare GA3 vs GA4.
- Start building your GA remarketing audiences as these will reset as part of the migration. So the sooner you add GA4 the better.
- Also, remember to link GA4 to Google Ads and switch the goals to use GA4 goals instead of GA3.
How to Migrate to GA4
So we’ve definitely established that migrating to GA4 from UA is something you need to do! But how do you do it? We’ve already created a really great guide on how to do this:
So please click through and follow that guide if you haven’t already. Although there are some other things to consider during this migration.
Export Your Universal Analytics Data
Definitely export your Universal Analytics data. I recommend doing this any time up to the day before new hit data will stop being sent to UA. That means exporting your data on the 30th of June 2023. I say the day before, just to be safe and to not have any gaps in your data in case the overlap isn’t crystal clear.
You have to remember, you can still run GA4 alongside UA. So it doesn’t really matter when you export the data, as long as it’s before the date that new hit data will stop being processed for UA accounts. Currently, there are a few ways to export your UA data.
One option is to export individual reports into any of the following formats:
- Excel (XLSX)
- Google Sheets
Alternatively, you could export the data via the Google Analytics reporting API.
Why Google Analytics 4 Will Replace Universal Analytics
If you’re an analyst or an avid GA and GTM user, you probably have some mixed feelings towards GA4. We do too. But whether we like it or not, Google Analytics 4 will replace Universal Analytics. We actually have quite an optimistic view of the future with GA4. But before I get into that, I want to discuss the underlying reason why Google are making this substantial change.
The Move Towards Cookieless Data
Ultimately, UA was built for cookies. But as we transition away from cookies to remain GDPR compliant in the face of the ever-changing privacy landscape, we need to look at new ways to capture and analyse data. GA4 doesn’t rely exclusively on cookies and instead uses an event-based data model that can operate across platforms.
Essentially Google Analytics 4 has been designed with privacy as a focus. Here are a few ways it does that:
- GA4 anonymises IP addresses by default
- Supports consent mode and ability to upscale cookie-based sessions & conversions using a new cookieless sampling pixel. This is important when you consider what happened to Facebook on iOS when Apple forced Facebook to change from a 100% opt-out model to a 10% opt-in model. Thus 90% upscaling using a sampling pixel is a critical feature to maintain conversion benchmarking.
- Has better user-deletion data control and the ability to set regional controls
We’re currently writing a blog post on the benefits of GA4 and we’ll talk about everything in a bit more detail then. But here are a few key benefits.
GA4 Uses Better Machine Learning to Provide Automatic Insights
Universal Analytics, bless its cotton socks, did have some machine learning capability that allowed it to provide some really cool insights. But GA4 just uses better machine learning models that will provide users with better alerts to a broader range of trends in your data.
This may help us better understand our customers and their demands. Furthermore, it will allow us to paint a clearer and more intricate picture of which customers are more likely to convert. Which in turn allows for better targeting.
GA4 Integrates with BigQuery for free
GA4 integrates with BigQuery for free, it used to cost $150K for GA360 in order to get access to this feature. This has its own plethora of benefits, for which, we have an article that discusses this:
GA4 also now offers better integration with YouTube for example. This allows for a better understanding of the ROI of your YouTube marketing budget.
GA4 Supports Better Sessionisation and Thus is More Accurate at Cross-Platform Tracking
Now you can paint a fuller picture of your customer journey by bringing together web and app performance into one account. This allows you to optimise certain parts of your journey that you were previously unable to connect the dots between. As a lot of customer interactions now span across different platforms, this is a huge benefit!
When should I migrate from Universal Analytics to GA4?
Don’t migrate entirely just yet! But do add the GA4 pageview pixel straight away.
There are some features missing from GA4 such as exclude parameters, regex goals, page path & landing page reports, automatic Google Sheet API integration, pageID dimension widening and most importantly the default reports are very difficult for the average user to find and use. Also, many call tracking, live chat and social widget providers do not currently support sending events into GA4.
These missing features will hopefully be addressed and there are GTM workarounds using JS regex for goals or location.pathname custom dimensions to mitigate some of the issues mentioned above.
I expect the interface will improve over time and it is possible to create a library of custom reports that replicate the GA3 default reports.
Also, support of historic event imports or refund events or offline CRM actions are welcome new features.
Thus the future looks bright for GA4.
We want to create some FAQ-style articles that provide solutions to your GA4 questions and problems. If you have any, then comment down below or get in touch with us. We’d love to hear what you need answered.