Why Google is pulling the plug on Universal Analytics and switching to GA4

It’s finally happening. In March, Google announced it will shut down Universal Analytics, and Google Analytics 4 will take its place as the new standard cross-platform Analytics solution.

The Great Analytics Migration

Why is Google doing this? Russell Ketchum, director, product management at Google: “Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions, and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.” Moreover, Google announced that GA4 will not be backwardly compatible with GA3-data. Worse still, the historical GA3-data will only be available for (at least) 6 months after said dates, hinting that Google may remove access to GA3 completely somewhere down the line. This has (surprise, surprise!) sparked outrage among companies. But let’s all take a breath and shake off that liver shot because there is still ample time to prepare for what’s to come.

 

Changing the way we think about data collection

Google Analytics 4 has been around for a couple of years now, but the transition to the new platform has been slow due to its perceived counter-intuitiveness and messy UI. What’s important to understand about GA4 is that it’s not just an upgraded platform – it uses an entirely new measurement model which will change the way we think about data collection going forward. In a nutshell, GA3 uses a measurement model based on sessions and pageviews, whereas GA4 uses a model based on events and parameters. In GA4, a pageview is considered an event, for example. However, as the data collection method is different, you will not be able to fully compare apples to apples between GA3 and GA4. The good news here is that (yes, there is good news) GA4 events provide much more detailed information than GA3 about user behavior, such as user location, page title, and more. Also, the event tracking setup is way more flexible and even has some automation features built-in. All in all, GA4 will be better at following the customer journey than its predecessor.

Here are some other pros’ of GA4:

  • It has cross-device tracking
  • It has better integration with third-party tools and apps
  • It has new engagement metrics that use machine learning
  • It’s easy to troubleshoot your website/app in the improvements section
  • It’s better at handling user privacy

And now to the cons’ of GA4:

  • It has a steeper learning curve than GA3, so reserve time to get familiar with the interface.
  • It’s not very SEO-friendly. Final menu items have been significantly reduced, and some of your previous reports will be difficult to reproduce in GA4, such as the All Pages Report. Also, the bounce rate, exit rate, unique page views, and entrances columns seem to be gone.
  • Setting up GA4 tracking to work the way you want it to can be complicated, depending on your needs.

 

Thankfully, July 1, 2023, is still ways away, and here are a couple of tips on how you can be prepared once GA3 stops registering hits:

  • Create a GA4 property if you haven’t already and mirror your GA3 tracking. Once the switch happens, you will have a whole year’s worth of data to base decisions on.
  • Read and watch tutorials on how to use GA4.
  • Download and store all your historical data from GA3. Google will be offering more guidance around data exporting in the future but planning for this right now is a good idea.

 

Right now, Google is signaling to businesses that they need to be prepared to move over to GA4, and we should be taking that seriously. So the sooner companies set up their GA4 properties and get familiar with them, the smoother they’ll hit the ground running once the transition happens.

 

 

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