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What is Google Analytics 4 and Why Should I Deploy It Now?

May 24, 2023

Courtesy of BlackTruck Media + Marketing

Out with the old and in with the new — Google is shifting from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in July of 2023. The company’s March 2022 announcement shared a number of property highlights, including easily activated insights, complete customer lifecycle views, and optimized user privacy. Currently, Universal Analytics is one of the most widely used measurement tools for understanding your business’ data, from the complex user journey to the performance of your website content. Google Analytics is vital for understanding your customer’s needs and developing data-driven solutions for them. Before we get too far down the path of educating you on all things GA4, please be aware of some critical dates.

When Was GA4 First Released?

GA4 was first introduced and released on July 31, 2019 as a beta and was officially launched in mid-October 2020 when it was announced to be the replacement to Universal Analytics.

When Will GA4 Take Over Universal Analytics?

GA4 becomes the new standard in free web analytics on July 1, 2023. In meaning, your data will stop being captured in Universal Analytics on June 30, 2023. Those users on Google Analytics 360 will have a one year extension on the data gathering that can happen inside of Universal Analytics – this will go through July 1, 2024 [Google Support].

How Long Will Universal Google Analytics Data Be Available?

Universal Google Analytics data will be available before July 1, 2024. Originally this was only going to be available to those on the Analytics 360 platform, but recently Google announced that you will receive one more year to export historical data from Universal Analytics [Google Support].

Keep in mind: Google is very vague in their language use on the subject so we’ll translate that for you. Don’t wait around to use the entire calendar year to export your historical data – we recommend doing this inside the original 6-month window and export by the end of 2023 to be safe.

Google Analytics 4: The Background & Basics

In an ever-changing measurement landscape, it’s important for businesses to have access to the most up-to-date analytics experience. To address these needs, Google Analytics 4 was first announced in 2019 as a new way to “unify app and website measurement.” Two and a half years later, Google shared that the new property will officially be succeeding Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023.

Each of GA4’s features prioritize a better user experience and objective-focused data, according to a Google Help Center article. Learn how GA4 is set to improve data measurement for your business with a few of its major highlights:

  • All-encompassing approach to the consumer journey. With a new events-based measurement model, your understanding of customers is no longer limited to independent sessions in a given time frame. Data in GA4 is built around users, making it easier for you to track the complete customer lifecycle.
  • Comprehensive data collection across all platforms. To help your business gain a more unified picture of customer engagement and behavior, GA4 will combine app and web data. Previously divided into separate properties, this new feature will allow for revolutionary integrated reporting.
  • Improved understanding of return on investment (ROI). Using data-driven attribution, GA4 is able to credit conversions beyond a user’s last click. This can help your business understand the full impact of your marketing efforts across the customer journey and better optimize campaigns for success.
  • Easily predicted and activated user insights. Thanks to machine learning technology, GA4 gives your data greater value with predictive insights on user behavior, conversions, and potential new audiences. Plus, insights can be implemented through expanded integrations with other Google products, such as Google Ads.
  • Optimized and prioritized user privacy. GA4 allows you to consider customer compliance needs without losing key measurement functionality. Continue to track engagement and conversions with country-level privacy controls by limiting user-level data, like cookies.
Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

While millions of businesses have used Universal Analytics to measure web traffic data for years, Google Analytics 4 is here to offer a smarter and more innovative approach to analysis. The differences are stark, from new reporting methods to property concepts — here are a few of the property’s major changes:

  • Event-based data. Instead of sessions, data is now built around events. With each user interaction being treated as a stand-alone event, GA4 fills in missing data gaps, eases cross-platform analysis, and better predicts user behavior while maintaining privacy.
    • With this new model, it is important to note that metrics are processed differently in GA4 than they were in Universal Analytics. For example, every hit is considered an event, which may lead to lower session counts and data differences. Google Analytics Help offers more insight into these changes.
  • Life cycle reporting. With an increased focus on the user journey, GA4’s new life cycle reporting helps your business analyze a customer’s entire trip through the “conversion funnel.” This feature can help you determine why a customer enters the funnel and how they behave once inside.
    • GA4’s new user interface has simplified reporting, making it easier for you to spot trends and data irregularities. As opposed to long, pre-defined reports, GA4 uses overview reports in summary cards that can be expanded for more information. Learn more about reports from Google Analytics Help.
  • A new analysis hub. GA4 goes beyond the default reports of Universal Analytics with new advanced techniques and a unique template gallery. With this feature, you can monitor key business metrics and develop comprehensive reports like never before.
    • New types of analysis are available within the hub, including exploration, funnel analysis, path analysis, segment overlap, cohort analysis, and user lifetime. More information is available in Search Engine Journal’s GA4 guide.
Get Ahead of the Game: Deploy GA4 Now

You might be thinking, GA4 doesn’t launch until 2023 — why am I hearing about this now? According to Google Analytics Help, Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new data on July 1, 2023, and data from the platform will cease to be available some time after six months. In meaning, your business will lose all historical data from Universal Analytics come 2024.

While Universal Analytics is still in operation, your business has the ability to run the property alongside GA4. New data will populate across both versions, but new properties and accounts will automatically default to GA4. Once your business deploys GA4, we recommend exploring the new property to get a grasp on the new user interface.

As you track your site’s performance, customer experience, and more, it’s important to have data from months and years past to see how your business has improved or declined over time. Therefore, the sooner you launch GA4, the more historical analytics data you’ll have to look back on. If you start building data in GA4 today, you won’t be resetting the clock on your data measurement next year.

How to Get Started With GA4

Now that you know the importance of launching GA4 as soon as possible, getting started is just a few simple steps away. If you’re an existing Universal Analytics user, you can add GA4 to a site alongside your Universal Analytics property. A step-by-step guide to this process is available from Google Analytics Help.

If you’ve never used Google Analytics before and are ready to start with this new update, the first step to take is creating an Analytics account. Once this is done, you can create a property within GA4. Google Analytics Help provides a comprehensive guide to this process.

Google Analytics 4 is a big change for data measurement, but it doesn’t have to be scary. If you’re looking for more resources on GA4, guides from Google Analytics Help Center and videos from the Google Analytics YouTube channel can help answer your questions.

We’re happy to help too, of course. Simplify your transition to GA4 with our visual tutorial for deploying GA4 on your site with Google Tag Manager. Plus, BlackTruck Media + Marketing offers Analytics & Conversion Optimization services so you can make sense of your users and turn them into customers. Reach out to set up a conversation with us, and read our blog for other industry knowledge and resources in the meantime.

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