Marketing + Web

Are You Prepared for Google Analytics 4? Here’s What You Need to Know

June 28, 2022

10 mins

Google’s website analytics tool, Universal Analytics (UA), will soon be replaced with the new and improved Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Unless you’re heavily vested in this line of work, this could be the first you’re hearing about it. Or perhaps you’ve heard GA4 is coming but aren’t sure what you need to do to get your website ready for the change.

Hunker down; this post is long and technical. We’ll do our best to simply the info the best we can, but if you want the tl;dr, here it is:

  • Google Analytics is changing in 2023, and the changes are so significant that you will not be able to track data the same way in the new system.
  • You will not be able to upload historical data from UA to GA4. The entire methodology is shifting toward tracking the buyer’s journey across platforms rather than individually tracking sessions, page views, hits, clicks, and bounces.
  • The buyer’s journey isn’t limited to websites, and usually includes touchpoints via mobile apps and OTT devices. GA4 considers all of these touchpoints and consolidates the data into a single “event” that more accurately represents the buyer’s journey.
  • GA4 prioritizes privacy and gives users more control over what they do and don’t share about themselves when visiting a website.

This is good news for businesses and marketers because this data will be more accurate, actionable, and automated. GA4 provides a much clearer picture of the buyer’s journey through improved cross-platform attribution and tracking events rather than individual metrics. Much of the currently required coding will be inserted automatically, saving you time and leading to better investments of money and time in your marketing tactics.

That said, it’s urgent that you set up a GA4 property and begin GA4 integration now for several reasons:

  1. UA won’t automatically transfer to GA4. You must set it up as a separate ‘property.’
  2. You cannot add UA historical data to GA4, so the sooner you start gathering data in the new system, the better. You *can* download this data for personal use, you just can’t add the old data to the new system.
  3. You won’t be able to track your data the same way, so now is the time to consult with someone who can bring you up-to-speed and help you adjust your metrics and goals.
  4. You should *not* stop using UA yet. You need to run both UA and GA4 concurrently until UA phases out in 2023 because not all third-party platforms are GA4 compatible yet (but they will be).
  5. You must account for specific configurations to ensure that GA4 is set up according to your specific metrics and goals, and to ensure you’re in compliance with privacy laws wherever you do business.
  6. Because GA4 is such a fundamental shift in data tracking, you *will* see a dip in certain metrics, but this is to be expected due to the consolidation of actions into one user event. Running both UA and GA4 concurrently will give you time to compare and evaluate the discrepancies so that there are no surprises when the change is fully implemented.

Now is the time to ensure that your digital marketing strategy, especially your website, is ready for the coming changes. This post explains what these changes mean for your business and what you need to do now to avoid falling behind when the current web traffic tracking system goes away.

What is Google Analytics?

To provide a bit of context for those just joining us, Google Analytics is a product created by the search engine giant that enables users to gather information about their website’s visitors and analyze the data to make informed marketing and advertising decisions.

Understanding the buyer’s journey online helps businesses make better-informed decisions and increase marketing ROI. For example, business owners use Google Analytics to understand where their website traffic comes from, how long visitors stay on their site, and which actions they take before leaving.

Knowing this is very useful from a marketing perspective. Website analytics helps us know which elements of a website are working well and gain insights regarding areas that require improvements. This actionable data leads to a more positive user experience and converts more leads into customers.

For a more in-depth explanation, check out what Google has to say about its analytics functionality.

What is the Difference Between Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

People are beginning to search for more information regarding GA4 vs. Universal Analytics. Generally speaking, there are four major differences between UA and GA4 that small business owners and nonprofit leaders need to know:

  1. Data Tracking Changes (Event-Based Tracking)
  2. Data Security Changes
  3. Cross-Platform Attribution Improvements
  4. Automatic Event Tracking

We will do our best to explain these changes in laymen’s terms, but if you have questions, please contact us today. The sooner you begin using GA4, the more data you’ll have to work with when UA is discontinued in 2023.

What is Event-Based Tracking in GA4?

One reason the change from UA to GA4 is so significant is that the way the data is collected and presented to you is changing. It’s essential to understand how the data tracking model is changing and make any internal adjustments necessary to account for these changes.

These changes are a long time coming because the former analytics approach was based on how users interact with a website, not a mobile app. A new consolidated approach to analytics is long-overdue, hence the sweeping changes and inability to load UA data into GA4. The approach is totally different.

A new GA4 term you need to know is event-based tracking. This refers to the process of tracking any action or event that a user completes on your website or app. This can include anything from clicking a button to adding an item to their shopping cart. Best of all, GA4 tracks events automatically, so you don’t have to do the job manually.

Here’s the key difference you need to know relative to event-based tracking. UA tracks and presents data in specific silos based on certain data sets, such as bounce rate and time on site. In GA4, all of that siloed data will be consolidated into one user “event” and tracked across platforms. AI and machine learning technology will fill any data gaps which may occur, a process that will only improve over time.

By tracking these events, you can gain valuable insights into how users interact with your site or app and make changes accordingly. Event-based tracking tracks small and large actions and can be customized to meet your specific needs. In addition, event-based tracking is a great way to track conversions and can be used to optimize your website or app for better results.

Read More: UX/UI 101: How User Experience Strategy Helps Improve Conversions

Data Control and Privacy Changes in GA4

GA4 put user privacy front-and-center, giving individuals more control than ever over the data websites can collect from them. In response to emerging data privacy laws, GA4 enhanced users’ ability to control how their data is collected, stored, and shared. This will have implications for ad personalization and how user data can be shared and sold to third-party sources.

Google’s press release states the following:

“Google Analytics 4 is designed with privacy at its core to provide a better experience for both our customers and their users. It helps businesses meet evolving needs and user expectations, with more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage.”

Additional GA4 data security changes include IP anonymization, data storage timelines, and end-user data deletion capabilities. GA4’s data security components are complex and highly technical. We recommend discussing your options with an expert in this field and developing a game plan together. Our team is working around the clock preparing for GA4 and can answer any questions you may have.

What are GA4’s Cross-Platform Attribution Improvements?

Cross-platform attribution is the process of assigning credit for a conversion to the touchpoints across different platforms that led to the conversion. In other words, it’s a way of seeing the whole customer journey, even when it spans multiple devices and platforms.

There are two main methods of cross-platform attribution: data-driven attribution and rule-based attribution. Data-driven attribution uses machine learning to analyze historical data and identify the marketing touchpoints that are most likely to lead to a conversion. Rule-based attribution, on the other hand, relies on pre-determined rules to assign credit to different touchpoints.

Here’s an example of how this could work in GA4: You offer residential painting services and run ads on Facebook. A lead clicks one of your ads, comes to your website, but doesn’t take action. Later that week, the same lead returns to your website and schedules an estimate. UA tracks those visits to your website individually. On the other hand, GA4 consolidates that into one user journey. This is very helpful because now you know the Facebook ad initiated the lead and may choose to invest more in Facebook advertising in the future.

An additional GA4 cross-platform improvement allows you to track your mobile app analytics and website analytics in a single property rather than two separate properties (as is the case in UA). In fact, this functionality is the impetus behind the sweeping changes to how data is collected. In order to suit multiple data streams with significantly contrasting user experiences, a complete overhaul was needed to create a more streamlined approach.

Read More: Interested in Mobile App Development? Here is What You Need to Know

What is Automatic Event Tracking in GA4?

GA4 automatic event tracking is a feature that allows you to track events without having to code them. This means that you can track events such as form submissions, button clicks, and page views without having to add any code to your website.

GA4 will automatically detect these events and record them in your GA4 account. You can then use the GA4 reporting interface to see how these events are affecting your website’s performance. GA4 automatic event tracking is a valuable tool for any website owner who wants to get the most out of their GA4 account.

While this is extremely streamlined and potentially a big time-saver, you are not losing the ability to create and track custom events. In GA4, you still have the option to create custom events to track actions that matter most to your business, such as video starts and stops.

Ready for a GA4 Upgrade? We Can Help!

Ultimately GA4 will offer a better, more consolidated view of your customer, how they arrived on your site and which actions they took before converting. You will have a clear picture of your lead’s engagement on your site and know how to make adjustments to improve UX.

We have until July 2023 before UA is gone for good, but don’t wait to begin changing the way you interact with website analytics. You can run both UA and GA4 concurrently on the same site and it is worth it to do the work now so that you have historical data to work with and have time to adjust how you track and report on analytic data.

Cross & Crown has the experts on staff to help with this transition and we’d love to help your team get GA4 ready! We are now offering a free base transition from UA to GA4. If additional customization is needed we will create a proposal to complete the changes for you at an hourly rate. Please contact us to schedule a time to get started!

Cross & Crown

About Cross & Crown

Cross & Crown is a team of creatives who are passionate about solving problems through design and technology, taking what is there and making it better. Based in Chambersburg, PA, we strive to help educate, advocate, and thrive in a digital world.

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