If you’re a regular user of Google Analytics, you may have seen this banner pop up after logging in, informing you of an upcoming transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). We’ll tell you what it means, why it matters and what steps you should take to make the migration as smooth as possible. Want to skip to the part where we tell you how to set it up? Check out our step-by-step guide here.
What’s happening with Google Analytics?
Google is asking its clients to move to GA4 from Universal Analytics (UA), which they plan to sunset in July of next year, in order to offer more privacy and a better experience for customers and their users.
What could the change to GA4 look like for your organization?
- It could help you better understand how users of your website are finding their way to the fundraising, volunteering or partnerships pages, for example
- It has improved data visualizations and reporting to make it easier for you to present your website performance to your Board
- It features simplified goals and set-up, so you can spend more time improving your website content and less time troubleshooting
Here’s what Google had to say about the transition:
“Google Analytics 4 has the flexibility to measure many different kinds of data, delivering a strong analytics experience that’s designed for the future. It allows businesses to see unified user journeys across their websites and apps, use Google’s machine learning technology to surface and predict new insights, and most importantly, it’s built to keep up with a changing ecosystem.”
Read Google’s full announcement and explanation.
Introduced in the fall of 2012, UA came out of a need to better understand users’ behaviors across different sessions and devices. It allowed for more custom data and enhanced ecommerce tracking, while reducing the number of cookies needed to gather this data.
Responding to changing consumer data privacy preferences, GA4 is “designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers.” The result is a shift away from a session-oriented model to one that’s based on events—measurable interactions with your website.
What happens if you don’t switch to GA4?
After July 1, 2023, no new hits will be processed in UA. Users will then only be able to access historical data and only for a limited time. After this limited period, UA will stop working altogether—all properties, reports, and data will no longer be accessible. If you need access to this data to pull reports for grants, donor reports, impact reports, it’s important to be proactive and migrate to GA4 as soon as possible.
How is Google Analytics 4 different?
Google Analytics 4 is the latest iteration of Google Analytics and its main distinguishing characteristic is its data model. GA4 is event-driven and offers more flexibility overall. It also provides better data tracking, visualization, and segmentation opportunities.
Reporting is based on events, rather than sessions and pageviews. It uses machine learning to fill in the gaps where data may be incomplete and offers stricter data retention periods. In Universal Analytics, the retention period is between 14 months and does not expire. In GA4, the period is between two and 14 months.
The benefits of GA4
Improved customer journey tracking
GA4 provides tools to track and stitch together user journeys more accurately. For example: tracking users visiting a website on a mobile device, revisiting via desktop computer, and then downloading, donating or registering through an app.
Improved user engagement analytics
Bounce Rate has been replaced by more powerful engagement metrics. When combined with scroll, video, outbound clicks and file download events, it will provide a better sense of how users are engaging with the content.
Simplified goals and events setup
Google has simplified goals and event tracking to provide a greater amount of data. With the integration with Google Tag Manager, customizing events is easier than it was with UA. Learn the difference between Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager in our blog post.
Improved data visualizations and reporting
There are a number of new visualizations and reporting functions, as well as greater administrative controls for users.
Preparing for the transition to GA4
Create GA4 account and run it parallel to UA
Establish a GA4 account early to capture GA4 analytics and begin the transition process.
Data clean up and/or audit
Re-evaluate what you are currently measuring and adjust GA4 KPIs accordingly.
Compare high-level metrics
GA4 and UA capture analytics differently. Look for the discrepancies between the two data sources over time by running parallel reports and comparing the data. Here are some metrics we suggest you compare:
- Number of users
- Number of sessions
- Number of pageviews
- Sessions by device
- Sessions by top locations
- Sessions by medium
- Top page views
Pick a date to sunset UA
Once your team is comfortable with the tool, begin the process of sunsetting UA and relying less on that data.
Google has given over one year of notice about the sunsetting of UA, so that users have the time to capture data, create benchmarks and spend the necessary time to revisit their analytics strategy. Our advice? Get started as early as possible.
Here’s our handy guide for how to set up GA4 code yourself. If you have any questions or want to discuss options for your needs, contact your Project Manager or reach out to us.
Can I migrate my data from UA to GA4?
No—because GA4 is a completely different model of measuring user’s activity, UA data does not translate over. Unfortunately, GA4 does mean starting from scratch and losing that historical data, which is why it’s important to get started now.
Can I still track goals in GA4?
Yes, goals are now called conversions but whether you’re tracking confirmation page views, on-click events, virtual page views, donations or purchases, you’ll be able to set up your GA4 property to do that. For guidance on what types of goals we recommend you track for your organization, read this.
Will my data be the same in GA4?
Every analytics platform tracks things a little differently. If you’ve ever had to cross reference your UA data with another source (Facebook, Hubspot or Adobe Analytics, for example), you would be used to the kinds of discrepancies you can get when you’re using a new provider. The same will be true with GA4: even if you’re looking at the same metric over the period of time (unique users, sessions…), you’re going to get slightly different numbers.
It’s important to start tracking, comparing and adjusting your goals based on these differences.
Can I install the GA4 tag directly on my site?
You can, but because you’ll be using a lot more custom events than you probably did with UA in order to learn how users are using your website, we recommend using Google Tag Manager instead, that way you don’t bloat the code on your site.
How does GA4 differ from UA when it comes to user privacy?
- From a reporting perspective, GA4 has machine-learning built in to help fill in the gaps as more and more users opt out of cookies.
- From a data collection perspective, first GA4 no longer stores users’ IP addresses. Second, it defaults to anonymizing IP addresses, which was an option you had to activate in UA. Third, GA4 provides shorter data retention options: where UA gave you the option to keep your user’s data for , GA4 only lets you keep it for 2 or 14 months.
- Finally, GA4 is built with additional flexibility that no doubt is designed to let Google react to the changing legal landscape when it comes to data privacy without having to come out with a new product every time a new significant piece of legislation is passed.