You may have seen messages from Google about the launch of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and the need for you to do something about it. You may not have got any further than the headlines. But in a year’s time, you will need to pay attention, and we recommend you do so right now for the reasons explained below.
What is GA4?
GA4 is the acronym for Google Analytics 4, the new(ish) version of Google Analytics. It isn’t just an update but a whole new product, set to take over from its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA), in July 2023.
To go one step back, Google Analytics is a platform that captures information about the people who visit your website. (If they have consented to have their data captured, that is; you should have a cookie consent system installed that governs the use of analytics). A vast proportion of the world’s websites use Google Analytics to report on visitor activity because it is powerful and free.
Why are you telling me about GA4 or Universal Analytics?
Although GA4 was initially launched back in October 2020, there was no great imperative to do anything with it. Inertia (and the fact that Universal Analytics had a number of features that GA4 simply didn’t have) meant that there was little take-up early on. Two years later, though, the GA4 product has matured considerably, and Google has given the world a deadline for adopting their new tool: convert by 1st July 2023 or have no tracking!
Why should I/we act now?
Although you may feel you can ignore this for another year, there are benefits of setting up GA4 now:
- GA4 is forward-facing only – it will not be possible to import historical data into it, so the sooner it is set up, the more data you will have to review when UA is turned off.
- More powerful and flexible – GA4 is more powerful than UA, with more features promised for imminent release. See some of the differences outlined below.
- GA4 is the future of Google Analytics – Universal Analytics will not be supported beyond 1st July 2023. As with any new tool, getting used to it and its output will take time. However, the two systems can be run in parallel for next year so that you can get used to their differences and how they will affect your reporting.
What are the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics?
Five interesting differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are:
- GA4 is event-based instead of session-based – this enables Google to distinguish users more accurately and better understand what they do on the site once they are there. (A ‘session’ is the period a user is active on your site; an ‘event’ is a specific action taken on your site e.g. visiting a page, clicking a button, submitting a form.)
- Cross-device and cross-platform tracking – GA4 allows you to mix data from various sources, e.g. apps and social media channels.
- GA4 can work without cookies – consent is not required, so your data won’t be made inaccurate by visitors not granting consent. IP address anonymisation is standard in GA4, whereas, with Universal Analytics, anonymisation requires additional work.
- Bounce rate no longer exists – GA4 has replaced the concept with engagement metrics, which are a more accurate and sophisticated way of measuring how visitors interact with your website. (Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page).
- GA4 tracks scroll depth, i.e. capturing the point at which a user scrolls to 90% of the vertical page (or another % you choose). This is a new and interesting feature which gives insight into how much content your visitor actually sees. This information can then be used to help shape the focus, length and nature of the content you produce
If you would like us to upgrade your Universal Analytics account to GA4, please email us at [email protected]. If we do this by the end of June you will have a full year of data in the bank by the time Universal Analytics goes offline.