If you want to get the most out of Google Analytics 4's features, this guide can help. Here is everything to know about migrating to GA4 for businesses.
Recent data shows that an estimated 28.1 million websites currently rely on Google Analytics (GA). Google Analytics tracks a website's online traffic, works to understand the behavior of website users, and provides customized data reports.
However, Google introduced Google Analytics 4 in 2020 with the intention of integrating new features while protecting each user's privacy for safe data collection. This creates a sustainable platform that marketers can use for future reporting and data collection.
Since Google Universal is set to retire in the coming months, businesses will need to transition to GA4 as soon as possible (before July 1, 2023). This helpful guide explains the process for upgrading to GA4, the main features of GA4, and how it compares to earlier versions of Google Analytics.
What Is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google Analytics' (GA) latest version and combines data from websites and apps. Google Analytics 4 is the new name for App & Web, the beta reporting platform, renamed for precision.
Businesses can upgrade any Universal Analytics (UA) property to GA4. The result is the creation of a new Analytics property used to collect new data without affecting the current GA account.
Moving forward, all new Google Analytics accounts will be converted to GA4 and old versions of Google Analytics (referred to as Universal Analytics) will be devalued. As of July 1, 2023, Google will retire Universal Analytics and stop processing new hits.
Businesses with a website, app, or both, can set up a Google Analytics 4 property, preferably alongside Google Analytics (UA) accounts to collect data in GA4 without the risk of losing data in a GA account.
Users must consent to website cookies due to the introduction of GDPR in 2018, tracking the way each website performs. However, GA4 reduces a website's reliance on cookies and uses machine learning to fill in any missing user consent gaps needed for tracking.
This makes industry changes more stable and can work to prevent future gaps in business data. Google Analytics 4 features a wider focus on tracking a user's journey because Universal Analytics split user interactions into sessions, platforms, or devices.
Google Analytics 4 is web analytics's next generation, complete with automated insights and upgrades in event tracking. Since UA will stop tracking all traffic on July 1, 2023, businesses should transition to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible.
How to Transition to Google Analytics 4
When upgrading to GA4, you'll begin by setting up your Google Analytics 4 property. You can create the property, add data streams, and add the tracking tag to your website or app.
Data streams are used to collect data and may be an iOS app, Android app, or website. A number of streams can exist within the same property and tracking tags are used to collect data from a stream.
Next, you'll need to add any events that are related to key performance indicators, including conversion events and meaningful interactions.
Once this step is complete, you'll need to add e-commerce events (if you're an e-commerce business). Keep in mind that these events are not the same as regular Google Analytics 4 events.
The next step is to implement any other customizations, including report customization, integrations, and audiences. Once this step is complete, you'll need to perform an implementation audit and adjust, ensuring everything within your Google Analytics 4 property follows correctly.
Anyone utilizing Universal Analytics should migrate existing data to Google Analytics 4. Although this is an optional process, it's helpful for anyone looking to maintain historical records of their data.
To complete this step, after logging into Google Analytics, toggle over to Admin > Property > Data Migration. Select the data you'd like to migrate and when you want the migration to take place.
However, not all data can migrate from UA to GA4. This includes:
- Google Analytics for Firebase
- Custom Dimensions
- Custom Metrics
- App + Web Properties
Data from these sources must be manually exported into Google Analytics 4. You can also automatically back up data for GA4 and UA via GA4 to Google Sheets.
How Google Analytics 4 Differs From Universal Analytics
Google Analytics 4 is replacing Universal Analytics. Universal Analytics collects data based on a specific time frame and acts as a session-based model. However, Google Analytics 4 collects data focused around events and users.
Although this change is significant, there is an opportunity for marketing professionals to advance, as GA4 focuses more on individual users.
GA4 combines existing data with machine learning and can predict user behavior more efficiently. This is referred to as predictive metrics. GA4 can aid businesses with key user trends without flagging any privacy concerns.
Here are some benefits of GA4's privacy features:
- Users can easily make their IP addresses anonymous
- User data can be spread across a wide variety of servers
- User can delete their data after a predetermined time period
GA4 also uses collected data to modify the way reports are deconstructed and viewed. Universal Analytics houses data reports in a long list that posed a challenge for navigating and organizing.
GA4, however, features a central reporting dashboard where you can see a complete overview of all your reports via summary cards. This allows you to gain quick insight into key metrics with the option of clicking into any available scorecard for a more comprehensive view.
The Limitations of GA4 vs Universal Analytics
Although GA4 has countless benefits, there are also some drawbacks. It’s important to keep these limitations in mind when migrating to the new system to help with prospective struggles that arise from the changes. You may find yourself tweaking some methods to prevent productivity loss and to ensure all data is continuously collected.
Google Analytics 4 provides a lack of migration support when transferring from Universal Analytics. As of July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will cease to college any new data from user interactions. This means any data collected in Universal Analytics won’t be available to properties in Google Analytics 4.
Although this drawback only affects those currently using Universal Analytics, the data those users rely on will be broken into separate analytic solutions. This is problematic for these users, as it will be impossible for them to identify any patterns across either set of data without exporting the data into a separate analytic system. Data in Universal Analytics can’t be used in tandem with Google Analytics 4’s advanced analytic tools.
This means that you need to implement the use of Google Analytics 4 on all your apps and websites as soon as possible. You’ll have the maximum amount of available data when Universal Analytics officially hangs up its hat.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with Google Analytic 4’s new interface and functionality. This assists you when you migrate, as GA4 retains a lot of the same features as Universal Analytics.
This includes sessions and activities related to eCommerce. However, there is a change in how these items function.
Changes to User Interface
Whenever software experiences a change, there’s a chance your day-to-day operations will slow down your work productivity. Something as innocuous as moved buttons can disturb your daily workflow.
You’ll find that Google Analytics 4 boasts a dramatic change from its earlier versions. It features a simplified layout that works across an array of devices and varying screen sizes. This sacrifices resizeable columns and GA4’s simplified menus make it challenging to see what new features and functions are available.
It’s wise to familiarize yourself with GA4’s new interface so you can easily navigate the new system without compromising work productivity.
Universal Analytics features view functionality. However, Google Analytics 4 has omitted this. You have to isolate internal traffic and establish additional rules to achieve the same level of functionality.
GA4 does, however, include data fillers via a unified reporting interface. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as Universal Analytics’ view filters. This means you’ll have to adjust your present workflows.
You won’t be able to retroactively apply data filters to your collected data. Data filters, unlike view filters, apply to the entire property. Universal Analytics allows for a subgroup of data within each view.
Most Important Reports Businesses Should Keep an Eye On
As organizations complete the GA4 migration process, there are several reports they should keep an eye on. These reports help with crucial insights and aid businesses with deconstructing user engagement on their website.
For starters, businesses can use the new layout to gather information about website traffic and conversions. GA4's new layout features a homepage showcasing top-performing campaigns and web pages with the most views.
The Realtime Report lets you learn more about the journey users take while navigating your website. This report offers "View User Snapshot," a useful feature that provides a detailed snapshot of each user accessing your site.
You can access a rough estimate of their location, what device(s) they're using, and a real-time snippet of their journey navigating your website. If you're looking to optimize the user experience, this report is essential for creating online personas.
Path Analysis is ideal for understanding and learning about the events each individual user encounters while navigating your website. This report features a "tree graph" that assists with two essential insights.
First, Path Analysis locates looping behavior that may lead users to become stuck on your website. Second, this report allows you to understand what web content of yours is the most influential for obtaining goal conversions.
Funnel exploration is ideal for websites with a defined funnel. Funnel exploration reports provide businesses with segments and visualizations that show the e-commerce step where users are leaving the funnel. This report helps businesses improve their conversion rates, moving users down the funnel.
Funnel exploration also helps businesses create audiences using each funnel step. From there, they can use them to run a/b tests or for remarketing, checking to see what covert better for an intended audience.
Segment Overlap Exploration
Businesses commonly want to separate web traffic according to devices, regions, or other conditions. When they see how their target audiences overlap, they gain critical insight.
Segment overlap aids businesses in viewing the way various segments overlap with each other. This information is used to spot commonalities and focuses on certain segments more than others, such as a specific type of combination converting.
Landing Pages Exploration
The Landing Page dimension can be added to standard reports but may become an issue if you're looking to identify the source of your users or the countries or devices that bring the most users to your website's landing page.
However, you can create a free form report for your landing page. This helps you utilize these segment types while providing you with more information about the behavior of your website traffic.
This is where creating a free form report for landing pages will help you use these types of segments and give you more context about your traffic’s behavior.
Transition to Google Analytics 4
Businesses must transition to Google Analytics 4 by July 1, 2023, when Google retires Universal Analytics. Anyone using Google Analytics' free version will be forced to migrate as of July 1, regardless of whether Universal Analytics' year-over-year data is comparable.
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