In the latest version of Google Analytics 4, businesses will be able to get a better idea of user behavior and the customer journey, while spending less time trying to collect and aggregate the data. With moves toward better privacy control, event data and tracking, machine learning, and predictive metrics it might be the perfect time to switch – but we don’t think so.
Let’s explain why.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a new and improved version of Google Analytics (GA), that is widely used by businesses around the world to track user interaction across websites and apps. Most businesses and marketers will use the analytics data provided by Google Analytics to get a better idea of historical or real-time web traffic, track eCommerce performance and churn, monitor marketing channels, or track various KPIs.
What has changed in the new Google Analytics?
To know what’s changed we need to go back in time a bit. Most people are going to be familiar with the classic version of Google Analytics which came out in 2008, along with the 2013 major update to Universal Analytics. Starting in 2017, GA4 development began with the original title of “Google Analytics for Firebase”, and last year it rolled out in beta form. Backed by Firebase Analytics, GA4 now allows digital marketing teams to combine web properties and mobile app metrics together into a single Google Analytics property for reporting on both, seamlessly.
In addition to Firebase Analytics, Google has included two other new technologies. The first is something called the global site tag (gtag.js), which allows non-developers to enable new features without having to change any code on the site. If you’re using Google Tag Manager this won’t replace it, but gtag.js is a great alternative option should you want to avoid the ramp-up time required with setting up a tag management system.
The second is Google Signals, which allows Google to better recognize identifiers and track individual users across different devices. In other words, Google Signals improves data collection efforts to enable cross-device reporting, and when people hop between devices. This is important to a number of web admins and marketers who optimize websites, or are involved with paid media and/or Google ads, social media, SEO as understanding attribution can be influential in their work.
We’ll discuss all the new features of GA4 in another post, but perhaps the biggest difference we’ve seen in this new analytics is the shift towards an event-driven data model. If you’ve ever taken a look inside your Google Analytics account you’ve likely seen an emphasis on page views and sessions. In the early versions of GA it made sense to track individual page loads and an individual session on a website, but as mobile apps and single-page web apps came along those concepts quickly lost meaning as any activities performed in the app don’t trigger a new page view. The new system of events and parameters allows for capturing all that same data, but in a more flexible manner for properties that may not have more than a single page.
Do I need to upgrade to Google Analytics 4?
As of the writing of this post, Google has not announced an end of life for the current version of GA (Universal Analytics) and we aren’t expecting an announcement like that very soon. You will need to upgrade at some point, but you do not need to upgrade right away and we’d recommend waiting before fully updating. Instead, we’d recommend running both GA and GA4 in tandem.
How to upgrade to Google Analytics 4?
If you’re looking to upgrade to GA4 we’d advise running both GA4, and the old GA simultaneously. This allows your historical analytics, measurement and reporting like data studio to stay intact, while also gathering new data in the GA4 platform.
When you upgrade to GA4 from an existing Universal Analytics account you’ll first create a new property. Since this property won’t pull in any historical information you’ll want to let it run for some time to confirm things are tracking properly, and start building up historical data for later analysis. When you feel ready you can pull out your old universal analytics property (UA-XXXXXXXX) and solely run on GA4, but there’s no need to rush to that.
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