Google Analytics has been a staple in the toolbox of web designers, marketers and SEO specialists for years. And while there is a steep learning curve, it provides deep insight into who is visiting your website and what actions they take.
The vast amount of data provided by Google Analytics has not necessarily kept up with a changing web, however. Privacy regulations and competitors with leaner products forced the beauty tool to review its practices.
That’s why the next version will probably surprise some longtime users. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) takes a very different approach, focusing on user events rather than sessions. This eliminates some privacy concerns – not to mention user-specific data that interested those of us reading the reports.
And we need action too. Google Analytics 4 is not compatible with the previous Universal Analytics (UA) functionality. That means you’ll need to set your site to be a GA4 property, then apply tracking. UA is scheduled to retire on July 1, 2023, and data will only be available for a short time after that.
In fact, things will be different. But don’t worry! With the help of an expert, we’ve put together a list of what you need to know about moving to Google Analytics 4.
Making a Slow Transition to Google Analytics 4
If you manage Google Analytics for your clients, you will need to migrate them to GA4 at some point. But you don’t have to go in all at once.
GA4 can be run alongside UA legacy tracking. This allows you to compare and contrast the available reports. And it also ensures that you get a head start when UA is officially discontinued.
The first step is to create a GA4 version of your existing property. Google has a handy guide that outlines the steps. Once you’ve set up the GA4 property, you’ll need to implement its tracking code on your website.
As with previous indictments, it could take up to 48 hours to see data entering the GA4 panel. And the visual differences between versions are clear, if not stark.
What’s different about GA4?
“The changing scope and schemes. It will be in line with other product-oriented analytics marketing such as Mixpanel, Segment, etc.” That’s how analytics manager and software engineer Victor Ramirez describes the renewed focus of Google Analytics 4 .
While UA has traditionally given us a “User > Session > Hits” view of data, GA4 will only be “Users and Events,” says Ramirez. This reduces the information available in the reports, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
In the long run, Ramirez thinks GA4 will be more useful to stakeholders. That’s partly because the old UA reports were an apples-to-oranges comparison with other tools. He says, “Because GA UA is so different from other analytics tools, it’s very difficult to test whether the data is accurate.”
Privacy was also driven by the change – and GA4 offers more controls to help with current compliance regulations such as GDPR. Ramirez notes that GA4 “has a ‘privacy first’ version that is enabled through consent mode.”
There is some debate as to whether a consent method will go with GDPR. But Ramirez says it could be a matter of configuring the tool with the right settings.
What You Need to Know About Historical Data
So what happens to those years of analytics data your UA property has accumulated? Simply put: it will be deleted sometime after Google UA is discontinued. No word on an official teardown date.
And you can’t carry it over to GA4. Ramirez tells us, “There is no easy way to bring historical data, and in 2023 it will be destroyed.”
If historical UA data is still important to you, it can be exported. If you want to combine UA and GA4 data, Ramirez suggests it can be achieved through Google’s BigQuery tool.
“The best plan is to export UA data to BigQuery and connect GA4 to BigQuery as well. You can see both in the Data Studio. A no-code solution like Supermetrics can handle merged UA and GA4 data to be read by BigQuery.”
It’s also worth noting, don’t expect Google Analytics 4 to keep your data in the long term. It will only retain user level data for a maximum of 14 months. Google explains that this does not affect their standard aggregated reports, however.
A Different Perspective on Website Analytics
Looking around the web design community, there was concern about the changes that occurred in GA4. But whatever your feelings on the change, it is undoubtedly the future of the platform. So we will have to adjust.
It’s about time Google took a privacy-focused approach. While it was nice to see detailed data tied to specific users, that’s not sustainable in today’s climate.
For those of us who work with clients, Ramirez recommends running both UA and GA4 at the same time for the time being. If clients want to have all their data in one place, then joining the two versions with a tool like BigQuery is the way to go.
Looking ahead, it is worth studying GA4 and how its reporting and configuration differ from previous versions. This will help make the transition smoother for you and your clients.
Google Analytics Help 4 Resources
If you want to dive deeper into GA4, you’ll want to check out the following resources: