A watershed moment is upon us: Google is retiring Universal Analytics (UA) and wholly transitioning to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) on July 1st, 2023. This is not an upgrade like we’ve seen in the past—it’s an entirely new system for tracking user and mobile behavior.    

Broadly, GA4 will offer better insight into what’s happening across digital touchpoints. This means Google Analytics will remain a vital analytic tool for marketers as it continues to validate your digital marketing performance and return on marketing investment.  

UA properties will stop collecting data after July 1st, 2023 (October 1st for paid properties), and YOY data will no longer be accessible six months thereafter. This makes migrating to GA4 mandatory. It’s also prudent to begin planning this transition now to have a year of historical GA4 data and begin exploring the new platform.  

Find out why GA4 has replaced UA and how you can leverage the new tool to better understand your customers and improve your marketing programs.  

What is Google Analytics 4? And Why the Change? 

Google Analytics 4 is an analytics platform that allows marketers to measure traffic across websites and applications. Since Google launched the service in 2005, Google Analytics has become the most widely used web analytics service. Google is moving from their third version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics, to Google Analytics 4. Let’s explore why.  

Analytics Evolution 

Since Google introduced UA in 2012, we’ve seen significant shifts in consumer behavior, digital commerce, and web technology. UA lacks the sophistication needed to keep up with the measurement demands of complex, multi-channel and -device reporting; Google needed more advanced analytics and attribution capacities that can measure and track web + mobile apps.   

Where UA’s measurement data has been rooted in desktop with independent sessions and more easily observable data from third-party cookies, GA4 uses a new measurement model to deliver user-based measurement across platforms.  

Privacy with Google Analytics 4 

Google is also adapting to a more privacy-centric world. Browser privacy regulations and data privacy laws have become more stringent nearly a decade after UA’s inception. In response, GA4 operates with privacy at its core—it functions without any third-party cookies and has moved to anonymize IP addresses. Instead, GA4 captures data sources through “blended data,” which uses Google Signals, first-party cookies, User IDs, and Client IDs.  

This privacy-centric approach helps both Google and marketers mitigate compliance risk with GDPR, CCPA, and other regulations. It should also solve UA’s problem of spam bots hacking measurement protocols which has muddied metrics for too long.  

What’s Different in Google Analytics 4?  

There are many differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. GA4 provides better insight into measuring and increasing ROI by focusing on user behavior across platforms, channels, and devices. Once accustomed to GA4, marketers can expect to gain a deeper understanding of what their customers are doing across digital touchpoints.  

New Measurement Model = Better Insights 

The Firebase platform is Google’s mobile app analytics product. With support from Firebase, GA4 can capture data from applications and mobile devices. In tandem with the new measurement model that yields more user-centric measurements, you get a better picture of engagement—as explored below.  

Everything Is an Event 

Instead of using goals like in UA, GA4’s new measurement model is event-based. In GA4, events represent any traceable interaction, regardless of if it’s a click, conversion, or even scrolling down the page. To parse event types in reporting, Google segments them into several categories:  

  • Automatically collected events (the “out of the box” events are automatically collected after installing the analytical library) 
  • Custom events (manually tracked events) 
  • ​Enhanced measurement events (the events are automatically collected from the analytical library after enabling advanced settings) 

Restructured Reporting 

As seen in the event-based measurement model, GA4 has restructured reporting to offer a more dynamic view of individual interactions by a user. For example, instead of reporting sessions, bounce rates, and conversion rates, GA4 has introduced engaged sessions, which must include one of the following to occur:  

  • A conversion 
  • At least two page view/screen view events 
  • A session duration lasting longer than ten seconds 

Because of these changes, not all GA4 data will align exactly with those in UA. Reports supported by UA data flows or connectors must be rebuilt with GA4 data using a list of UA/GA dimensions and metrics to establish relative parity. But even then, Google has warned that not all GA4 data will exactly align with UA’s.    

On the brighter side, metric fields captured in GA4 reporting are more customizable than before. For instance, because a conversion (formerly, goal) is now event-based, a single user can complete multiple, manually-tracked conversions—something that wasn’t possible in UA.  

Track Across Platforms, Devices, & Properties 

GA4 allows you to track user behavior across platforms to see an integrated view of performance. Depending on how GA4 is configured with your website, you can measure web and app interactions together and across networks. This means marketers can track conversions from YouTube, Google and non-Google paid channels, social, and email. 

With UA, you can’t assess cross-device behavior for single users. For instance, if you were to visit the same site three times on three different devices, UA would record each visit as three unique user views—even though you are just one person. But, depending on your site setup and users’ privacy settings, GA4 offers the potential to connect single-user journeys that occur across devices. 

GA4 also supports tracking multiple domains and subdomains in a single property, so long as you use the same GA4 measurement ID in each domain’s property. Additionally, you can treat the user journey as if it is a single domain with a simple setup in GA4’s UI. 

Using GA4 

Like with any new UI, you should expect a learning curve when first using GA4—which is another great reason to migrate as soon as you can. 

GA4’s navigation structure features more sophisticated reporting, analysis, and customization tools. Previously only available for paid UA properties, everyone now has access to the analysis tool. This provides deeper insights into your performance when using path analysis, funnel analysis, exploration, and more.  

As Google evolves GA4, we can anticipate refinement and greater customization capabilities down the road. Nevertheless, the new interface will take some adjustment for marketers who have grown accustomed to UA.