Google Analytics has been a digital marketing staple for as long as we can remember. Whether you work in SEO or run a business with an online presence, chances are you’ve ventured into analytics in the past.
And what did you find? For many, it’s feelings of overwhelm! Google Analytics is a hugely powerful tool, but it is also well known for being complex – especially if you don’t know exactly what it can do.
As with most Google products, over time it has continually evolved and in 2020, we saw the arrival of one of the biggest changes to Google Analytics: GA4. You can be forgiven for not switching over from Universal Analytics (UA) to GA4 as yet (we know you probably have questions), but as of July 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer process new data in standard properties. So rather than panic and wait until that happens, it is best to be prepared and as fully informed as possible ahead of the switchover.
In this article, I’ll look at what GA4 is, a brief overview of how it works compared with Universal Analytics and also what its arrival means for digital marketing in general.
Common GA4 questions include:
- What is Google Analytics 4?
- Should my business switch to GA4?
- Why run UA and GA4 in parallel?
- Is Google UA going away completely?
- How do I keep my old data from Analytics?
- What are the benefits of GA4?
- Are there any downsides to GA4?
- How do I set up Google Analytics 4?
- What does GA4 mean for SEO?
What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
According to Google, GA4 is a new, more intelligent property designed to be future-proof. Compared to the current UA, it provides improved tracking, reporting and insights.
You can use GA4 more extensively to collect data on a website, mobile app, or both. UA properties only support websites.
As the video below explains, GA4 can help business owners to better understand user engagement across various devices, platforms and domains. These insights should help improve your marketing and business decisions, meaning a better ROI.
Should my business switch to GA4?
Making the switch from UA to GA4 is inevitable. When you make the switch depends on if you want to start using the platform sooner or wait until later. Google has announced (via a notification that appears every time you use UA) that GA4 will replace the current UA on July 1, 2023.
If you set up your GA account now, you’ll be directed to set up a GA4 account from the beginning. If you’re currently using UA, your account will automatically be switched over to GA4 after that date, regardless of whether you’ve opted into it or not.
If you don’t want to start using GA4 straight away, it is important to set up a GA4 property to run in parallel with your UA.
If you do switch to GA4 now, chances are you will have a bit of a head start on data collection, which will make future insights from GA4 more accurate. It will also give you time to familiarise yourself with the platform and to better understand how it works once the switchover comes into force.
🤔 Wondering whether to make the switch now to GA4? Get in touch with us at Detail Marketing to discuss your business objectives.
Why run UA and GA4 in parallel?
- GA4 is new – it is going to take some getting used to, especially if you have been working with UA for a long time. Use this time to learn the new layout, features, integrations, tracking, metrics and reporting. If you only start doing this once the change happens in 2023, you are likely to be behind your competitors!
- The GA4 property may not work correctly with your setup. Test these changes on your website or app before switching to GA4. This is especially vital if you work with clients who rely on data collected in GA.
- You can’t transfer data from a UA property to a GA4 property. You must track data entirely from scratch in a new GA4 property.
- The new GA4 platform isn’t yet finished. Google continues to push out new features, updates and improvements to GA4. So keeping UA running alongside it makes business sense for now.
Is Google UA going away completely?
It looks like UA will be around for a while longer, although it is likely that Google will eventually discontinue it, as they are unlikely to invest resources into it. Existing UA users can continue using UA properties. However, new properties or new accounts will default to Google Analytics 4.
What you should do to keep your old data
If you are keen to keep hold of your old data, we strongly recommend our clients – and you – export all historical UA data.
Google hasn’t been completely clear about what will happen to data from your old GA dashboard.
According to an official release from Google:
“After July 1, 2023, you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in your Universal Analytics property for at least six months. We know your data is important to you, and we strongly encourage you to export your historical reports during this time.”
Why isn’t Google allowing you to keep your historical data forever? Because with the new GA4 tool, metrics are very, very different.
For example, Google is removing the bounce rate metric. Pageviews and sessions are now classified as ‘events’:
Why? Because Google wants people to focus on users who are engaging with their site, as opposed to those who are not. GA4 prioritises engagement rate as a metric. These significant changes would make comparisons with old (UA) data very difficult for both marketers and business owners.
What are the benefits of GA4?
The obvious answer for businesses is that GA4 offers some very advanced features.
- A thorough understanding of the customer journey across multiple devices, platforms and domains
- Cross-platform tracking (web and apps) using the same GA property
- Insights and predictions to help you make marketing decisions
- Customer life cycle reporting makes it easy to drill down into particular aspects of the customer journey
- Real-time event tracking without needing to add code to your website or set up events in Google Tag Manager
- Privacy improvements to help stay compliant with GDPR laws
- Deeper integrations with Google products like Google Ads
Are there any downsides to GA4?
While there are plenty of pros to GA4, there are also a couple of cons that you should definitely be aware of before making the switch.
‘Day zero data‘
When you set up a GA4 account with your site, Google will start collecting GA4 data. Therefore, any historical data will not show in the GA4 view, so you won’t be able to compare new data with previous years until you’ve been using GA4 for more than a year.
But don’t let that worry you too much: historical data isn’t going to be deleted, it’s simply stored in your UA account (although we don’t know for how long). That’s why we recommend running both properties simultaneously, allowing you to access your historical data while you start accumulating new data in GA4.
It’ll take some time to get used to GA4
Although GA4 was introduced two years ago, it is still new territory for many marketers. There are a lot of changes to wrap your head around with GA4.
If you’re familiar with the legacy version of GA, making the switch to GA4 is likely to be quite time-consuming, especially at the beginning. This might delay your analysis work initially and could impact key business decisions.
Again, the best thing to do while you get used to GA4 is to run both properties simultaneously.
How to set up GA4
These steps show you how to set up a GA4 property alongside your existing UA property.
- In Google Analytics, click Admin.
- Select your Google Analytics account in the Account column.
- In the Property column, select the UA property collecting data for your website from the drop-down menu.
- In the Property column, click GA4 Setup Assistant.
- Click Get Started under “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.”
- If you use Google Tag Manager, you can Enable data collection using your existing tags. However, if you use a website builder or CMS such as WordPress, you must add a new tag.
- Click Create Property.
Once you click Create Property, the setup wizard:
- Creates your new GA4 property.
- Copies the property name, website URL, time zone and currency settings from your UA property.
- Establishes a connection between your UA and GA4 properties.
- Activates Enhanced Measurement in your GA4 property.
Lastly, click ‘See Your GA4 Property’ to view your new property. You can then create tags and customise your GA4 property.
Once you have set up your GA4 property, your analytics homepage should look like this:
Making a change like this can be intimidating. However, in the case of switching to GA4, the time to put it off is over.
Setting up Google Analytics for the first time
If you’re completely new to Google Analytics, you have no other option but to use GA4. You don’t need to worry about migrating old data or wishing the new dashboard was the same as the old one!
Follow these step-by-step instructions from Google if you are new to Analytics.
How to add GA4 to a website built on a CMS
If you host your website on a CMS, the set-up process for GA4 is slightly different. According to Google itself, this includes websites created using “Wix, WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, GoDaddy, WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, Awesome Motive, HubSpot, etc.”
If this sounds like your website, follow these instructions. If the platform you use doesn’t offer native support for GA4, you may need to manually add the site tag snippet into your platform’s custom HTML field.
What does GA4 mean for SEO?
GA4 is undeniably useful for SEO. You can use the platform to see how users behave on your website, which site content has the highest engagement and top traffic referrals.
The introduction of GA4 feels like an acknowledgement of how general SEO practices have changed. Over the last decade at least, SEO has become less about finding the right keywords for your target audience (although that is still important!), and more about creating an overall site that users like to visit. SEO now includes website page speed, responsiveness and visual stability, for example.
Your business could benefit from using GA4 for SEO, but only if you interpret and use the data it collects correctly.
The bottom line
GA4 could be one of the best tools you can use to boost your SEO results. It will allow you to think differently about your business’s users and provide more in-depth data.
Thanks to its consumer behaviour and privacy requirements, GA4 offers future-proof features and its improved insights should allow you to make better marketing decisions.
I know that making the switch from UA to GA4 feels like stepping into the unknown for many business owners. If you aren’t sure how to start formulating your plan and adoption of GA4, hiring an SEO Freelancer can take the headache out of the process for you . Get in touch with me today to discuss how I can help you implement the right strategy and ensure you are using GA4 for maximum return.