The end of Universal Analytics: How to successfully switch to Google Analytics 4
It’s been official since March: Google Analytics 4 will replace Universal Analytics – starting in July 2023. Of course, this will shake up a few blocks in Maslow’s Analytics pyramid. What happens to my old data? When should I start using the new system? When does a complete changeover make sense?
You have questions, we have answers.
The first thing to understand is why Google is taking this step. Google itself says that Universal Analytics – vintage 2011(!) – was simply created for a completely different web than we’re used to today: desktop-focused, with sessions independent of each other, and much more, which has little to do with our current browsing habits. In short, it’s (noticeably) old.
Cookies are also being addressed by Google. Under Analytics 4, the hunger for data is to be satisfied in the future also or even entirely from a more varied diet. With the timely changeover, Google is thus setting itself and its customers up for the long term in terms of data protection. We can therefore be quite happy with the upcoming generation change.
What are the advantages of Google Analytics 4 for web analysts?
Of course, it’s only a short leap from Universal Analytics’ dark sides to the promised sunny sides of Google Analytics 4.
With Google Analytics 4, you can track and analyze customer journeys across all device touchpoints. The insights generated help you get the most out of the customer lifecycle.
Google Analytics 4 is said to be more than a nose ahead of its predecessor in terms of AI-powered data processing. That’s not really impressive – as of today – but in a year and a half and with lots of new data, maybe something will happen.
1. Less headaches about data protection.
2. By saying goodbye to IP tracking, greater independence from cookies and country-specific tracking settings, Google only wants to act on the cutting edge from Day X on.
3. Even more integration with the Google Marketing Platform: With Google Analytics 4, you should be able to integrate Search Ads 360 and Display & Video 360 even more easily, for example.
And yet: Google may only have to flip a switch, but for hundreds of Analytics experts (in-house and external), this is a lot of work.
However, if a few key points are taken into account, a good roadmap can be created in just a few steps. This way, the changeover will be almost seamless by the summer of 2023.
We spoke with our Head of Digital Strategy Markus Mattscheck to clarify the most important points in advance:
“I am very positive about the change to Google Analytics 4. Change always brings unrest, but standing still is not an option for Google or for us as Analytics users. That’s why I’m confident that Google is still working flat out on Google Analytics 4 until June 30, 2023 and will still get most of the wrinkles ironed out. Nevertheless, we have our own responsibility to prepare for the changeover. I would therefore like to highlight four points in particular.”
Key Point #1: Parallel launch of Google Analytics 4.
Google may be tinkering tirelessly with Google Analytics 4, and the future looks very promising with BigQuery connectivity, machine learning, and better privacy compliance. But in everyday use, it can’t yet keep up with Universal Analytics.
So the motto is: create a GA4 property now (or as early as possible) next to the existing Universal Analytics property, get started with standard tracking and get a feel for the changes and new possibilities. That way, you’ll be building up historical data by June 30, 2023, and can already start making comparisons with your Universal Analytics data.
Key Point #2: Upgrade or new implementation?
There are generally two options for how you can move to GA4. Option #1 is the upgrade, where a number of settings are taken over from Universal Analytics. Option #2 is the completely new implementation. Here you start with a completely clean slate. Old setup sins can be erased and you can (or should) rethink your tracking concept.
Which choice is the right one? As with all important questions in life, there is no clear-cut answer here. However, because GA4 is so fundamentally different from UA, there is a lot to be said for a new implementation from our point of view. This way you really get to know the system and don’t end up with an imported UA sham.
Key Point #3: Start the migration process
Markus recommends 5 basic steps
1. Audit the existing Universal Analytics property
2. Definition of new content requirements for Google Analytics 4
3. Define technical requirements for implementation
4. Start the implementation
5. Every setup is unique (❄). That’s why you should start thinking about it early on! Gladly also together with us in a joint workshop.
Key Point #4: Understand the technology, interface and reporting of Google Analytics 4
Finally, it is important to familiarize yourself with the new triumvirate of technology, interface and reporting. Because some things are fundamentally changing. The event-based tracking is one of the more obvious points.
But the structure of events is also different. In Google Analytics 4, events are no longer defined with category, action and label. Instead, you give an event as many tags as you want. And in Google Analytics 4, the number of standard reports is greatly reduced. Instead, there is the Explore section, where we can create individual reports according to our needs in the future. The best tip: Get into the fray and try it out!
Hands off the snooze button!
Finally, once again clear words: With this announcement from Google, the time when you can still let your nostrils enjoy fine sand aroma is over. However, there is no reason to panic. Slowly put one foot in front of the other; if you don’t know something, ask for advice and that will definitely be a good thing. And you know: we always have an open ear for you.
Your appetite for reading hasn’t been satisfied yet? Then check out our social media news for April or take a look at Google’s own blog post on the transition.