Google Analytics is one of the most crucial reporting tools available to digital marketers. The data from Google Analytics (GA) allows us to understand and analyze customer behavior to make better marketing decisions, create better customer experiences, and improve our marketing results.
In what Google has described as “the next generation of analytics” and “the future of measurement” last year, Google announced the imminent sunsetting of Universal Analytics (GA3) and the rise of Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
GA4 is set to become the default platform for collating and analyzing website data starting July 1st, 2023, at which point standard Universal Analytics Properties will no longer collect data. You will still be able to access previously processed data for about six months; however, if you haven’t started the migration from UA to GA4 yet, it is strongly recommended that you export your historical data/reports before losing full access to your account (date still to be determined by Google).
As you can imagine, an announcement of this scope sent shockwaves through the digital marketing world. But with the sunset date of UA fast approaching, now's the time to shake off the inertia and get up close and personal with GA4.
What is GA4?
As the digital landscape evolves, so must the tools we use to measure, understand, and improve our online performance. Customers interact with websites and apps differently now than they did ten years ago, and privacy concerns and regulations have grown over time as well. This shifting landscape has called for changes in the fundamental way marketers approach analytics, hence the decision from Google to drastically update its Analytics reporting platform.
The new Google Analytics is built on advanced machine-learning technology, which allows it to uncover valuable insights automatically and provides a comprehensive view of your customers across all devices and platforms. Additionally, the new GA4 is designed with privacy in mind, so you can trust it to offer accurate data even when limitations on cookies and user identifiers affect your data collection. With the new Google Analytics, Google assures that you will have the necessary information to prepare for what’s to come.
Why Universal Analytics Is Updating to Google Analytics 4
Future-proofing is the main focus of GA4. As Google plans to start phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome browsers (with the total elimination of the tracking technology set by the end of 2024), GA4 is meant to fill the cookie-sized holes we will see in our analytics. Ultimately, GA4 is a completely different tool than GA3 (or Universal Analytics)— and to make it more accessible while maintaining essential features and functionality, the infrastructure needed to be updated.
“Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. It uses a flexible approach to measurement and, in the future, will include modeling to fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete,” Google explained.
Why You Need to Set Up GA4 Now
GA4 is an entirely new analytics model—and that's why businesses need to start backing up their historical data before the shift in analytics properties is implemented on July 1st, 2023. If you want the transition to go as smoothly as possible for your business, then you need to start familiarizing yourself with the new data model and dashboard immediately.
What Will Happen if My Business Doesn't Migrate to GA4?
If a GA4 property is not created for your website or app by early 2023, the Analytics setup assistant will automatically create one for you with essential features that match your existing UA property. You'll see this notification the next time you log in to your Google Analytics account. Of course, you can choose not to proceed by opting out in the setup assistant or via the notification banner.
But that being said, you should know that the data collection process for GA4 differs from UA, so it is important to note that historical data from UA properties won’t be imported to the GA4 property created by the setup assistant.
This means that businesses could miss out on crucial opportunities for customization from the start. While some elements can be configured later, there will be gaps in data related to these things. As a result, it’s crucial to create a GA4 property before the early 2023 deadline, to ensure that all historical data is captured and you can fully customize the GA4 property with your required features.
The deadline for setting up your year-over-year (YoY) reporting has already passed (June 30th, 2022), so if you have not already set up your GA4 property or backed up your historical data, you will likely lose even more critical YoY insights—the costs of which can be significant for your reporting, especially for highly seasonal businesses. “The earlier you migrate, the more historical data and insights you will have in Google Analytics 4.”
It’s essential to be aware of some important dates:
- June 30th, 2022, was the last day to set up GA4 to enable YoY reporting.
- Starting July 1st, 2023, standard UA properties will no longer accept new data, and previously collected data will become read-only.
- Starting July 1st, 2024, all Universal Analytics 360 properties will stop accepting new data.
Why You Should Be Excited About GA4
After all this, you might feel like it's all bad news—but not at all!
The introduction of Google Analytics 4 means that business owners and marketers will have complete access to their own first-party data. Things like mailing lists, digital loyalty cards, and other data will become valuable assets as the competition to obtain primary user data intensifies. By better tracking user actions on your platform, it is expected that there will be an increase in engaged sessions, conversions, and goal completions for your business.
Google Analytics 4 also gives businesses ownership over their collected data, enabling more control over analysis, segmentation, and reporting of audience and acquisition data, helping you better understand your customers. You can use these more heavily drilled-down insights to optimize your site content and drive more sales. If Google’s Analytics 4 lives up to its current hype, it could be the catalyst for a potentially game-changing pivot in digital marketing data reporting.
If you want to dive deeper into the world of GA4 reporting and best practices, we recommend you check out our recent webinar, Unlocking Google Analytics 4 for Better Business Insights. And our blog recap covers everything you need to know, plus all the resources we shared in our webinar.
If you need help understanding and setting up your new GA4 property, WSI can help. We have over 25 years of global digital marketing experience across all industries. Contact us today for experienced digital marketing assistance that you can trust.
We also recommend you keep an eye on our blog for new tips and best practices about GA4 coming soon!