What the Google Analytics update means for you

By now, you might have heard that Google has launched an updated version of Google Analytics, called Google Analytics 4 (or GA4). The current version of Google Analytics we know and love, Universal, is going to be “sunsetted” next year (or, in Google’s own words, it will be “going away”). Google Analytics is such an essential tool and so widely used that the announcement has sent many in the marketing and e-commerce world reeling and reacting with a mixture of excitement, confusion — and some resistance.

Thankfully, Google is giving us plenty of time to adapt, but anyone who uses this all-important tool to measure website data will need to transition to the new version over the next 12 months. Here’s what you need to know about the rollout of GA4.


What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics has been around in various iterations since 2005. It’s a tool used by businesses and marketers all over the world (some even estimate that 80 per cent of the world’s top websites use Google Analytics)* to help us track and understand customer journeys, behaviours and demographics. It gives us data and insights into areas such as page views, bounce rates, transactions and time spent on the site. It also provides us with super useful information like how many web visitors we’ve had on a given week and which days and pages are the most popular, and we use this information to strategise and improve the customer experience. In other words, Google Analytics is a pretty big deal — and therefore, so is a brand new version of it.

When is the change happening?

Google has announced that the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4 will be complete by July 1, 2023, meaning that you will no longer be able to use Universal Analytics after this point (except to view data stored in Universal Analytics, which will be accessible for at least six months following the shift). GA4 — which Google are calling their “next-generation measurement solution” — is live now.

How is GA4 different to Universal?

The first thing to mention here is that while Google says GA4 is out of the “beta” phase, it’s sure to undergo some tweaks between now and July 2023.

At this stage, these are the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics:

  • If your business has both a website and an app, GA4 will offer a more streamlined, seamless integration between data collected from websites and data collected from apps and channel this information into one property.
  • The customer data reported on in GA4 will not be itemised in quite the same way as Universal Analytics but rather simplified and condensed — instead of 111 menu options, there will be 24. It seems that GA4 will be less detailed than Universal Analytics, which is one of the factors making people nervous. However, there will be more room for customisation so you can prioritise the metrics most relevant to you, plus build customer journey funnels and create cohorts.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be employed to greater effect in GA4. This means that rather than just reporting customer data retrospectively, GA4 will take a proactive role in offering insights into and predicting customer behaviour (so you can maximise ROI).
  • GA4 is designed to be less dependent on data obtained through cookies — which we’re increasingly having to wean ourselves off — and to help businesses comply with privacy laws.
  • GA4 will make it possible for all users to integrate with data warehouse BigQuery, whereas Universal Analytics only offers this opportunity to premium users.

Why is Google doing this?

There are surely a few different factors at play, but mostly it seems as though it’s just time for an update. Google Analytics hasn’t undergone any major overhauls in the last decade, but the world and the way we interact with technology has changed a lot — for example, we are less attached to desktops than we were a decade ago, and GA4 provides better cross-platform functionality. Also, user privacy and the use of cookies have emerged as some of the big tech battles of the 2020s, and GA4 will not be cookie-based.

For the uninitiated, cookies are the small files that advertisers and social media platforms use to track website users as they browse the internet. They’re useful tools in that they help marketers store user details and preferences. First party cookies are the reason websites are able to remember which products you looked at last time you were on their site; third party cookies serve you ads related to your browsing activity as you explore new websites. Due to increased data and privacy concerns across the world, Google is moving to prevent individual tracking and phase out third-party cookies by 2023. (At the moment, we’re waiting for more information from Google before we go changing our digital marketing strategies, but we’re on top of it and ready for these changes to come into effect. We’ll keep you updated on this too and make sure you know exactly what it means for your business).

What you need to know about making the transition

  • As we mentioned above, GA4 won’t come into full effect until July 1, 2023, which is when Universal Analytics will stop receiving data and, in effect, stop functioning.
  • According to Google, you’ll still be able to view data in Universal Analytics for “at least six months” from July 1, 2023. This data cannot be migrated into GA4, so you’ll need to export and store it so you don’t lose it.
  • The sooner you jump on the GA4 train, the sooner you can familiarise yourself with it and start collecting historical data on this new property. Meanwhile, you can continue using Universal Analytics alongside GA4 for now.
  • If you’re new to the Google Analytics game, it’s probably best to begin with GA4 rather than learning Universal Analytics and then transitioning later.
  • If you started using Google Analytics after October 14, 2020, then you’re most likely already using GA4 (go, you!).

The transition is bound to take some adjusting, but at least we’ve been given a decent heads-up from Google so we can start preparing in advance. At PIER, we’re already becoming familiar with GA4 so we can make sure that key conversion actions (the tools that tell us important customer information) are alive and gathering data on the new property. We’re also offering GA4 training for clients who use Analytics in their daily roles.

We’re sure this will be a moving story, so we’ll keep you posted on how the whole Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 development is tracking. In the meantime, let us know if we can support you or if our team can answer any of your technical questions.


* https://www.rootandbranchgroup.com/google-analytics-in-2022/