Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2021 when information on the timing of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) replacing Universal Analytics (UA) was limited. Google has since provided an expected transition date of July 1, 2023. After this date, UA properties will stop collecting new data. Beginning in January 2024, you may not be able to reference data from UA properties at all.
As a result, the move to GA4 should be a top priority for your team if you haven’t started. By making the change sooner rather than later, you ensure you have historical data available when you can no longer reference your existing UA properties. And in the words of the great philosopher Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast.” Similarly, exporting and saving needed historical data from UA should also be considered and prioritized. If you need help with this task or with safeguarding your data during the transition, please reach out for assistance. We don’t want anyone to lose access to information they’ve worked long and hard to create.
What is Google Analytics 4?
For eight years, the way you measure website traffic and behavior has remained largely unchanged. Google Analytics has been the broad standard, and while they’ve made changes and updates, the overall experience has been consistent since 2012.
The version of the platform we all know and love was called Universal Analytics (UA) and was the third iteration of Google Analytics. Then, in October, Google rolled out a new update, GA4. Since then, the digital team at Geonetric has been testing the platform to understand how it affects healthcare websites and what impact it will have on your day-to-day data needs.
What has Google changed?
With this update, Google’s main goal was to make it easier to track users engaging with a website via both browser and app. However, there are changes to the platform—changes both beneficial and challenging—whether a website has a corresponding app or not.
Let’s look into the good and the bad – and what your next steps should be.
The good: Goodbye, bounce. Hello, engagement statistics.
Google is removing the concept of a bounce—a session that does not trigger a second action on the page—and bounce rate from its platform. Digital marketers often rely on that metric as a shorthand to measure user engagement with a given page, or even with a website as a whole, so it may seem like a loss. However, Google is using an Engaged Session and an Engagement Rate instead.
Engagement Rate is the percentage of Engaged Sessions vs. non-Engaged Sessions and the definition of an Engaged Session is any session that includes:
- The website or app in the foreground for at least 10 seconds
- A conversion event
- Two or more screen/page views
This change is particularly beneficial because you can now customize a conversion event to fit the on-page content and user experience. Whether or not there is a direct call to action present on the page, you now better understand how a page is performing.
Better understand your users with expanded event tracking
Additionally, Google is adding the number of data points available to digital marketers. When Geonetric launches a new website, we set up a robust amount of event tracking to ensure our clients have a more comprehensive picture of user behavior over a standard Google Analytics implementation. With the change to GA4, the amount of potential data points you can draw from our tracking has increased eightfold. This enhanced tracking requires set up to take advantage of, but is undoubtedly a great opportunity.
The bad: Missing features and historical data
Besides removing Bounce Rate and the additional set up necessary to take advantage of the new Event Tracking opportunities, there are a few additional challenges that come with GA4 as well.
First and foremost, it is still a new product, and there are a few areas—areas that we may currently rely on in UA—that are either not included or still in progress:
- Filtering capabilities
- View options
- Internal reporting options
Sunsetting of UA
Further, as the future of Google Analytics, GA4 will be the standard. There is no set date for this change, though it will happen just as Universal Analytics supplanted Google Analytics 2. Currently, new Universal Analytics/UA properties can be both created and accessed. In the future, this will likely change, although no one knows exactly when.
Loss of historical data
The most considerable challenge is that data will not be contiguous between UA and GA4. The two iterations are so distant that GA4 does not carry over historical data from its predecessor. When you upgrade, the historical data continues to live in a legacy Universal Analytics property, while a new GA4 property collects information moving forward. This update will make comparing data month-over-month or year-over-year challenging until you have used GA4 long enough to have its own historical data.
Your next steps with GA4
Given the impending loss of historical data, the work needed to migrate event tracking into GA4 format, and the uncertain future of Universal Analytics, we recommend setting up a GA4 property and running it alongside your existing UA properties.
Doing this allows you to build up historical data and get your team and stakeholders used to the new platform, data, look, and feel before a hard switch becomes necessary.
If you’re looking for help, reach out to set up some time with one of our digital marketing experts to discuss the benefits and implications specific to your digital presence. We can go over the next steps necessary and get you started on migrating to the GA4 platform.