Let’s start by confirming why Google Analytics is important.
It’s Google’s free tool that allows you to monitor how well your website performs in terms of things like number of visitors, what pages people look at, where your website traffic comes from, how long people spend during a visit, what key actions they take, and much much more!
In mid March 2022 Google announced that Universal Analytics (the current version) will stop tracking data on 1 July 2023, and historical data will only be available for six months after that.
So if you’ve been like me, with ‘your head in the sand’ about GA4, now is the time to figure out a plan to start using it.
Fortunately I’ve been working with Carolyn James from Website Insights who has given me some GA4 training and implemented new set ups for clients.
We recently did this Q&A interview to share the important information with you.
What is GA4?
GA4 is the next generation of Google Analytics. It will replace the version known as Universal Analytics, which has been around since 2012. We have been able to play with GA4 for over 2 years and see it develop and mature – first there was a beta version called ‘Google Analytics App + Web’, then it was launched as GA4 in October 2020. Up until now, most people have opted to continue with Universal Analytics as the primary means of website tracking. Some have been running GA4 in parallel.
Will I need to upgrade to GA4?
Yes you will. As mentioned above, as of 1 July 2023 the current version of Google Analytics will stop tracking data.
Because comparing your current website performance with past historical data is so important, we recommend getting GA4 set up as soon as possible, so that the historical data starts building up. You can run it in parallel with Universal Analytics until the deadline.
If Click Winning Content is managing Google Ads for you, we use Google Analytics as part of our monitoring and optimisation. We will need to implement GA4 so we can keep delivering the best results for you.
You may also be using the Google Analytics reports to help you with marketing decision-making. You will need GA4 in order to continue this and benefit from the new features.
Does GA4 offer anything that Universal Analytics doesn’t?
- In addition to tracking pageviews, GA4 tracks video views, scrolls, outbound clicks, file downloads and site search by default. This gives you a headstart when it comes to event tracking. You will probably still need to track other events, e.g., form submissions, and these will require some set-up in Google Tag Manager.
- GA4 includes a powerful ‘Explorations’ suite that allows you to build custom reports and compare different segments of your audience. The Path and Funnel Explorations help to show how users move through your website.
- Menus and reports can be customised in such a way that they are seen by everyone who has access to the property. In Universal Analytics, custom reports could only be seen by the person who created them.
- For businesses that have a website and an app, GA4 is able to track both data sets in the same analytics property, giving you a broader view of your users.
- Data can be exported from GA4 to BigQuery for free, enabling further data querying.
Is GA4 lacking anything that Universal Analytics provides?
- There are fewer pre-built reports in GA4 (as at January 2022).
- Bounce Rate no longer exists. A new (and opposite) concept of Engaged Sessions has been added. Mel’s comment – this is a huge change that I need to start getting my head around!!!
- For each type of goal (conversion), Universal Analytics counts one per session, even if the user repeated the action. This has been the accepted norm. GA4, however, counts all of them. A workaround can be used if you want to count only one per session.
- Some things are differently named:
- You won’t find Segments in the pre-built reports, but you can use Comparisons instead.
- Goals are called Conversions.
- Events are a broader concept. In Universal Analytics, we are familiar with Events being the actions that the user took on a page. In GA4, a Pageview and a Session start are also Events.
Will I lose my past data when I upgrade to GA4?
GA4 operates on a different data model, so your old data cannot be migrated into it. That is why you should start collecting data in GA4 in parallel. The data that you have collected in Universal Analytics will remain there until the end of 2023.
Is it difficult to upgrade to GA4?
If Click Winning Content is already managing your Google Ads and tracking conversions for you, we can provide a quote to upgrade and add your existing Conversion Tracking to your new instance of GA4.
The time required for the upgrade will depend upon whether or not you already have Google Tag Manager set up, which is our recommended way to do the upgrade.
For businesses who are not running Google Ads, we will be happy to look at your existing Google Analytics implementation and provide a quote to add GA4.
Let’s find a silver lining
To get the best results from Google Ads we always recommend having Google Analytics set up, with Conversion Tracking added that has been tested. It’s timely that when you upgrade to GA4 you review your conversion tracking set up, confirm which conversions are important and check that the tracking works correctly (things often get broken and this might not be detected if you’re not monitoring the data regularly).
Also keep in mind that Conversion Tracking set up in Google Analytics works for all website traffic sources, not just Google Ads, so this is a great step in evaluating the performance of all your online marketing!
About Carolyn from Website Insights
Carolyn is an analytics specialist who brings with her 25 years of experience in the IT sector. She followed her interest into healthcare infotech after starting out as a pharmacist.
Carolyn established Website Insights to help businesses to measure and improve online effectiveness. “I love unlocking data and showing people how it can be used in a systematic way to get better results from online marketing”.
She focuses on understanding her clients’ business so that she can transform ‘a deluge of data’ into clear and relevant reports. These can be used month after month to guide decision-making.
Carolyn is certified with the Google Analytics Individual Qualification and the Google Ads Search Certification.
Mel’s comment – Carolyn is smart, knowledgable, has excellent attention to detail and is easy to deal with. You can be confident that everything she works on is done correctly. Highly recommended!
Melinda aka Mel is a Google Partner, Google Ads & Consultant, Speaker and Trainer and co-owner of Click-Winning Content. Mel provides results-driven services to organisations around the world and is committed to never using an acronym without explaining it first. She also likes greyhounds as pets, grand slam tennis, cracked pepper and Melbourne sunsets. Please connect at the links below.