Google Analytics has launched GA4, the latest generation of Google Analytics that is built on an entirely new data model with more emphasis on privacy and ease of analysis. GA4 will replace Universal Analytics (GA3) permanently from July 2023.
In this article, we break down the key features of GA4 and how analysts can prepare themselves before switching to GA4 from the current Universal Analytics (GA3).
What is GA4?
GA4’s new data model allows for more data collection capabilities, where every interaction on a website or app can be recorded as events. This feature was not available in Universal Analytics (GA3) before, which had capabilities primarily limited to traffic measurement.
This next generation of Google Analytics has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for users to link complementary platforms like Google Ads and Google Search Console.
How can GA4 improve the current process of analytics?
Unlike Universal Analytics (GA3), GA4 allows users to perform cross-platform analytics through multiple streams of data in a single GA4 property, which can be accessed from Web, Android and iOS devices. This feature provides a complete picture of how users interact with a business across its website and apps and makes conversion attribution possible.
GA4 ditched the old ‘Category, Action & Label’ model of Universal Analytics (GA3), and now provides more dimensions (event parameters) that are fully customisable. For example, if users have a file_download event, they can be sent with attributes like file_name, file_extension, and file_url. Similarly, video_view events can be sent with attributes like video_percent, video_url, watch_duration, etc.
Lastly, GA4 enables automatic subdomain tracking with no additional setup and can be achieved by simply installing a single Google Tag Manager code snippet onto the primary and subdomains.
Enhanced data privacy
Users can rest assured and stop worrying about data privacy, as IP addresses are anonymised by default in GA4, thus preserving user privacy.
GA4 also has a limited 4-month window for raw data retention. However, general reports will remain accessible for the entire period since setup.
What is happening with Universal Analytics (GA3)?
In March 2022, Google announced that they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics, making GA4 the primary analytics platform going forward. Essentially, all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits permanently on July 1, 2023.
Google is likely to stop storing all historical data from Universal Analytics after 6 months of this.
What can we do now?
At present, there is no option to migrate the existing data from Universal Analytics properties into the new GA4 properties.
This makes it an urgent priority for all websites to set up a GA4 property to start collecting data as soon as possible, so by next year when Universal Analytics (GA3) stops recording data, users will have some historical data to work with in the new GA4 property and avoid a blackout period during a late transition.
The next steps
Users who wish to have access to their historical Universal Analytics (GA3) data for the reference of visualisation will have to export all of their current data by next year, either into external spreadsheets or store them in a data warehouse for consistency and accessibility.
This data can then subsequently be exported into a data visualisation tool like Google Data Studio (now Looker Studio) for visualisation outside of the sunsetting Universal Analytics (GA3) interface. It is then possible to combine it with the new data coming in from GA4 to get continual data reporting and visualisation.