Google Analytics 4 – What You Need to Know Before Making the Switch

July 31st 2023 – This is the date from which the industry standard GA3 platform will stop collecting data. If you’re not sure what GA3 is, it’s pretty much a platform that collect and stores data regarding the various facets of a website and offers them up in an easily digestible dashboard allowing for interpretation of website/page performance. GA3 – or universal analytics as some refer to it – has long been the default platform for tracking web data but as of October 2020 Google made clear it’s plan to supersede this version with the new and improved GA4. If your website has any form of tracking on it, there’s a very good chance that this either makes use of GA3 in one form or another, or runs through this platform directly; as such, the switch to GA4 is going to impact a substantial portion (Roughly 84% of websites using traffic analytics or 55.49% of all websites online) of the digital landscape.  

What’s Actually Changed?

When loading up GA4 for the first time, you’re not exactly going to be blown away by the changes. Google Analytics 4 still makes use of the signature minimalist UI design Google seems to be so fond of, and other than the redesign of the side menus – you would be forgiven for thinking you’d mistakenly loaded up the GA3 instead. However, many of the changes that have warranted a switch to the new version come at a deeper level and are closely interlinked with the ways in which the platform collects and interprets data.

  • Seamless tracking between devices – improvements to the ways in which data is collected from different device types and implementation of tracking that doesn’t discriminate between devices.
  • Honing of triggers – additional functionality in the set up of triggers allowing for granular tracking of events, conversions, or the varying stages of the conversion funnel.
  • Removal of third-party cookie tracking – third party cookies are cookies that have been placed on a website by someone other than the owner; this allows for your website activity to be tracked by third parties. Their removal is in line with GDPR and will offer more privacy to users.
  • Bounce rate into engagement rate (more on this below).

A change needing a slightly longer explanation is the evolution of bounce rate into engagement rate. On GA3, a bounce rate was defined as a visit that did not culminate in an interaction or conversion. Of course, for blog sites where a user may come through directly on an article, read it in its entirety, and then leave the page, this would be classed as a bounce even though the user did pretty much exactly what you would want them to do. As an improvement on this flawed metric, Google introduced engagement rate – a trackable that does pretty much the same as bounce rate, but with the addition of a time element where a user spending over 10 seconds on the site would be classified as an engaged user.

GA3 vs GA4 – Which is Better?

Unfortunately, due to the fact that GA3 will no longer work beyond July 2023, it’s not really a choice between one or the other. The changes to GA4 give the platform a great deal of potential and the flexibility offered by the new event tracking will be hugely beneficial to e-commerce and service-based sites especially. However, GA4 is still very much in its infancy and Google is working hard to add all of the features available within GA3 to make the switch to the new platform as smooth as possible. It’s important to remember that the current GA3 platform is the result of over a decade of honing and refining; while the change to GA4 may feel like a slight step backward for the moment, there’s no doubt that Google will continue to add to the platform making it a worthy successor in its own right.

What Happens If I Don’t Switch?

If a website fails to make the switch to a GA4 account before the 31st of July, Google will automatically migrate that account to the new version of universal analytics.

Google has caveated this by saying that this new account will be set up with basic settings and will only configure ‘certain conversion events’ – a legally savvy way of saying that there’s a good chance you’ll end up tracking stuff you don’t need or will be missing the stuff that you do. As such, we highly recommend that you carry this out yourself or enlist the help of an expert to ensure everything is tracking as it should.

Screengrab of GA3 platform

How Do I Switch?

In order to make the switch as painless as possible (spoilers – it can still be pretty painful), Google has created a process through which a full migration can be achieved. See a rough summary of the process below:

  • Step 1: Create a new GA4 property
  • Step 2: Add a data stream
  • Step 3: Get the tracking code on the website

Optional – for tracking of events and conversions

  • Step 4: Create Google Tag Manager account
  • Step 5: Link website details
  • Step 6: Add Tag manager code to website
  • Step 7: Create triggers on Tag Manager
  • Step 8: Test tracking of events and conversions

The migration process will differ from one website to another with the systems in place as well as the nature of the site playing a role in how complex and how much extra set-up may be required. At Odyssey New Media we have a great deal of experience in providing these migrations and are more than happy to provide assistance or carry out the entirety of this process in your stead. If this is of interest to you, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

With the speed at which the digital industry is developing, it was only a matter of time until traditional data platforms such as GA3 were made redundant. In the switch to GA4 we leave behind a finely honed system offering up a plethora of measurement solutions used by millions across it’s lifespan. There’s no doubt that GA3 will be missed by many (including us!) and while GA4 may not quite be at the level of its predecessor just yet, we have no doubts that over time Google will implement and improve on many of the features that made Google Analytics such a staple within the industry.

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