You’ve likely seen the warning message at the top of your Google Analytics dashboard for some time now – “Universal Analytics will no longer process new data … beginning 1 July 2023”. But what does it actually mean? Well, Google’s giving you plenty of warning that its new tool Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will soon be replacing Universal Analytics (UA) and you need to take action.
GA4 is pretty much a complete remodel of the UA interface you’re used to, in fact, it’s the first time that Google has rebuilt both the back and front end of the tool since its release in 2005. The update’s been designed to collect data more efficiently and uses Google’s machine learning expertise to offer insights and can even predict future behaviour. It’s an impressive and sophisticated tool now focusing on users and events, rather than the session data we’ve learnt to love with UA.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the updates we believe to be the most impactful.
In GA4 you’ll be able to track your website and any apps you own all in one place. It refers to these different entities as Data Streams and you can have up to 50 in one property. It’s unlikely you’d ever reach anywhere near that amount of data streams, but it’s nice to know that you technically could.
Your account structure will also be changing, in UA it’s set up as Account – Property – View but in GA4 this is reducing just to Account and Property. Data Streams replace ‘View’, allowing you to see user behaviour across apps and sites in one area. This is an improvement over UA where you would usually if, for example, you wanted to track user behaviour on an IOS and Android. Now you’ll have all the information in one reporting area.
According to Google, “an event allows you to measure a distinct user interaction on a website or app” (source). The names of these user interactions in UA describe the activity you’re measuring such as ‘page views’, ‘dwell time’ and ‘screen views’. However, in GA4 these will all be known as the one term – ‘event’, and these events are split into four categories (source):
- Automatically Collected – the default actions GA4 will monitor such as first_vist and session_start
- Enhanced Measurement – more detail such as scroll, view_search_results and video_start
- Recommended Event – these aren’t automatically set up as GA4 needs more context to understand the data. These actions are more niche and may not apply to you like purchase, tutorial_begin but there will be others that you should apply e.g. search, sign_up and share
- Custom Event – can’t find an event from the other categories that you’d really like to track? Well, you can set up your own event with its own parameters unique to your business.
Does this seem confusing? Don’t be alarmed, GA4 is an out-of-the-box and ready-to-go tool which can start collecting important data straight away, but you might need to choose what to specifically ‘turn on’.
Currently, UA is only tracking page views, so to analyse specific actions you need to set up tags within Google Tag Manager (GTM). In GA4, many activities such as scroll depth and file download will automatically be covered without the need to set this up within GTM. Most basic events will be classed as automatic, and other slightly more complex or custom events will be deemed ‘enhanced’.
Another great feature with ‘events’ is that you can choose what to define as a conversion in one quick click:
There are fewer reports available in GA4, only three rather than the 30 available in UA. This might seem like you’re being short-changed but Google has redesigned reporting so it’s now an easier and more accurate way to get to the detail. Instead of a long list of predefined reports trying to cover every eventuality, it generates summary cards which you can click into to find all the detail you need. It’s also easier to build your own custom reports as well as any impromptu ones you might need.
The metrics that GA4 reports on will also be different and you’ll notice some terms are missing. One key change is Bounce Rate which has been replaced with Engaged Sessions. Google believes that Bounce Rate has become less useful as websites have evolved over the years (source). At TBT, we like to remind clients that a high bounce rate on a page isn’t always a negative. For example, if a user goes to the contact page on your site, jots down the number then leaves your site and calls you, technically you have achieved what you set out to do on that page. But the high bounce rate may fool you into thinking the page isn’t working. GA4’s Engagement Rate just shows you a more positive outlook to on your user’s journey. However, if you do still want to work out the bounce rate, then it’s just the inverse of Engagement Rate. But if you see a low engagement rate then you’re likely to take the same remedial action as if you were seeing a high bounce rate. It’s all just semantics really…
An interface powered by machine learning
As you’d expect, all these updates mean that the user interface we’re used to has changed. Naming conventions, the homepage layout and the menu bar all look different. It will take a little while to get used to, but it does quickly seem to make sense.
The machine learning that powers the new tool will, over time, serve up more and more personalised content as it gets to understand how you use it. The homepage will continue to change as it’s learning more about your needs and what features you use the most, but to begin with, there’ll be a standard page for most accounts while it gathers information. For example, you’ll no longer see the large Real-Time section but will instead see your ‘Reports snapshot’. User activity will still be shown here but will show activity in the last 30 minutes and the top five countries they’re visiting from.
In the top right of each page, you’ll see three icons that allow you to Edit Comparisons, Share Reports and view Insights making it much easier and quicker for you to find certain information. Let’s say you need to find out how many users have reached your site organically in the last 30 days. Well, you can find this straight away in the Insights section.
Or if you’ve only got two minutes before joining a meeting and you forgot to get a particular metric, then you can type the question into the search bar and get the exact answer straight away, without leaving the page you’re on. Now that is a time saver! I tried this in UA and eventually got the information, but it was a slower and more arduous task.
EU laws, GDPR and tracking users’ data online
It’s worth mentioning the contention surrounding Google Analytics at the moment. Read our previous blog ‘What do Google, GDPR & the Cookie Monster have in common?’ to get the full picture, but essentially some EU countries have deemed it ‘unlawful’ due to the changes in EU law and GDPR as Google passes on users’ data via Analytics to the United States. So as excited as we are about the roll-out of GA4, it’s worth double-checking that it’s legal for you to use in your country.
Does it all seem a bit too intense?
This might sound like quite a lot to take in, but overall GA4 seems to be cleaner, simpler and a lot more intelligent than UA. There is something important to note though — UA and GA4 do not talk to each other, so if you don’t set up GA4 before July then your data will only go as far back as 1st July 2023. So, what’s stopping you from turning GA4 on now to start collecting data? Speak to your Web Team for more information on this or get in touch.
At TBT, our Future Focused approach to marketing ensures we’re ahead of the curve and are here to help you navigate the ever-changing digital marketing landscape. Contact us today to see how we can strengthen your reporting and make sure your projects and campaigns continue to deliver maximum impact.