Should You Make the Switch to GA4 Right Now? What You Should Know

2 September 2022

Should You Make the Switch to GA4 Right Now? What You Should Know

Caucasian advisor financial business analytics woman with data dashboard graphsGoogle’s Universal Analytics (UA) will cease data collection on July 1, 2023.

You will still have access to historical data in UA for six months after that date. That data will then be lost.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will then be the default platform.

The data and metrics you’re used to have changed dramatically with the new version.

What can you do in the midst of this massive shift?

Changes like this can be stressful for marketers and agencies, but they can also be beneficial. You can find new opportunities in this change if you plan ahead of time.

So, let’s take it one step at a time and concentrate on your next move.

Should you make the switch right away?

Should you wait until GA4 has more integrations and functions before purchasing?

Before making that choice, it’s critical to understand what’s different between GA4 and UA and why.

Download CallRail’s Guide To Google Analytics 4 for a comprehensive look at what’s changing and how to prepare.

What Exactly Is GA4?

GA4 is an abbreviation for “Google Analytics 4,” and it is the latest version of Google Analytics.

Most people are still using its predecessor, Universal Analytics.

Google first released GA4 in October 2020, citing changes in user behaviour and privacy standards as major reasons for the switch in the announcement post.

If you want to continue collecting data in Google Analytics after the July 1, 2023 deadline, you must migrate to GA4.

What Is the Distinction Between GA4 and UA?

Let’s look at their differences to help you understand how to transition to GA4.

The Origins of Universal Analytics

UA, which you’ve most likely been using up to this point, collects data based on web sessions and hits, which can be pageviews or events generated using a limited set of descriptors.

It runs on first- and third-party cookies.

Event tracking is not enabled by default and must be enabled manually.

You’d need to use Google’s Firebase SDK and set up platform-specific tracking if you wanted to track data from mobile app users.

Google Analytics released a web + app property type in 2019, and GA4 evolved from this combined approach.

Google Analytics 4 and Its Functions

GA4 includes a new data collection model that aims to solve the following problems:

A requirement for tracking that does not discriminate based on the device.

Third-party cookies raise privacy concerns.

GA4 collects and reports cross-device data using first-party cookies and signals.

GA4’s primary data point is a different type of event.

By default, these GA4 events are much more granular and descriptive of the specific action that triggers them. You also don’t have to manually configure them.

GA4 allows you to track a visitor’s journey without having to use Google Tag Manager.

So, even as the data model evolves, GA4 facilitates cross-device tracking and provides more precise data points.

What Is New in GA4?

So, how does this affect you and your current analytics strategy?

GA4 Will Be A Blank Slate – Back Up Your Data Right Away You’ll Have To Set Up New Properties In GA4 Right Away You’ll Have To Set Up New Properties In GA4.

You can’t import your UA data because the structure has changed; the data collection method has changed, and many of the metrics have as well.

If you want to keep historical data for your site or the sites of your clients, you must export your UA data and visualise it in a different application.

GA4 Will Integrate Web and Mobile Data

GA4’s data model evolved from Google’s Firebase SDK. It enables GA4 to track and report on users from various devices in real time.

Third-Party Cookies Are Being Removed

As you may have noticed, GA4 will not track third-party cookies; instead, it will concentrate on first-party cookies.

Third-party cookies are being phased out for a variety of reasons, one of which is privacy.

What is the distinction between first-party and third-party cookies? What difference does it make?

  • First-party cookies are those placed on a website by the website’s owner to track your activity.
  • Third-party cookies are cookies that have been placed on a website by someone other than the site’s owner, allowing third parties to track your activity automatically.

Google Analytics and Chrome are being updated to remove third-party cookies.

The removal of third-party cookies alters what Google and other advertisers can track and how they collect data.

GA4 Will Modify Key Metrics Like Bounce Rate and Others

Because of the different data collection model, many of the metrics you’re used to cannot be maintained.

The bounce rate is one example of a changing metric.

The bounce rate is the proportion of sessions that end with no interaction on a page.

The engagement rate replaces the bounce rate in GA4.

What Exactly Is the Engagement Rate?

The engagement rate is expressed as a percentage of “engaged sessions.”

These sessions could either:

  • Last more than ten seconds.
  • Organize a conversion event.
  • At least two page or screen views are required.

Engagement rate is not a direct inverse of bounce rate. If you work for an agency, you’ll need to spend some time adjusting how you report on these new metrics to your clients.

How GA4’s Engagement Rate Provides More Opportunities Than UA’s Bounce Rate

With change comes opportunity, especially if you plan ahead of time.

As you can see in the example below, the engagement rate provides more useful information than the bounce rate.

According to SEJ contributor and analytics expert Kayle Larkin, bounce rate is not always a useful measure of engagement or how effective pages are because it focuses on actions rather than time.

In the old model, a user who reads an entire 2,000-word blog post and then leaves without taking any other actions was considered a bounce. They were, however, clearly engaged with the content.

By including a time element, the engagement rate includes readers and is a more accurate indicator of the effectiveness of a page.

It may take some time to change your reporting processes and educate clients, but the results could be very rewarding.

Should New Webmasters Use GA4 Or UA?

If your site or the site of a client is brand new, your new account will be set to GA4. You shouldn’t go out of your way to install UA.

Because UA is closing, it makes no sense to open two new properties.

Start using the new technology right away, and don’t be concerned about a learning curve.

You’re learning at the same time as everyone else.

Should Current Website Owners Use GA4 Or UA?

Don’t get rid of your UA properties yet! First, back them up!

If you make a hard switch right now, you will lose your data as well as any integrated tools.

The good news is that there is still time to get your feet wet.

Pro Tip: Begin the move as soon as possible so that you can begin collecting year-over-year data right away.

Just make sure that any third-party tools you use are up to date before you go diving. Alternatively, if you don’t think they’ll be updated in time, look for new tools.

Is GA4 or UA better for agencies?

The situation is more complicated for agencies and marketers.

You should already have GA4 set up if you want year-over-year data for next year. If you haven’t already, start now. The longer you wait, the longer you’ll have to wait for that year-over-year data.

However, you may be required to remain with UA for an extended period of time.

Your clients will all proceed at their own pace. Some people may be unaware that they need to make a change. Many people will not expect significant changes in the reporting you provide them.

You may have a large team that needs to learn GA4.

You’ll also need to create a data archive if you don’t already have one.

You want to keep providing service to your clients while you’re doing all of this and changing your processes to account for new types of data.

If you manage your clients’ analytics accounts, you’ll need a clear project management plan for each migration.

You’ll almost certainly have to use UA alongside GA4 until it’s officially retired.

How to Install GA4

Setting up and migrating to GA4 is simple.

How to Install GA4 from the Ground Up

It is simple to create a new GA4 account from scratch.

It’s as simple as creating a new Google Analytics account or adding a new GA4 property to an existing account.

Google’s documentation will walk you through the process step by step.

How to Transition from UA to GA4

If you already have a UA account and want to upgrade it, Google has created a helpful setup wizard.

Remember, you are not required to cancel your UA and go all-in on GA4 right now. Set up your GA4 accounts now if you want year-over-year comparison data next year.

If you need any help or advice for your own digital strategy, simply get in touch! You can also follow Viva Digital on Facebook to receive regular news, tips and how-tos in your feed. Thanks for reading.

Picture of Paul Smith

Paul Smith

With more than 20 years of industry experience in the UK, USA and Australia under his belt, Paul Smith is a seasoned professional who will infuse your digital marketing with his wealth of knowledge and expertise. Paul specialises in digital strategy, SEO and data analytics.

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