Come July 1, 2023 Google will have forced all analytics users to GA4 (they slowly began this process in March)! This means that Universal Analytics will no longer collect data.
Fortunately, Google is giving everyone about 6 months after the July deadline to export and store data until it will no longer be accessible at all. If you haven’t taken the time to learn about GA4, it’s time to start now.
So, Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics. What you should expect, and why this is a good change.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Whether you are ready or not, it is time to say goodbye to Universal Analytics, and hello to Google Analytics 4. Google Analytics 4, or GA4 for short, is a new generation of Google Analytics to help businesses meet their measurement needs with more innovative features and improved flexibility. With this addition, businesses no longer need to use both Universal Analytics (UA) for measuring websites and Firebase for measuring mobile apps. This new property infrastructure can unlock valuable insights into your website and your mobile app!
What is a GA4 Property?
Google Analytics 4 properties were formerly known as “App + Web properties,” and the name was changed to show that this property type is for all businesses whether they have a website or mobile app. A property is where a company’s website or mobile app data goes to get processed by Google Analytics for user interface and reporting purposes. Basically, the type of property (UA or GA4) chosen will control how the data is collected and viewed. As you can see, the user interface for the GA4 property is a little more simplified than the UA property:
Google Analytics 4
The Google Analytics 4 property was designed with all users in mind. Those who only have a website, those who only have a mobile app, and those who have both. This creates a way to centralize website and mobile app user data into a single property.
What are the Benefits of Upgrading to GA4?
GA4 is designed for the next generation of user behavior and will help measure across multiple devices and platforms. Measurement strategies can adapt to the ever-changing digital environment while machine learning offers predictions to enhance marketing efforts. Other Google Analytics 4 benefits include:
As customers interact with a business across multiple devices and platforms, GA4 can measure, join, and deduplicate that activity providing a meaningful understanding of their journey. This means a business can measure a single user journey based on the best available user identifiers. We can utilize Google’s signed-in data (Google Developers: getId()), a business’s own identifier for signed-in users (WordPress Developers: get_current_user_id()), or both. Either way, Analytics will always choose the best available option for each situation.
While offering robust, reliable measurements to meet long-term business outcomes, it also conforms to user privacy. Google added a new approach to data controls for businesses to better manage how their Analytics data is collected, retained, and used. They also provide signed-in users the ability to control how they share their activity. If you have not figured it out already, GA4 is specifically designed to adapt to a future without cookies or identifiers. It will soon include conversion modeling which refers to the use of machine learning to quantify the impact of marketing efforts when a subset of conversions cannot be observed.
GA4 is powered by Google’s advanced machine learning that automates and expedites insight discovery generating more value from the data sooner. For instance, if products are seeing a rise in customer demand, these machine learning models automatically generate alerts based on this significant change in the data. It can also help anticipate future actions a customer might take by calculating churn probability – the likelihood a subscription account will not be renewed.
Businesses can successfully act on data insights and accomplish measurable marketing goals based on the information provided by this latest Google Analytics experience. GA4 can effortlessly and intelligently integrate all your data streams to report on how to effectively turn visitors into returning customers. Also, take immediate advantage of the innovations as they come to prepare for the future of the World Wide Web.
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What is the Difference Between GA4 vs. UA?
The new features in Google Analytics 4 versus the existing features in Universal Analytics obviously differ. When development on the new property began, Google Analytics was already 12 years old and in need of an overhaul to become more up-to-date and user-friendly. The table below shows the most important differences between UA properties and GA4 properties:
Universal Analytics Properties
- Measurement: session-based data model
- Reporting: cross-device and cross-platform reporting is limited
- Automation: limited
Google Analytics 4 Properties
- Measurement: flexible event-based data model
- Reporting: full cross-device and cross-platform reporting
- Automation: machine learning throughout to improve and simplify insight discovery
Another key difference is audiences. If a business creates user IDs as described above, GA4 properties can use this data to build audiences based on signed-in users. Other advanced features include Analysis and BigQuery Export. Analysis is a tool with a variety of capabilities such as funnel analysis, path analysis, and exploration to uncover insights. BigQuery Export can export Analytics data to BigQuery to integrate other sources and run queries across all data sets securely stored in the cloud. Or other third-party systems such as Amazon QuickSight.
How GA4 Properties Collect & Process Data vs. UA Properties
As described in the table above, Analytics has a new way to collect and store data. GA4 uses the event-based model to process each user interaction with a website or mobile app as a standalone event. To better understand how this improves the analysis of user behavior, the session-based model utilized by Universal Analytics groups user interactions within a given time frame. In UA properties there are two methods by which a session will end:
- Time-based expiration
- After 30 minutes of inactivity.
- At midnight.
- Campaign change
- A user arrives from one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via another campaign.
The session-based model groups user data into sessions which is the foundation of all reporting. Analytics collects and stores user interactions during a session which include pageviews, events, and eCommerce transactions.
GA4’s event-based model can still see session data; however, Analytics collects and stores user interactions as events. Businesses can immediately analyze button clicks, downloads, or system events. This data could show information such as the value of a purchase, the title of the page a user visited, and their geographic location.
How Identity Spaces Work in GA4 Properties vs. UA Properties
Identity spaces are groups of identifiers Analytics utilizes to understand the customer journey. These are the IDs we assign to users logged into our websites, Google signals, and device ID. As we send data to Analytics, we must constantly assign IDs to our users within our website or mobile app to enable the User-ID feature. Enabling Google signals is as easy as flipping a switch and provides data from users signed into Google. If a Google user has consented to sharing their information, Analytics will associate event data with the Google accounts of signed-in users. Device ID is sort of like Google signals. However, for websites, it comes from the user’s browser, and for apps, it comes from the app-instance ID.
Identity Spaces in GA4 Properties
With GA4 properties, data is processed using all available identity spaces. First, Analytics searches for the User ID, and if it is not found moves on to Google signals. If there is no match there either, it finally relies on the device ID. Analytics then creates a single customer journey from all the data associated with the same identity. This allows us to deduplicate users and tell a more cohesive story about their relationship with our businesses.
Identity Spaces in UA properties
With UA properties, most reporting is heavily dependent on device ID even though some features utilize Google signals. User-ID data is reported separately and does not integrate with other identity spaces. Since these identity spaces are separate, it is complicated to measure our customer journeys across devices and deduplicate users.
How Reporting Now Differs in GA4 Properties vs. UA Properties
When the majority of the reporting comes from one identity space, every time a single customer interacts with our business using different devices they show as multiple users. However, when we use multiple identity spaces, we can gather more insight into our customer’s journey with more robust cross-device and cross-platform reporting.
For the first time ever, Google Analytics can utilize all available identity spaces within GA4 properties. We can now answer questions like:
- How many unique visitors do we have regardless of what platform they use?
- How many conversions have occurred within our mobile app and website within the last month, and which platform is contributing to most of those conversions?
We can also dig a bit deeper by analyzing which users started on our website and then made a purchase within our app, or vice versa.
How Data Retention Settings Differ in GA4 Properties vs. UA Properties
Have you ever heard of Google Analytics Data Retention? It is a way to control the set amount of time before Google removes user-level and event-level data automatically from their Analytics servers. When you upgrade to Google Analytics 4 there are only two choices for retaining your website and mobile app data:
- 2 months
- 14 months
This means that as soon as you upgrade, you begin reporting data for either 2 or 14-month increments within your GA4 property. Your data is effectively deleted every month automatically, and your analytics account either retains 2 months or 14 months’ worth of data. Is it time to say goodbye to year-over-year reporting?
Data Retention for UA Properties
Google implemented data retention back in May 2018 to prepare for Europe’s new data protection law General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They provided users utilizing Universal Analytics properties with a few choices:
- 14 months
- 26 months
- 38 months
- 50 months
- Do not automatically expire
We were obviously given many more options including the ability to never let the data expire. In Google Analytics>Admin>Property>Tracking Info>Data Retention, you can view your user and event data retention settings. For example, we currently have ours disabled with data dating all the way back to March 2015:
Data Retention for GA4 Properties
If you did upgrade to Google Analytics 4, your user interface is obviously slightly different. In Google Analytics>Admin>Property>Data Settings>Data Retention, your screen will look more like this:
Here you will have the ability to choose the event data retention period as well as determine whether to reset user data on new activity. We recommend setting it to 14 months for at least a month-over-month comparison.
Get Ready for Full Integration of Google Analytics 4
There is no longer the option to continue to use Universal Analytics. Come July 1, 2023, it will no longer collect data. In fact, if you want to keep your current data at all you will need to export your files because they will disappear. Fear not though, Google Analytics 4’s new machine learning and A.I. integration will help give you a better look into your customers.
- You gain another property that is built for now and into the future.
- Start implementing an event-based data model for measuring how users interact with your brand, products, or services across all platforms and devices.
- It will also open the ability to perform more custom calculations quickly for your business.
Overall, it makes Analytics more flexible, and scalable. Moreover, it will give you the ability to enable the enhanced measurement feature to measure common web events such as file downloads, scrolls, and video views. If you have a website and an app then you will have the ability to measure individual user behaviors. These include clicks and pageviews on your website, installs and opens on your app, and conversions on either platform. Even better, it will all be in one place.
Go now, and enjoy your new and improved reporting solution! Better yet, check out our analytics services for how we can help you get started.