Read This Before You Switch to Google Analytics 4

September 27th, 2021 by Alison Zeringue

Key Insights

  • A new version of Google Analytics is available and comes with some major changes.
  • The Google Analytics 4 release is the largest update in the last decade or more to Google Analytics. It impacts the way users are tracked and the way their behavior is reported to us as marketers.
  • Google hopes to future proof and improve user analytics by updating to tracking technology that doesn’t rely on browser cookies.
  • Google Analytics 4 includes changes to both reporting and measurement – which are currently still a work-in-progress, by our assessment.

Google Analytics data being displayed on a tablet

There’s no doubt 2020 was a whirlwind for many reasons. Adding to the chaos for digital marketers everywhere, Google snuck in a major update for Google Analytics, with the official rollout of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in late 2020.

Chances are, you probably depend on Google Analytics to understand your website traffic and user experience, track your digital campaigns and make decisions. W3 Techs reports that Google Analytics is used by “86.1% of all the websites whose traffic analysis tool we know.” So, major updates to Google Analytics naturally have sweeping impacts for marketers. Adapting (or not) to the new technology could impact your long-term ability to analyze the success of your marketing.

Google rolls out updates and changes to Google Analytics over time, and in some cases, users continue to track their data with past versions. The GA4 release is the largest update in the last decade or more to Google Analytics. It impacts the way users are tracked and the way their behavior is reported to us as marketers.

We expect websites will be forced into switching at some point. That said, there are considerations to adopting early. On one hand, it’s recommended to begin collecting data via the new technology so that when you are required to switch, your historical data is built out. On the other hand, you don’t want to solely rely on GA4 just yet. This post will review what makes GA4 notable and provide some guidance (in layman’s terms) on whether or not you need to consider switching.

If you’re a developer or looking for a more in-depth technical perspective, check out “Should You Switch To Google Analytics 4” by my colleague David, our resident conversion tracking authority.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 is effectively an entirely new form of Google Analytics which makes “App + Web” configuration standard for all online properties. The foundational metric of reporting has changed from Pageviews within a Session to Events. This means it’s better designed for those who have both an app and website and who want to more seamlessly track and understand individual behavior across those platforms.

How is Google Analytics 4 different from Universal Analytics? What are the key reporting differences?

Usually, Google Analytics updates are just code updates in the background and no change to the reporting user interface. But this update is significantly different.

There are some benefits to the reporting changes, but since GA4 is still a work-in-progress, there are some significant differences that may present challenges to the typical Universal Analytics user. Bounteous covers them in-depth here. Here are a few key points:

  • Reporting dashboard differences
    • No e-commerce reports
    • No available cost data from ads
    • Marketing channels are associated with conversion events rather than visitor sessions
  • Currently, there are very few pre-built reports, filters, and views. For example, you cannot exclude internal traffic.

Should I switch to Google Analytics 4?

The short answer to “Should I switch to Google Analytics 4?” is… maybe. The answer depends largely on what type of web/app properties you have and want to track, among other considerations. Keep in mind that the analytics community as a whole expects there could be significant progress and updates to GA4 as time goes on. GA4 will eventually replace Universal Analytics as the standard, so it is appropriate to be paying attention and considering how you may transition.

So what are the considerations for switching to GA4 now? Here are the things you should consider:

  • Do you have a website and an app?
  • How dependent are you on your current Analytics reporting metrics and data?
  • Do you have the bandwidth to manage the switch, learn and understand the differences in reporting metrics and rework existing reports?
  • Do you work with an outside agency or other third parties on marketing efforts? What do they recommend?
  • Do you use any other application to tie into Google Analytics (like Google Data Studio or a custom reporting dashboard)? If yes, are you prepared to update those connections?

Our recommendations for switching to GA4 now:

  • If you only need to track behavior on a website (not an app), the short-term benefits of transitioning to GA seem insignificant and will likely demand a lot of resources to adjust to the new configurations, reporting, etc.
  • If you want to unify reporting and improve tracking across apps and websites you manage, some of the immediate benefits may make the transition worth your while.

Regardless of which boat you are in, we recommend to track Universal Analytics properties and GA4 properties concurrently for now.

Using a tablet to evaluate Google Analytics data

Can I use both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?

Yes, you can use both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics at the same time, and we recommend it as the immediate option to set you up for a long-term successful transition.

If it excites you to adopt “the new thing” but want to play things safe, you can install both tracking codes and check out the differences yourself. Since these are separate properties, they don’t interfere with one another, and per our testing, we can set up both to work simultaneously without any conflicts.

An important note is that historical data from Universal Analytics will not be available in Google Analytics 4, so you might consider installing it alongside Universal Analytics to begin to collect data in the new landscape.

Do I Have to Switch Now?

If you walk away with nothing else, here’s what I hope you gained from reading this post:

  • It’s new, it’s developing, and we’ll be watching along the way. It’s generally expected that Google will continue to iterate and improve on GA4 in the upcoming year.
  • If your goal is to track both an app and website, an early adoption plan for GA4 is a good idea to explore.
  • You don’t have to switch yet! There’s no risk in setting up GA4 to work concurrently with Universal Analytics and begin collecting data so that you are ready in the future for a transition. In fact, we recommend it.

Do you want advice specific to your situation on Google Analytics 4 or any other tracking and analytics challenges? Reach out to our expert team at Search Influence through our site form and let’s discuss how we can help you begin tracking your website performance accurately!