Google Analytics 4: Why you need to switch now

October 28, 2022 | Maciej Franas, Data Consultant and Thomas Danniau, Solution Lead

Blog

No way you can avoid it: the sunset of Universal Analytics (UA) is approaching and before you know it, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be high in the sky. Yet, the lion's share of companies is not prepared for this big change. If businesses want to keep using Google's stack, they will have to switch from UA to GA4, whether they like it or not. We are here to tell you that it will have numerous benefits for your data collection and reporting. But it needs to happen now.

The sooner you implement GA4, the better. Why? As of July 1, 2023, it will no longer be possible to measure data within your current (Universal) Analytics account. You will however still be able to access your previously processed data for at least six months as Google has yet to confirm the date when existing UA properties will no longer be available.

Update: For enterprise customers, the Universal Analytics 360 properties’ sunset date will be postponed until July 1, 2024.

Nevertheless, time is running short. This hassle can easily be prevented by implementing GA4 and exporting your historical data now. A correct implementation will enable you to take ownership of your data and test and compare your new GA4 data collection to your historical UA data. 

10 things we like about GA4

1. The event-driven data model

Let’s take a moment to talk about GA4’s new data model. While the new interface might look identical to the older version, the underlying data structure has completely changed. Under the hood, GA4 is a different technology that processes your website data in an entirely different manner. This new “motor” makes GA4 faster and more accurate than its predecessor.

GA4 adopted the “event-driven” data model. Every single interaction is now an event. Every time a user interacts with a website or an app, it can be measured concurrently or independently from a webpage/screen load. A page view, button click, and scroll are all examples of events in GA4.

The event setup consists of a combination of automatically tracked events and custom events according to your specific needs. Once the events are properly set up, you will be able to use them as your personal LEGO blocks when building custom reports. 

2. Focus on user related metrics

Previously, in UA, everything was based on sessions. Today, however, people send data via numerous devices, such as smartwatches, game consoles, thermostats, and even their fridges. Therefore, it has become of paramount importance to focus on the user and the events connected to that user rather than just sessions on desktop for instance. Why? Because it is very likely that a user can now continue browsing on another device from the same point where they left off. The journey of a user does no longer consist of mere pageviews but has evolved into a series of interactions across different devices and platforms. GA4 provides an innovative way of collecting that eclectic information. 

3. Combine web and app data

GA4’s event-based model enables you to combine mobile and web data. If you manage both a website and a mobile application, GA4 will give you the ability to roll up your data into one single property. Your users will no longer be fragmented in different platforms and devices, but will be combined into one dataset, giving you a better view of the bigger picture.

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4. Privacy centric

GA4 has been engineered to comply with future regulations about data privacy. In recent years, the internet has begun taking steps toward a cookieless world. As the collection and sharing of data becomes more regulated, GA4 offers a way to fill in the information gap by using machine learning.

5. Working with customer data in a compliant way

Google claims that their new analytics platform is “privacy centric” and will be able to adapt to future cookie regulations. This means that you are now able to easily track completely anonymized interactions, i.e. "logging" properties. User properties describe segments of your user base, such as language preference or geographic location.

Having an event-based data model, GA4 allows tracking anonymous hits which data analysts can later display in aggregated form - that is, if a user declines tracking. 

Lastly, GA4 gives you the option to delete specific users from your database. This accommodates “The Right to be Forgotten”, an official European GDPR regulation. This is a huge step forward, since you were forced to delete entire time-intervals in UA when personal information was detected.

Drawing on Whiteboard

6. The Explorations hub

The Explorations hub is probably the most useful new feature in GA4 as it enables you to create your own custom reports and visualizations. It was first introduced as an exclusive feature in Google 360 but has been made available for all users in GA4.

When you look at the template gallery of the Explorations hub, you might recognize some familiar techniques that are available in the standard reports in UA. With GA4 you now have access to all those techniques in the Exploration hub and they can be used to recreate those reports. This is especially useful since many of those standard reports in UA will no longer be available. Most importantly, like Google Datastudio reports, you can use the Explorations hub to create custom reports that answer questions unique to your business

7. New features

A new feature is the “elapsed time” option. In GA4 you can measure how long it takes between any user interaction. Before, you could only track how long it took for your users to get from one page to another. When we take the example of a client's one-page checkout, this new feature allows you to track how long users took on average to complete certain checkout steps and break this down per device type.

One of the coolest new funnel features in GA4 is definitely the “trended funnel” option. Before, it was impossible to see how your funnel evolved over time. Now, you can view your funnel over a certain period and see how the relationship between steps evolves. An interesting feature with plenty of use cases.

One more important detail: you can create every report ad hoc! You do not need any prior setup when creating your funnels or path analyses. If your event structure is properly configured, you can explore your data in the most efficient and flexible way possible.

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8. Sampled data

The new technology behind GA4 provides standard reports that are always unsampled. For many setups, this is probably one of the main drivers for GA4.

In Universal Analytics (UA), you were often confronted with reports that contain sampled data and it was crucial to have access to accurate data to make the right decisions. By switching to GA4, you will be able to view reports without any data being left out.

Bear in mind: GA4 data is not foolproof. Because you can combine a multitude of dimensions and metrics, the reports that you create in the Explorations hub with enormous amounts of data are sometimes prone to sampled data. It is unavoidable that you will need extra computing power when working with big data sets. This is where BigQuery comes into play.

9. BigQuery

BigQuery is a serverless data warehouse inside Google Cloud Platform. Simply put, it is a database that can handle a vast amount of data managed by Google. This implies that you do not need to worry about any of the underlying hardware or software. From our point of view, BigQuery gives us total freedom to handle huge data sets in a super-fast way to structure and analyze them.

GA4 provides a free BigQuery connector and gives you access to all your raw data. Previously, only GA360 users could integrate their Analytics with Google BigQuery. While it can be quite technical and complex, BigQuery can also be used to gain simple insights of smaller data sets. 

With some basic SQL knowledge, you can explore your data on the most granular level. Furthermore, you can delete, transform and manipulate your data in almost any way imaginable.

We recommend linking your GA4 data to BigQuery as soon as possible. While you might not aspire to create a data warehouse today, you will lay the foundations for when you decide to unlock the potential of all your raw website data. If you set it up from the get-go, you will start collecting data in the warehouse only from the moment of setup. There is no possibility as of now to transfer historical data.

Connecting GA4 to BigQuery is only the tip of the iceberg. It could be a first step towards a marketing data warehouse that consists of multiple data sources. You can easily integrate CRM data or other data sources within BigQuery or Google Cloud. The combination of multiple insights will create a broader perspective and enable you to make decisions based on marketing intelligence.

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10. Machine learning

Machine learning is the application of artificial intelligence that enables programs to automatically learn and improve themselves based on past experience (data) without being explicitly programmed.

GA4 has integrated machine learning into its new system in various ways. Consequently, GA4 offers insights that are more customer-centric and are not fragmented by device or platform. It also provides automatically generated insights based on what GA4 believes is most valuable for the end user. Further, you can experiment and play with the “analytics intelligence” in the search bar that is present in GA4. Here you can literally type out your business question and Google will give you a (pretty) accurate answer.

Questions related to Google Analytics 4 and collecting data

1. What if I take no further action?

If you take no further action after the sunset of Universal Analytics, visitor statistics will no longer be collected for your website as of July 1, 2023. After this date, however, you will still have access to your previously processed data in your Universal Analytics property for at least six months.  

Update: For enterprise customers, the Universal Analytics 360 properties’ sunset date will be postponed until July 1, 2024.

2. Does GA4 have any limitations or drawbacks?

If you are familiar with UA, you will probably miss a few reports and functionalities. E.g.

  • A lot of the standard reports do not exist out-of-the-box
  • You cannot create views to isolate sub domains or country-level traffic in the free version
  • Some features are still in BETA (e.g., data API)
  • You cannot migrate historical data from UA to GA4
  • GA4 needs more configuration from the start
  • ...

To summarize, yes, there are some drawbacks, but for every limitation there is a workaround. However, you need to look at GA4 as a new solution instead of an upgrade of UA. For every new solution, there is a certain learning curve and implementation cost that you need to overcome. Once you understand the advantages of GA4, you will notice that it creates new insights and opens a lot of new doors. 

3. Is it mandatory to switch to GA4?

Obviously, you are not required to switch from Universal Google Analytics to Google Analytics 4. There are many alternative and powerful solutions to measure behavioral data (such as Matomo, Amplitude, Snowplow, Segment, ...). It is recommendable to have a clear definition of your needs and requirements before you decide. In fact, now is a good time to evaluate your marketing technology stack in general because Google Analytics is usually well integrated in your existing solution architecture and new technologies can easily overlap in features.  

4. How do I make sure I use data in a compliant way with the new GA4?

First and foremost, Google Analytics 4 collects data in a different way compared to Universal Analytics. Nonetheless, you still need to roll out a clear strategy on managing qualitative customer data correctly. Organizations need to make a critical assessment of the analytical tools they use and consider alternatives. In our blog article about Working with customer data you will learn how to take control of your data in a compliant way.

Have you set up GA4 yet?


Are you slightly lost when it comes to setting up your GA4 property? Are you not convinced this is the right solution for your business? Or do you want to learn more about working with customer data in a compliant way? Feel free to reach out, we would love to help.

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