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Upgrade to GA4 Now or Not?

Back in November 2020 Google announced it’s latest release of Google Analytics – GA4. If you’re using Google Analytics Universal you’ll no doubt have seen a notification bar prompting you to upgrade to GA4. But making a change like this can be quite nerve wracking!

It doesn’t help that there have been loads of clickbait videos urging you to switch over or risk losing your analytics data. To be clear – YOU WILL NOT LOSE ANY DATA (unless you delete your Universal account – and we recommend against that!)

So in the words of a 1980’s classic “should I stay or should I go now…” what should you be doing?

We pondered many ways to phrase this next section, but kept coming back to three questions written by the Analytics Ninja. He covers a lot of in-depth details about GA4 and Google Analytics Universal. We didn’t want to copy his questions – but darn it, they work so well, and summarise the exact things our clients have been saying to us for months! So check out his website for in-depth information about Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, but if you’d like an overview, stay here for a while.

  • Should you upgrade to Google Analytics 4 and ditch Google Analytics Universal?
  • Should you run them both in tandem?
  • Should you stick with only Google Analytics Universal?

It doesn’t help that there have been loads of clickbait videos urging you to switch over or risk losing your analytics data. To be clear – YOU WILL NOT LOSE ANY DATA (unless you delete your Universal account – and we recommend against that!)

What is Google Analytics 4?

Before any decision, its important to understand what you’re considering. Google Analytics 4 or GA4 is the rebranded app+web properties. Google rolled the app+web properties out officially in July 2019. The premise was to enable businesses with both websites and apps to view combined data, or just a website or an app. The few key benefits or features are that it:

  • Uses AI data modelling to fill in the data gaps that your traditional analytics struggled with
  • Focuses on the user journey from first visit through to conversion
  • Is all about the events – this is the main way that it presents data
  • Is created with marketers in mind – providing focus on the entire customer journey rather than individual page visits or segments
  • Auto collects certain events – so no more event tracking page views or page scrolls to name a few
  • Enables cross-domain measurement without the need for extra code
  • Bridges the data gaps that cookie consent is removing. So you see a clearer picture whilst upholding your visitors desire for privacy
  • Allows you to add extra events into the GA4 interface without the need to code events

GA4 vs Google Analytics Universal?

Here in a nutshell are the key differences between the two products. The biggest different for marketers is that none of the reporting interfaces we’re used to seeing exist anymore. So it’s going to be a big learning curve for a lot of us! Google Analytics have created this simple comparison list of the major differences. But here are a few that we’d like to highlight, that have caused us a few headaches over the years: 

  • Page View – this is now captured as an event. So there is no need to add page view code
  • GA4 does not use Event Action, Category or Label. I’ve lost track of the amount of mapping and planning I’ve done over the years to ensure these are consistent. Or the tidying up we’ve had to do to bring them in line
  • Video Interaction. GA4 with auto collect under enhanced measurement video_start, video_progress and video_complete
  • File Downloads. Again under enhanced measurement GA4 will auto collect when someone downloads a file
  • Page scroll – is now captured as standard when the user reaches 90% of vertical depth
  • Integration of web and app in one property – fantastic for seeing users who navigate between them
  • Cross-domain tracking. A great one for larger businesses who have many domain segments
  • Analysis Hub. Only available in Universal to those who could afford GA360, this has now granted up to all users. This one had us excited – it’s like the pivot table part of Google Data Studio within GA. We’ve spent hours playing already!
  • BigQuery Integration. Again a previous premium feature, this is now enabled for free in GA4

The biggest different for marketers is that none of the reporting interfaces we’re used to seeing exist anymore. So it’s going to be a big learning curve for a lot of us!

Should I Upgrade To GA4?

We recommend that you set up your GA4 account now BUT keep your existing Google Analytics Universal account. GA4, whilst out of beta, is still buggy in places. Setting up your GA4 account now has two major benefits (from our POV):

  • With any GA account the day you set it up (or make a change) is the day the data collection starts. If you want to be able to look back within GA4 when it’s 2023 and see YOY data for two years – you need to start collecting it now!
  • Whilst you are learning how to read GA4, you’re going to need to be able to produce your management reports. So buy yourself some learning time and plan in your in-house switch over to meet your own schedule

When Google released Google Analytics Universal in 2012, they still enabled users to sign up for GA Classic for two years. And in fact some companies are still running on GA Classic – though not many! So Google won’t be getting rid of your data anytime soon!

What’s The Best Way To Set Up GA4?

As we recommend running GA4 alongside your existing Google Analytics Universal we’re going to talk you through that set-up. You can have both GA4 and GA Universal running in tandem. They shouldn’t cause each other any problems, but it’s worth noting that they do both use _ga cookie. So we’d recommend, if you haven’t already, that you install Google Tag Manager. This will enable you to set both products up on the same website/app, and importantly when the time comes remove GA Universal with ease. These help files from Google Analytics should walk you through how to set-up GA4 for your website and/or app:

If this is all a bit too much, or you don’t have the time, we can help you with the set-up of your Google Analytics 4 and/or Google Tag Manager.

How Do I Start Using GA4?

We’d recommend that you have a play around with the GA4 data. You have two options depending on your set-up.

  • We’ve set-up both GA4 and Universal on our website. So we look around our GA4 data to see if we can identify similarities to our Universal data set. Note that we’re looking for trends not exact like-for-like
  • We also play around with this handy demo account that Google have set-up. Which enables you to deep dive into larger data sets whilst your own GA4 is building up to speed.

You can also take a look at this “How to Get Started with Google Analytics 4” video from Google Analytics.

Want Further Information or Help with your Analytics?

If you have concerns about upgrading to GA4, or would like your Google Analytics account tidied up, then please book in for a free chat with our team at Kachi Marketing.

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