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25th June 2023 - Chris Regan

Google Analytics 4 Explained

If you’re familiar with Google Analytics and have looked at your dashboard at any point in the last 6 months, then you should have heard about Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Google Analytics 4 is the latest website analytic platform that Google has launched, and from July 2023, Google will sunset Universal Analytics (UA), forcing you to change to GA4.

Google Analytics 4

What is GA4?

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google's popular analytics platform. It was released in October 2020 and is built to be more privacy-focused and flexible.

Some of the key features of GA4 include:

Ultimately, Google Analytics 4 is a newer version of Google Analytics. While it differs from Universal Analytics, it offers the basic website analytical data you need to track users, page visits and conversions.

What’s the difference between GA4 and UA?

The main difference between the two analytical platforms is how they track and recognise a hit. GA4 uses event-based data, where every interaction is classed as an event. UA has various hit types, such as page views, events, social, and transactions. These are now all classed as events in GA4.

GA4 now also allows you to track users across apps and websites; this wasn’t possible in UA, as web and app users would be tracked under separate properties.

Google claim that GA4 focuses on providing more data throughout the full lifecycle of a customer journey, including engagement, monetisation and retention.

Why are they forcing the change?

In March 2022, Google announced they’ll be sunsetting UA, meaning their only analytical offering is GA4. This will come into effect from 1st July 2023. If you wish to continue using Google Analytics, you must migrate to GA4.

The official reason Google has claimed to be behind shutting down UA is to focus all their efforts on the GA4 product.

The main reason behind this decision relates to changes in privacy laws globally. Starting with European Union’s GDPR law in 2017, privacy on the web has been changing globally. Several high-profile court rulings across Europe have ruled the use of UA unlawful on certain websites.

To remain GDPR compliant, websites must ask for the user's consent before using Google Analytics. This makes the software less effective and more difficult to implement, relying on other third-party software to manage the consent. To add to the complexity of this, the laws are different globally, meaning it’s different rules for different audiences of your website.

GA4 anonymises the data by focus on events and not users, and it doesn’t record the user's IP address meaning it’s not the personal data that it’s collecting. On top of this, for EU websites, the data is stored within the EU and not transferred back to US servers which, due to US laws for of transferring data to government offices, also breaches GDPR.

If you want to continue using Google Analytics, you must use GA4 before the 1st of July deadline to ensure you have no cut-off in your data.

Google has created a setup assistant to guide you through the process, which imports as many settings as possible from UA, but a fair bit of work still needs to be done.

You’ll also need to spend some time learning the GA4 platform, as there is a huge difference between UA. Some metrics you may be used to seeing and monitoring, such as average session length and bounce rate, will no longer be available.

The biggest problem you’ll face for your website is there isn’t a way to migrate data from UA to GA4. UA does allow you to export any data you need to save, but you’ll need to find a way to manage this going forward, as access through UA will be removed at some point.

Final Thoughts

To summarise, Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics, which will stop tracking data from the 1st of July, 2023. You can migrate to GA4 before to ensure you continue to track data.

Your historical data from UA can’t be migrated to GA4, but you’ll continue to have access to that in UA for a short period. During that time, you’ll need to find a way to manage the data you want to export.

This change is being made to make Google Analytics compliant with changing privacy laws worldwide.

References

Google Universal Analytics Sunset Annoucement

UA breaching GDPR

Chris Regan

About the Author

Chris Regan

Chris is the Managing Director and Founder of Arriba. With a degree in web development and over 10-years of experience in the SEO industry, Chris is an expert in all aspects of user-experience and technical SEO.

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