You may have heard the news or seen the notification that Universal Analytics is going away… and it is. Which means eventually you’re going to have to switch to Google Analytics 4. On today’s episode, I’m sharing the biggest differences to expect and my recommendations for when and how to make the switch.
If you logged into Google Analytics lately, you’ve likely seen the notification that Universal Analytics is going to stop processing data in July 2023 and that we’re all going to have to make the switch to GA4.
Now, GA4 has been around for a while and it was only a matter of time before they retired Universal Analytics + sadly the time has come.
In today’s episode, we’re going to walk through some of the biggest differences between Universal Analytics and G4 so you know what to look out for and I’m going to share my best advice for how and when you should make the switch.
Before we get into those details, if you own the Google Analytics Crash Course or you’re a Lounge member, the first installment of the GA4 updates will be available in your course portal this week – I. will send an update as soon as it’s ready.
If you’re not a member of the Google Analytics Crash Course but you want to be, because I’ll be updating the course with new GA4 content over the next few months, you can snag that on my website right now! You’ll find the direct link in the show notes or you can DM me the word data on Instagram and I’ll send it right to you.
By the way, when you DM me, you’ll be able to see ManyChat in action which we talked about on episode 109, I’ll also leave a link to that episode in the show notes.
And one more note before we dive in.
We’re not going into every last detail about GA4, this episode was created to give you a high-level overview of what to expect and what to do next. And even though we’re just scratching the surface, it probably won’t all make sense to you right away. You might have to listen to this episode multiple times. You may feel overwhelmed and confused when you start reading your data in GA4. This is all to be expected. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Even the data people don’t have it all figured out just yet.
Just soak it in, stay until the end when I’m going to give you my recommendation on your next steps and remember that in the end, it will all be worth it.
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Why is Google Analytics Retiring Universal Analytics for Google Analytics 4
The simple answer is that Universal Analytics is outdated. And as the internet, the way people use it and privacy has changed, GA4 is Google’s way of giving you a better tool to run your business. So while change sucks… believe me I feel you. I’ve been using the Google Analytics we know and love for a decade (damn that sounds like a long time) and the idea of learning something new is just annoying to be honest, I promise… just like with most things, that once you get the hang of it, you’re probably going to love it.
GA4 was built with one main overarching goal in mind… to measure a single user journey across multiple devices and platforms.
The Problem with Last-Click Attribution in Universal Analytics
If you’ve been hanging with me for a while, you may have heard me talk about the importance of the assisted conversion report in Universal Analytics. This is the report that shows you how all of your marketing channels contribute to your overall business performance. Because Universal Analytics tracks conversion with last-click attribution, if someone goes to your website from Instagram, then signs up for your email list and makes a purchase after you send them an email… in Universal Analytics it will look as if Instagram is not generating any revenue… when in reality if the customer didn’t find you on Instagram they may never have made a purchase at all.
GA4’s goal is to eliminate, or at least lessen this disjointed data that makes it difficult for you to see how your customers interact with your brand and which marketing channels are contributing to your overall success.
So… how are they doing this?
By measuring, unifying, and de-duplicating data across devices and platforms AND adding in machine learning to fill in gaps that data privacy and other measurement struggles leave in your data.
For instance… if you have a website and an app, in Universal Analytics you would have to track and look at this data completely separately. In GA4, you will be able to unify this data and in theory see how your customers use both platforms when interacting with your brand.
How Google Analytics 4 Will Track Users
There are 3 main ways that it identifies someone while they’re browsing the internet. And GA4 will automatically choose the most reliable tracking method available.
First they will look for User IDs. These are IDs that are sent by your website. And a user has to be signed into your account for this data to be available.
Unfortunately I am not sure if this is something Shopify is going to do. I sure would hope so but we’ll have to wait until they release their GA4 compatible integration to find out.
Second, are google signals. This is available if the user is signed into their Google account while they’re browsing the web.
These will have to be turned on when you set up your GA4 account. And I definitely recommend that you do turn these on. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty much always signed into my google account when I’m browsing the web. even though I have multiple accounts all of my web searches happen under my main account so any website that are using these are gonna know all they need to know about me.
And third, is device ID. This is essentially what they use now and unfortunately will be cleared if someone clears their browser cookies.
One note about the tracking methods. In one presentation I watched they mentioned that GA4 would use anonymized IP addresses to track users as well, though I didn’t see that mentioned in Google’s documentation at all.
Using IP addresses would definitely help with cross-device tracking, like if I’m on my home internet and start browsing your website on my phone and then ultimately make my purchase on my computer. And, tracking through an IP address isn’t affected by clearing cookies… but like I said – I’m not 100% sure if that’s really gonna be a thing.
And then of course, you have their machine learning. As mentioned, the goal here is to fill in the gaps that these other tracking methods leave behind, so it’ll be really interesting to see how this all plays out.
How GA4 Will Report Data: Events vs. Sessions
In addition to the change is how they track data is how they report it. In Universal Analytics a session was the base metric that everything was reported on, but that will no longer be the case. GA4 is based on event tracking. Automatically tracked events include things like page views, purchases, first-user visit, and even video views. (If it’s an embedded YouTube video)
And these events will have sessions and page views attached to them. This is called enhanced measurement and something you’ll have to turn on when you set up your account.
In addition to the event that are automatically tracked, you can also create custom events just like you can in Universal analytics.
I’m not going to get into all the details of the events on this episode, but know that because of this your Universal Data to Your GA4 data will not match up 1:1. And when you transition from one platform to the other, you’ll likely notice what looks like a dip in traffic and an increase in engagement. You’re not really losing traffic though, it’s just that it’s being tracked more accurately. This one is definitely going to take a little getting used to at first.
How is GA4 Handling Privacy Concerns for GDPR?
Yes, users can still choose to opt-out of tracking and the goal of GA4 is that the machine learning will fill in those gaps too. Additionally, if you do have to comply with GDPR there is also consent mode that you can turn on where they have to opt-in to tracking. I’m not a privacy professional so please inquire with one if you need more information about this. One thing to note though is in some cases, being a small business does exempt you from certain laws and requirements. So definitely ask about that.
How Attribution in GA4 Will Be Different Than What You’re Used to in Universal Analytics
The other big change that is coming with GA4 is the attribution. And this my friends, is going to be a game-changer when it comes to understanding how your marketing is contributing to your business. So, in Universal Analytics, as I mentioned earlier in the episode, currently tracks conversion based on a last-click attribution model. And sure, they have some tools where you can compare different attribution models in there, but their main measurement is based on last click.
Well in GA4 you will actually have the option to choose your attribution model and one of those options is fractional – where Google will actually assign the weight of attribution for you. Pretty snazzy. Now, many super-advanced marketers are probably going to want to assign the weights on their own, and they probably already do – but for 99.9% of you letting Google do the work for you is gonna be just fine.
What makes this so game-changing is that now you’re going to have a lot more visibility into how all of your marketing channels are performing. No more guessing whether or not you should bother posting on Instagram, or Pinterest, or Facebook, etc. You’re going to be able to see those numbers a lot more clearly which is going to make your job easier and ultimately make you a better marketer.
The Google Analytics 4 Interface Will Be Different Than You're Used To
The other thing that is changing between the two platforms is the actual interface. There are fewer tabs, which can be good or bad depending on how your brain works and some reports that you’re used to seeing aren’t going to be there anymore. But don’t worry, in most cases, you can build those reports out through their explorations – which honestly is just a fancy word for custom reports.
How Long Will GA4 Keep Your Data For?
If you’ve been a Universal Analytics user, then you know that it stores your data forever and ever. You can go back 10 years and look at your data in Google Analytics. But in GA4… you’re capped out at storing 14 months of data. And by default it’s even shorter than that. So you’ll have to increase it to 14 months in your settings when you create your account.
Now, if you do want to keep your data longer than that you’ll have to get in the habit of downloading it. You’ll still have CSV export options available to you. And you can even hook it up to Google Sheets which makes it really easy.
Why You'll Want to Periodically Download Your Data from GA4
So here’s the thing. With how fast the online world and customer behavior changes, 10 year old data isn’t really actionable. But 14 months does feel a smidge short to me. One agency owner I watched a presentation from said they don’t generally take action on any data that’s older than 15 months. And apparently they have a pretty tight relationship with Google and did ask them to extend it, we’ll see what happens.
But still, even 15 months isn’t quite enough data for me. And if you asked me this question at the beginning of 2020 I might have had a different answer, but when you think of the pandemic and how that affected eCommerce businesses… if you can’t see your numbers from before an event like that I don’t think you’re getting the full picture.
Sure, lots of businesses are still. up and growing since their pandemic spurt, but in some instances they haven’t and that doens’t mean their business is any less viable, it just means that customer behavior is changing again. So if you only had those pandemic numbers to look like you could feel like total shit about your business, or be using inflated unrealistic data to make business decisions.
All that to say, I do recommend that you download your data along with tracking it outside of the platform and keep really good notes along the way. When you see peaks and valleys in your data you want to remember why that happened. You want to be able to see seasonal patterns, and 14 months of data just isn’t enough for that.
For instance, I had a client recently who launched a new website. And right after the launch all of her KPIs started dipping from where they were at the beginning of the year and we were concerned it was an issue on the website. And sure, there are a few things that are getting fixed and updated right now, but when we went back and looked at her business over the last 3 years, it was following the EXACT SAME PATTERN is has over those 3 years. But if we only had 14 months of data, we wouldn’t have been able to see that pattern and may have spent way to much time trying to diagnose what the issue was vs. getting prepared for the next peak that was around the corner.
When Should You Create Your GA4 Account
Well, as soon as you get a chance I want you to go and create a GA4 account if you don’t already have one. You can find tutorials online of how to install it, you. will have to copy and paste a snippet of code to your Shopify theme code.
Know that right now all you’re going to be tracking is traffic, because Shopify hasn’t updated their GA integration to be compatible with GA4 which is the same for most platforms right now.
But, it’s better to start tracking now, so that by the time you have to fully make the switch you already have a significant amount of data. Universal analytics is retiring in July of 2023, so if you do this now, you’ll have a year’s worth of data to start with.
When you create the account, make sure you turn on Google Signals, Enhanced measurement and you extend your data collection to 14 months.
What to Keep in Mind When You Install Google Analytics 4
A few things to note. You will run GA4 in parallel to your Universal Analytics account. They are completely separate platforms and will not duplicate your data. Do not remove your Universal Analytics account.
Once you’ve got that set up, I want you to continue using Universal Analytics through the end of this year. GA4 is not advanced enough for eCommerce businesses and going into the back half of the year you don’t need to be worried about learning something new. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.
If you don’t already have my Google Analytics crash course, go buy it right now. The initial content is about Universal Analytics yes, but one it’s still valuable and will make your transition to GA4 a lot smoother because many of the concepts are still the same, and 2 I’ll be updating it over time with new content to teach you how to use and read GA4. The first installment of that will be out this week.
And then, depending on how much data you have and what you want to save, I set aside some time to start saving that.
And then lastly, as I mentioned already… your data from Universal Analytics to GA4 is not going to be 1:1. You’re not trying to upload your data from UA to GA4, you’re not migrating… if you hear someone say that word ignore them… it’s a transition not a migration.
Do the bare minimum right now to start collecting data and then put it on your to-do list for Q1 to start learning GA4 so that by the time Universal Analytics is retired in July you are fully onboarded to GA4.
Oh… and then keep your ears peeled for when Shopify releases their integration. They’re on it and I hope it comes out this year. Once it’s available I’ll be sure to let you know, but you’ll likely get an email from them when it’s ready.