10 Changes to Google Analytics. The Whys and Hows of Migrating to GA4

Recently, Google announced that in July 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer be available as it will be replaced by the new Google Analytics 4, a next-generation measurement solution. That means that if you still rely on Universal Analytics (UA) for processing your marketing data, you should switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as soon as possible.

Why are they actually implementing those changes to Google Analytics? How is Google Analytics 4 different? And most importantly, what should eCommerce businesses do now? We’ll try to answer these and other questions in this article.

As you read the article, you’ll uncover the following points:

  • what’s new in GA4
  • why you should start migrating right now
  • how to migrate to GA4 step by step

Read on.

Google Analytics Update. What’s New in GA4?

Google Analytics 4 is an advanced cookie-less tracking tool. It is designed to let businesses analyze user journeys across both sites and apps and leverage a more flexible and advanced approach to data processing. Improved data collection will enable companies to make analysis more meaningful and develop and implement better-informed strategies.

One of the main Google Analytics’ changes is that GA4 offers a completely new logic of data collection. In UA, data is collected based on page views, while in GA4, it’s built around events. This allows for a better understanding of how users communicate with the website or app.

Let’s have a look at the most important changes to Google Analytics in more detail so that you can make the most of it, boost SEO in Magento, improve your strategy, and skyrocket your business.

Google Analytics new features1. A New Reporting Interface

A huge variety of reports and tools makes Universal Analytics rather challenging and complex, especially for new users. The interface of the new Google Analytics 4 is way more simple, flexible, and intuitive. The main Google Analytics update is that reports display aggregated information from the site and iOS/Android apps.

You should also be ready to view another set of reports and metrics than that you got accustomed to. They have either been replaced or removed. And you won’t see many reports as you start working with GA4 because you need to start tracking events to generate those reports.

The new Google Analytics 4 reporting interface has 5 sections:

  • Lifecycle. Here you can find all the information about where visitors come from, how they behave, how the website or app is monetized, and how the data is stored. This section involves 4 types of reports to understand your customer’s activity from acquisition to conversion — Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention.
  • User. The Demographics report provides information on user behavior for all countries and each country in particular. The Tech report contains information about the devices, browsers, and operating systems of users who have interacted with your website or app.
  • Events. This section collects all information about events and conversions.
  • Explore. Here you can create custom reports. There is a template gallery where you can build your own report in the form of a dashboard with the necessary information.
  • Configure. This is where you find all the tools you need to create a new audience, attribute users and audiences based on them, and configure access rights. This section also includes DebugView which lets you check the correctness of data transfer of special parameters, metrics, and user properties, as well as detect errors in various tracking settings in real time.

GA4 new interface

As you see, the new menu structure is focused on the customer path and events that you track as customers browse your website.

2. Less Reliance on Cookies

Another significant Google Analytics update is that GA4 is designed to operate across platforms and no longer relies on device-based cookies. It uses an event-based data model instead and offers more intelligent data tracking due to leveraging machine learning and AI. That means you won’t lose valuable data when people refuse cookie files.

3. Improved Overview of the Typical Customer Journey

Among other changes to Google Analytics, there’s an outstanding capability to bring together data about your customer’s journey from various devices. Cross-device tracking lets you get a unified view of how your potential client interacts with your brand.

Previously, tracking mobile devices was challenging. Google Analytics users had to leverage a certain version to track mobile apps, namely Google Analytics for Firebase. Putting the data together was a nightmare for many business owners. With GA4, you no longer have this problem and can track everything within a single platform.

Besides, a prospect can discover your company on their work PC, then browse through your product catalog on their smartphone while commuting, and finally, make a purchase on their home laptop. By using Universal Analytics, you’ll see three sessions with one conversion. With the new Google Analytics 4, you’ll be able to see all those journey stages as a whole.

By having a better understanding of where your customers get to know your brand, where they browse through a product catalog, and where they make a purchase, you’ll be able to allocate your marketing budget wisely.

Also, with the help of GA4’s Demographics report, you’ll be able to see how people from different locations interact with your eCommerce website. This data can help you identify potentially profitable locations and tailor site content and marketing campaigns for visitors from your target area.

4. A Unified Data Model

In Universal Analytics, reports were based on sessions and pageviews, mostly analyzing the number of visits to a particular page, login page, which URL was used for the conversion, etc.

To unify the data that comes from different devices, Google Analytics changes the way it analyzes this data. It got rid of the traditional page views, social interactions, transactions, etc. and unified those under a single concept — “event”. Now, any interaction is considered an event — a page view, an app view, a screen view, etc.

5. Predictive Analytics

Google’s machine learning capabilities have advanced a lot in recent years. Today, changes to Google Analytics allow you to predict your customers’ future behavior. Based on machine learning algorithms and structured event data, Google Analytics 4 allows you to measure the progress to conversions. It supports the following predictive metrics:

  • Purchase probability
  • Churn probability
  • Predicted revenue

Look at the image below to learn what each of them means.

Google Analytics New Features: Predictive analysis

Why is this data significant? By putting together these insights and your own projected data, you’ll be able to get a clearer picture of your eCommerce storefront’s performance in the coming weeks. Hence, you get a chance to be more agile with your marketing budget and launch the right campaigns.

6. Streamlined Audience Building

Google Ads integration was one of the first Google Analytics Updates introduced for GA4. An improved customer tracking algorithm implies enhanced audience creation for better paid campaign results.

Imagine your customer learns about your brand through a Google Ad on their desktop and then makes a purchase (i.e., converts) through a Shopping Ad for a specific product on their tablet sometime later. With Universal Analytics that relies on cookies, it would be difficult to track this type of journey as its stages were completed on different devices. Cookieless Google Analytics 4 allows you to “stitch” the journey together and analyze it cohesively.

Moreover, due to changes to Google Analytics, it lets you create audiences from specific groups and then target them with custom offers. For instance, you can create an audience based on the group of customers who have viewed a certain product category but haven’t completed their purchase. And this audience won’t include people who actually made their purchase on other devices. This ensures you won’t spend your budget in vain.

7. A New Approach to Measuring Customer Engagement

Universal Analytics would typically provide you with a bounce rate, i.e., the percentage of single-page sessions with no interaction with the page. For example, a customer visited your site, reviewed the home page content for a few minutes but then left without clicking any links or triggering any event recorded as an “interaction event”. Such a session with a duration of 0 seconds counts as a bounce.

With changes to Google Analytics, the approach is different. Instead of just giving you the bounce rate, GA4 offers you a positive engagement rate, which is a percentage of engaged sessions. An engaged session is one that lasts over 10 seconds, involves at least one conversion event or at least two pageviews or screenviews.

With a new “Engaged sessions” metric, you can learn more about what kinds of interactions made a customer stay on your website. And what’s most important, app users are included in the report. They are very likely to stay on a page and make meaningful interactions. With over 6 billion mobile users worldwide, those are valuable insights to make smart business decisions.

8. Creating Custom Funnels

Previously, custom funnels were only available for Google Analytics 360 Suite, a premium analytics platform. With Google Analytics changes, this feature is available to all users of the platform. The custom funnels functionality enables you to gain powerful insights into how your purchase funnel works and which stage is the weakest. These insights can then be used to enhance the customer experience at a specific stage and to create lists for paid remarketing campaigns.

9. Exporting Data to Google BigQuery

For a more profound data analysis, Google Analytics 4 allows you to export your raw data to BigQuery. The connection between GA4 and Google BigQuery lets you perform an in-depth analysis of customer interactions and business performance. With this functionality, you can:

  • Combine your data from GA4 with data obtained from other sources
  • Easily visualize your data
  • Use the data from Google Analytics as input for building machine learning models

10. Tracking Mobile App Events

Universal Analytics requires you to use separate properties to track customer behavior across your website and app. Google Analytics 4 allows you to track mobile events in the same property as your site. This enables you to have a comprehensive overview of what customers use each property for and allocate your resources correspondingly.

I’ve Got a Year Ahead. Why Should I Care Now?

Although there are almost 6 million GA4 users worldwide, some business owners tend to postpone their upgrading to Google Analytics 4. However, the time left before Universal Analytics stops working is not that long. First of all, for a technical reason. GA4 won’t import your historical data. It will only collect and process data once you have implemented the code. It’s just impossible to migrate your previous data from UA to GA4 since they are based on different data models. So the sooner you migrate, the more data you’ll have at your disposal.

Besides, by starting your GA4 upgrade now, you get enough time in reserve to get acquainted with the new interface, so you’ll feel more comfortable and confident with Google Analytics Updates.

4 Key GA4 Transition Steps

Now that you see what benefits you can reap from migrating to GA4, it’s time to learn how to switch to Google’s new analytics solution. Here are the four steps you should take for the successful GA4 transition.

Step 1. Create a Google Analytics 4 Property

Go to the “Property” section and choose “GA4 Setup Assistant”. Then, create a new Google Analytics 4 property. A window will pop up notifying you about what to expect.

Creating a new GA4 property

Step 2. Set up the Property

Now that your property has been created, it’s time to set it up. At this step, you want to add the GA4 tag. If you had UA installed via the gtag.js version of the tracking code on your website, then you’ll be able to automatically send data to your Google Analytics 4 property without making any changes. If you’re using Google Tag Manager (GTM), you’ll need to install a new tag:

  1. Click the “Tag installation” option.
  2. Choose the data stream.
  3. Copy the tracking ID of your new GA4 property
  4. Go to GTM to create the new tag.
  5. In the “Tag Configuration” section, choose “Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration”.
  6. Enter the ID in the “Measurement ID” field.
  7. Select “All Pages” in the “Triggering” section to add the GA4 tag to every page of your site and name the tag.
  8. Save the tag.

Step 3. Check Whether It Works

Now, you want to preview the tag to check whether it fires correctly on your site. Enter your website URL and choose “Connect”. Then go back to Tag Assistant and ensure the new GA4 tag has fired along with the existing Universal Analytics tag.

Google Analytics 4 Tag

Step 4. Publish the Tag

Once you’ve tested the tags and verified they’re firing properly, publish them by clicking “Submit” and then “Publish”.

Congrats on a successful GA4 transition! Now you’re running a Google Analytics 4 property, and soon your data will start coming in. These are the basics of your GA4 transition. However, you can now go back to the Admin area to configure your new property further. Some additional setting options include:

  • Configuring the “Enhanced measurement” functionality
  • Activating Google signals
  • Connecting the Google Ads account
  • Setting up conversions
  • etc.

Wrapping Up

Google Analytics 4 is the next step in analytics development. It’s up to you whether to make this next step now. However, upgrading to Google Analytics 4 seems inevitable anyway. On the other hand, we don’t think anyone’s going to deny the noticeable Google Analytics new features of the new solution, such as cross-device and cross-platform tracking, enhanced customer journey tracking, improved data visualization, predictive analytics, and much more.

You still have some time before Universal Analytics’ expiration. However, we strongly recommend that you begin your GA4 upgrade now and start gathering data immediately. The more data you’ll have at your disposal, the stronger the tool’s predictive power will be and,  consequently, the more successful your marketing efforts will be.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Google Analytics 4 property?

A Google Analytics 4 property is a new kind of property that has been the default GA experience since October 2020. It offers different reports and is based on a completely new data collection logic.

How often does Google Analytics update?

Data updates every 24-48 hours. For standard accounts sending over 200,000 sessions per day, the reports will be refreshed once a day. If the number of sessions is less than 200,000, then there’s an opportunity to enjoy intra-day processing.

Why should I upgrade to Google Analytics 4 now?

GA4 won’t import your historical data. It will only collect and process data once you have implemented the code. It’s just impossible to migrate your previous data from UA to GA4 since they are based on different data models. So the sooner you migrate, the more data you’ll have at your disposal.

Which is better: Google Analytics 4 or Universal Analytics?

Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics rely on completely different data collection models. GA4 is event-based while Universal Analytics is based on page views. Google Analytics 4 offers a number of outstanding features such as cross-device and cross-platform tracking, enhanced customer journey tracking, improved data visualization, predictive analytics, and much more. All of those features make GA4 a stronger competitor than UA.

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