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About a year ago, Google announced Google Analytics 4, a brand-new version of Google Analytics. This overhaul of Google Analytics leverages machine learning to surface valuable insights for digital marketers. It also gives them a better understanding of their audiences across devices. And it’s designed to adjust to industry privacy changes like restrictions on cookies that would otherwise create gaps in Google Analytics data.

If you’re interested in switching to Google Analytics 4 but you’ve been waiting for the right time to transition to it, we’re offering a breakdown of its features and advice on when you should switch.

Need assistance implementing Google Analytics 4 on your website? Get in touch.

We’ll help you smoothly transition to GA4 so you can continue tracking the metrics that matter, and take advantage of all its great new features. 

What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a completely new version of Google Analytics. It uses an event-driven data model instead of the session-based model used by Universal Analytics. So instead of collecting different data types (Pageview hits, Event hits, Ecommerce hits, etc.) and tying them all together through the session, the event-driven model collects all data in the same Event data type. Collecting the same data type allows more flexibility and ease with connecting data points together.

What Are the Key Differences between Universal Analytics and GA4?

There are some major differences between Universal Analytics and GA4. Here are some important ones:

  • Universal Analytics heavily relies on sampling due to data limits. GA4 currently has little to no sampling, which means your data will be more accurate.
  • GA4 is much more reliable in preventing spam data from disrupting your analytics.
  • Universal Analytics relies on cookies to identify a user while GA4 first looks to see if the user is already assigned an ID and if not, it utilizes a cookie.
  • Cross domain tracking can be difficult to configure through Universal Analytics, but GA4 handles most of the configuration itself.
  • GA4 relies more on custom report creation than Universal Analytics which provides more default out-of-the-box reports.
  • GA4 automatically captures data points that need configuration through Google Tag Manager for Universal Analytics, including scroll depth, outbound link clicks, site search, video engagement and file downloads.
  • GA4 provides much better data on user pathing behavior than Universal Analytics.
  • GA4 has a free integration with Google’s enterprise data warehouse tool BigQuery.
A comparison between Google’s Universal Analytics and GA4 which shows GA4 placing analytics information into events, instead of tying pageviews and custom events together like Universal Analytics.
With GA4, hit types like custom Event and Pageview get consolidated into Events.

When Should You Transition to GA4 If You Already Have Universal Analytics?

Google doesn’t plan to update to Universal Analytics and is investing in GA4 as their main analytics tool. However, Google doesn’t plan to sunset Universal Analytics anytime soon. Because of that now is a great time to create a game plan for how your organization will transition to GA4. Here is some advice for how to successfully make the switch to GA4:

  • If you’ve already implemented Universal Analytics on your site, maintain it but set up GA4 as well. Universal Analytics will continue to collect data until it is sunset at which point GA4 will already be the source of truth for your web analytics data.
  • Duplicate all reports and any tagging you may have in Google Tag Manager to start collecting and viewing data within GA4 as soon as possible.
  • Get familiar with viewing data in GA4 and reproduce any custom reports you need in the platform or in Google Data Studio, Google’s dashboard tool.
  • Once you create all your reports, data collects for several months, and you’re comfortable with analyzing data from GA4, you’re ready to make the switch!

What Should You Do If You Don’t Have Google Analytics at All?

If you don’t currently use Google Analytics at all but want to add it to your website, we recommend creating a new account with GA4. Then you can use it as the source of truth for your web analytics data.

Have more questions about Google Analytics or need help implementing GA4 on your site? Reach out to us. You can also learn more about our Analytics Integration and Dashboards services or read more of our thoughts on analytics.

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