A Marketer’s Guide to the Google Analytics 4 Rollout

April 08, 2022

Mike Baranowski
Google Analytics 4 has officially arrived, with Google announcing that it will sunset the current default, Universal Analytics, by July of 2023. Wondering what Google Analytics 4 is? How it's different from Universal Analytics? Or if now is the time to switch? You've come to the right place. Our analytics and data engineering experts weigh in with everything marketers need to know below. TLDR? The time to switch is now.

A Marketer’s Guide to the Google Analytics 4 Rollout

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google’s new approach to tracking. GA4 serves as Google’s update to the web and app tracking experience. Formerly known as “Web + App Properties” in Google Analytics, GA4 is the newest default tracking setup in Google. And while businesses and websites with existing web properties can retain their existing tracking for now, Google announced that “all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023, and 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on October 1, 2023. After that, you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in Universal Analytics for at least six months.”

It’s worth noting that GA4 is not an upgrade to Google’s Universal Analytics. Instead, it’s a whole new way to track users across websites and apps that will soon become the standard and only option. The rollout of GA4 forces businesses to think differently about their users and adapting their measurement tools to be focused on the users themselves. It’s no longer enough to track multiple web/app sessions to gain insight into user behavior; customers are accessing a brand’s website/app on multiple different devices across multiple different browsers at multiple different stages in their journey, and this update is Google’s approach to reflect that changing behavior.

But what is GA4 and what should marketers do now to prepare for 2023? Here are our answers to your burning analytics questions.

What is changing with GA4?

GA4 completely changes Google’s tracking process. While Universal Analytics relied on tracking different hit types — page hits, event hits, ecommerce hits, and social hits — GA4 is event-based, with the principle that all interactions can be captured as an event across all web and app visits. This saves Google loads of data processing space, facilitates streamlined yet extremely customizable data configuration, and allows Google Analytics to produce a much different set of reports focused more on users than sessions and hits.

Although businesses will be familiar with the general layout of Google Analytics when they log into their GA4 reporting interface, the reports will be different, as will the setup and configuration on the back end. Although it’s easy to panic with such a large change to reporting, there are a number of new features in GA4 that marketers should get excited about:

  • Web and app tracking in same view
  • Better cross-platform and cross-device tracking
  • Enhanced user journey and pathing analysis
  • Machine learning automatically generated insights and trends
  • Flexible event naming schema (define your own parameters and values)
  • Many events can be configured by default (without GTM)
  • Decreased data processing power required (Google servers)

At the same time, with plenty of upgrades with the rollout of GA4, it’s also important to know what functionality is missing or hasn’t yet been rolled out into the release. Until GA4 gets the following items straightened out, it would be a mistake for brands to switch over entirely. Here’s our short list of what is missing:

  • Reduced ecommerce reporting
  • No multi-touch conversion reporting or attribution reporting
  • Some basic metrics that are commonly leveraged, like bounce rate
  • Some basic reporting dimensions that are commonly leveraged, like landing page
  • No availability for cross-property reporting rollup (a GA360 premium feature for larger brands)

When should marketers make the switch to GA4?

Google recently announced that they will sunset Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023 (or October 1, 2023, for GA360 users) and require all Google Analytics users to report out of a new GA4 property after that date. Although Google will store Universal Analytics data for an additional six months after July 2023 for marketers to export, the time to set up and configure your new GA4 property is now. It’s important to note: there is no downside to continuing to report out of existing Universal Analytics properties while also implementing GA4. So, the sooner marketers get started, the sooner you can start capturing data and feeding the algorithms so that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running in GA4 by this time next year.

No brand should risk starting in GA4 next year without proper historical data from 2022 or sufficiently trained attribution engines. For that reason, it’s critical to take action in the short term. Specifically, Collective Measures recommends setting up GA4 as soon as possible to start capturing data and feeding the algorithms, while at the same time continuing to maintain the existing GA setup to fuel the reporting you’re used to. This will be important in the interim as GA4 adds to and fleshes out its capabilities. A thorough analytics implementation is not a quick-turn effort — troubleshooting and learning curves are crucial parts of a successful implementation — so starting early is hugely beneficial and brands should start diving in now.

In the long term, brands should be prepared to work and think about reporting and user engagement differently. In alignment with key GA4 updates, this will require focusing on what user behavior looks like at a cross-device/cross-platform user level, instead of just what website engagement looks like at an Individual session level.

What should marketers take away?

Google continues to improve its ecommerce reporting, attribution modeling, and other functionality; however, the time for brands to act on GA4 is now. Implementing GA4 as soon as possible is crucial to start strategizing tracking needs, capturing user data across devices, and building a better understanding of the true flexibility of open-parametered event tracking and AI-powered attribution modeling. GA4 is the future of analytics reporting and will likely be followed by larger capabilities and marketing-based integration announcements to in the months to come. Starting now will maximize future success.