It’s been a long eight years that we’ve been working with Universal Analytics, the current iteration of Google’s website traffic tracking and reporting software. In that time, we’ve learned plenty around sessions, bounce rates and tracking IDs, but they’re no more. Universal Analytics is dead… almost.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the brand new update to Google Analytics, offering a whole new data model and various features, which aim to make your reporting and analysis easier and the data you collect more useful.
The big change will happen on 1st July 2023, when all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. While that may seem like ages away, you need to know what this means today to stay ahead of the game.
Why is Google making the change?
According to the wizards over at Google, the measurement methodology Universal Analytics is based on is now obsolete.
In a blog post announcing the update, they said: “Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies.”
While Universal Analytics was based on sessions and pageviews, GA4 is based on events and event-specific parameters.
Within Universal Analytics, a session is a group of user interactions (hits) on a website within a certain timeframe, including multiple pageviews, events and eCommerce transactions. A single session can contain multiple hits depending on how users interact with a website.
With GA4’s events measurement, you can still see the session data, but the software will capture these interactions as events. These events can include page views, button clicks, user actions or system events.
The idea behind this change is that events will collect and send more information about an action a user took or the event itself. Sounds great, right?
What does this actually mean?
GA4 is built around the idea that page views alone don't reflect enough analytical data, so with this new update comes new metrics. For example, bounce rate no longer exists in GA4.
Instead, the new engagement metrics are Engaged Sessions, Engagement Rate, Engaged Sessions per User and Average Engagement Time. All of these are designed to more accurately track how a user interacts with your website.
While Google Analytics may only be one part of your marketing analytics, it's important to understand how this update changes your reporting process.
There currently isn't an option to create additional views in GA4 like you could in its previous version, and at first glance, the reporting interface will look very different. This is another reason you should look into this sooner rather than later.
Transitioning to an entirely new data model, including new metrics and reporting features, you’ll have to rethink your analytics strategy.
What do I need to do now?
July 2023 sounds like ages away, doesn’t it? In the constantly changing arena of websites and marketing, it isn’t. You need to prepare for this huge change now by setting up a GA4 property in your Google Analytics account.
Even if you don’t plan on using the new system right away, doing the setup now will help you in the long run. You want to have both Universal Analytics and GA4 running at the same time so you're collecting as much data as possible.
Here's how to set up GA4:
- Login to your Google Analytics account
- Click the Admin gear icon in the lower-left corner and ensure your website account is the one selected in the ‘Account’ column.
- In the property column, select the current Universal Analytics property collecting data from your website.
- In the next property column, click GA4 Setup Assistant and click ‘Get Started’.
- Click ‘Create Property’. Once this is complete, you’ll have a new GA4 property. This process will connect with your current Universal Analytics property to copy the property name, website URL, time zone and currency settings.
If all of this is done successfully, you will see a message saying: ‘You have successfully connected your properties’ at the top of the page.
For more in-depth instructions on setting up GA4, visit Google’s GA4 Set Up Support page.
There’s a lot of information out there about GA4, most of which looks incredibly daunting. The main thing to know is you need to set up GA4 as soon as possible to make sure you’re collecting all of the data you need. That way, when Universal Analytics does die, you know you’re covered.
With Google making changes left, right and centre, it can be difficult to keep up. Stay up to date with all of the latest SEO news with our SEO Podcast, Trending Upwards, where we’ll give you the info you need.