Google Analytics (UA) vs. GA4: What You Need to Know
Data & Analytics
Feb 27 2023
Earlier this year, Google announced big plans to phase out Universal Analytics entirely in favor of the new-and-improved GA4 platform. The move presents a major challenge for many marketers relying on historical UA data for present campaigns, and a relatively small runway to prepare for a new dashboard operating under a new tracking model.
While GA4 is structured to provide more detailed insight into user behavior while abiding by data privacy restrictions, there will be an inevitable learning curve as digital marketers learn to fully embrace its new features. Here’s a look at some of the biggest changes advertisers can expect when making the leap to GA4 — and why it’s best to make the change before UA is a thing of the past.
How GA4 Updates Privacy and Data Standards
There are two major drivers behind the push toward GA4 as Google’s default option for advertisers (and eventually the only available option, starting October 2023).
The first is how data is collected. GA4’s data collection model doesn’t discriminate by device, which means a GA4 user’s journey will now be trackable at increasingly granular levels, and without the need to implement Google Tag Manager. The model aims to make cross-device tracking more accessible and the data points along the customer’s buying cycle more reliable. Of course, this leads to the second major change within Google’s analytics setup: data privacy.
Data privacy concerns are among the chief factors reducing advertisers’ reliance on third-party cookies. Staying within current privacy regulations remains a moving target for advertising platforms, as the rules guarding data tend to experience frequent alterations causing even search giants like Google to pivot continuously in an effort to remain compliant. GA4 was designed with this new, evolving marketing landscape in mind — one built to fully utilize first-party cookies to fuel its cross-device data collection and reporting.
Additionally, GA4 will not collect or store IP addresses and make individual data deletion easier for users wishing to opt out of their data being stored.
GA4’s Custom Reporting
Marketers will still recognize most of the information available through GA4’s reporting, though some items may be nested under new labels. User info has been relocated to the “Audience” tab, while “Engagement” expands to include customer behavior and conversions data (previously “goals”).
Previous engagement types like page views, transactions, and social interactions are all now captured and labeled as “events,” which delivers insight into user behavior at the unfortunate cost of clashing with UA’s tracking model — meaning a blank slate for gathering user data upon transitioning.
Though the default reporting dashboard is designed with general use in mind, virtually every aspect of the page can be tailored to a marketer’s unique preferences.
What Else Is New With GA4?
As you may have expected, simplifying the data tracking process down to an events-based model isn’t the only shift for the new analytics platform. Other key changes include replacing actions, categories, and labels with parameters, which represent “pieces of information set alongside events to provide context on the user action.” Marketers also have access to useful data visualizations, like the all-new “trended funnels” graph displaying changes to sales funnel activity over time.
A host of additional updates have also emerged since GA4’s initial introduction, such as more advanced machine learning capabilities for accurate behavioral modeling, the now-default data-driven attribution tracking model, and updates to GA4’s setup assistant to ease the switch from UA.
The benefits of these changes are contingent on brands actively using the new product, which will become mandatory in Fall 2023. As such, it’s wise to begin collecting data and customizing your GA4 dashboard as soon as your marketing team is able, both to familiarize yourself with its capabilities and to begin acquiring data for use in the months and years ahead.
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