Two years ago, Google announced the launch of its latest analytics tool, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). And, this week, Google has put forward a timeline to sunset its predecessor, Universal Analytics from July 2023. This came much sooner than expected.

What are the Key Dates?

On 1st July 2023, just 15 months from now, all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits (GA360 properties are being given a further 3 months).

This means that from July 2023, no website activity will be recorded.

Furthermore, Google announced that existing Universal Analytics properties would only be able to be accessed for around 6 months after this date. This means that all historical data could be gone forever.

Why is Google Sunsetting Universal Analytics?

The differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics were clear. While Universal Analytics was built to work on websites and independent sessions, GA4 operates across both web and app, does not rely exclusively on cookies, and uses an event-based model to deliver user-centric measurement.

One of the limitations that we have long highlighted with Universal Analytics is its session focus with reports based around what a user does in a single session, rather than a user’s (often) multiple touchpoints with a website.

Google felt that this measurement methodology was quickly becoming obsolete and GA4 addresses these issues

GA4 also is more privacy-focused than Universal Analytics and will not store a user’s IP address. In today’s privacy-focused landscape GA needed to meet the constantly evolving needs and expectations of its users.

The completely different interface and data collection model has made many users apprehensive of GA4. While many of our clients had set up a new GA4 property, they were rarely using it to its full potential and remained using Universal Analytics as their analytics tool.

What Should You Do?

The good news is that there is time to get your GA4 property set up correctly before the deadline.

The bad news is that with your historical Universal Analytics reports no longer accessible around six months after the 1st July (exact date TBC), you ideally need to have everything set up and running correctly by the end of 2022 in order to get a year’s worth of comparative data between GA4 and Universal Analytics.

How to Set Up Your GA4 Property

Here are the steps you should follow to get your GA4 property set up (this information can also be found in the GA4 help centre).

1. Create GA4 property and deploy using GTM

This is the same as your Universal Analytics base tag and should fire on all pages

2. Activate Enhanced Measurement in your GA4 property

  • This includes events such as scrolls, outbound clicks, site search and video engagement. With Universal Analytics this would have to be configured manually.

3. Create custom event measurement

  • Events are split into Automatically Collected Events, Enhanced Measurement Events, Recommended Events and Custom Events.
  • Key to remember is that any events sent to GA4 will appear automatically within reports, but their associated parameters will not. These need to be configured within the GA4 property.

4. Configure conversion events

  • Any event can be marked as a conversion.
  • If existing event does not capture what you want to measure, you can create a new event from an existing event and add conditions and parameters to better define the scope.

5. Set up eCommerce tracking (if applicable)

  • If you use data layers to capture eCommerce data in Universal Analytics, these will not automatically translate to GA4. However, there is a useful variable in the GTM template gallery called ‘GA4 Ecommerce to Enhanced Ecommerce Converter’ which can do a lot of the work for you.

6. Start building exploration reports

  • In GA4, exploration reports are a collection of advanced techniques that go beyond standard reports. Think Custom Reports in Universal, but much much more advanced!

Google also has some useful information about migrating from Universal Analytics to GA4. Be aware that due to the different measurement paradigms used between the two platforms you should use this as an opportunity to revaluate your overall approach to measurement.

Final Thoughts

The key thing to remember is that you have time to get everything configured and familiarize yourself with the platform. But there is a defined deadline, so the sooner you act the better.

The majority of our clients have GA4 properties but few have gone beyond adding the base tag and enhanced measurement. As mentioned previously, set yourself a deadline of the end of 2022 to have everything up and running correctly with all required website elements and KPIs tracked correctly.

One final link from Google is their very helpful migration guide, which links through various articles to help your migration from Universal Analytics to GA4 run smoothly.

And, of course, if you have any questions, please get in touch – we can assist with GA4 implementation, set up and training.