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Universal Analytics is on the out to be replaced with GA4

Google has announced that its previous generation of Analytics, known as Universal Analytics, will be removed in July 2023. After that, users will need to switchover to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). So what are the reasons for this change? What does it mean for users? And how will the team at The Digital Studios be supporting our clients, both new and existing, to manage the transition?

What’s different, and Why?

The first thing you’ll pick up on is the dramatic overhaul of the  interface, which may take some getting used to. The Google Analytics team have said that this is because reporting in GA4 is centered around the customer’s journey and has been designed to boost business funnels. The GA team offer their thoughts, and some valuable insights into the new look GA4, within the video below: 

What else has changed?

The transition to a “privacy-first” tracking approach is likely to cause some initial concern and confusion. In English, ‘privacy-first’ means that users will no longer be tracked through the use of cookies and tags and the move to GA4 is underpinned by this (although Google has announced that it won’t begin to block third-party cookies until late 2023). Privacy-first tracking relies on machine-learned models to plug any gaps that may exist when heavier restrictions are placed on access to individual user data.

 

Providers are primarily concerned about the loss of information that cookies provide. You may already be wondering how to gather the data you need to build successful campaigns but rest assured, the new version will still incorporate some incredibly useful metrics related to your website visitors and their behaviours. Whilst the data you are gathering going forwards may be less individualised, it will still positively and constructively inform your marketing effort.

 

From a privacy standpoint, the loss of cookies can be problematic because it could be interpreted as being more invasive to end users. As a result, some affiliate programs have already shifted to alternative tracking methods in preparation for a cookieless future. Food for thought…

What are the improvements?

There are three very significant differences between UA and GA4;

 

  • Updated User Interface
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Google Ads
  • Data Reports functionality

An updated User Interface

The very first thing you will notice when making your first foray into the new world is the dramatically overhauled user interface. With the employment of new icons, and the addition of brand new sections such as Engagement, Monetization, Retention, Analysis (and more), there has been a total redesign. The way you use Analytics has changed too, as everything will be controlled at property level, consolidating data from websites and mobile apps into a single report, to enable cross-platform analysis.

 

Insights through Artificial Intelligence

One major benefit of GA4 is the integration of AI driven data, which means it will be a more user-friendly experience for your customers. 

From your point of view, it will also be much easier to quickly find answers to specific questions such as (for example) “how many users in the UK viewed my homepage at 9.00am?”. GA4 offers a much more streamlined reporting capability and you will no longer need to employ the use of multiple filters to create specialised reports. 

Overall, AI-powered insights is great news for businesses and will truly enhance our marketing strategies. It’s also good news for businesses worried about how the end of third-party cookies will impact their marketing strategy. Check out our blog here for more about the implications of this.

A deeper integration with Google Ads

There is also a raft of new integration features within GA4, which will translate across all of Google’s existing marketing platforms. These will, in turn, give you the ability to incorporate these insights within your own channels. The new integration with Google Ads, in particular, allows you to create and maintain custom audiences from visitors across your website (and in-app) and will automatically remove them (or add them to new lists) based on the actions they perform within your site/s.

The ability to generate Data Reports

Next to the Insights button, there is an icon with a graph and a pencil; the Customize report tool. This is a new analysis section which allows you to build visual reports. Report customization also allows you to filter your report by a variety of dimensions and conditions to visualise comparisons.You will then be able to export this and share, or check insights of these reports, all from inside Google Analytics.

So, should I use Google Analytics 4 or Universal Analytics?

It’s a good idea to use both.

In the short term, you will have access to a much broader spectrum of analytics, as GA4 and UA work in different ways. This will ensure your marketing efforts remain optimised by virtue of the fact that they will be robustly data driven. In the long term, you’ll also be more adequately prepared for when UA is completely phased out because you will have a greater amount of base data already held within GA4, alongside the historical UA data.

 

Whichever way you decide to approach it, be mindful that businesses will be obligated to migrate their websites across to GA4 before July 2023 anyway (and well before the final curtain comes down on UA). Our strong advice is to transfer early and get a real head start in terms of building up your longer term GA4 data repository. This may well offer an advantage over those who are slower to make the leap.

What are The Digital Studios focused on right now?

Since the Google announcement on March 16, 2022, we have been dedicating time to putting Google Analytics 4 through its paces on the beta channels, so that our clients are in the picture about what is on offer, where things have changed, and where additional support / training might be required. Most importantly, we have been working hard to crunch the numbers and work out how our clients can pull out the data that matters most to them, in the new environment. 

 

Our conclusions.

On the whole, our view is that GA4 is an improvement on UA, mainly because it has the ability to retain historical data. At the time of writing, the current conceptual version does not appear to match up to that of its predecessor when it comes to overall reporting capabilities but we fully  expect this to have been rectified by full go-live in July 2023. The shift to cookieless marketing also comes with a level of concern around privacy and protection of users but at the same time, it really feels like these changes herald a new era of digital marketing which is truly exciting.

 

Google Analytics 4 will eventually be more powerful than Universal Analytics and will provide more relevant data about why users are on your site and/or app. The newer version allows you to combine data from multiple streams into one property and therefore, more accurately and assertively  attributes actions to users across a range of devices. By taking some proactive steps, you should still be able to use Google Analytics to make data-driven decisions for your marketing strategy

And finally…what we can do to support you.

If you aren’t already an existing client of ours, it’s never too late to reach out and we are always happy to guide you in transitions of this type. We  can provide information, as well as helping you to embed and work with the changes; in particular, with migrating your old data across from UA to GA4, to ensure you’re able to fully exploit the metrics available in the new version. You can contact us here to discuss this, or any other aspect of your digital strategy, or pay a visit to our services page to understand more about what’s on offer from The Digital Studios!

 

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