On July 1, 2023 the marketing measurement landscape will change dramatically when Google sunsets the current version of Google Analytics (known as Universal Analytics) which has been in place since 2012, in favor of their new service – Google Analytics 4 (aka GA4).
It’s important to understand that GA4 isn’t just a slightly updated version of the Google Analytics experience that you’ve been using to collect and organize data for the past decade. This is a completely new system from top to bottom that — while different from what you’ve been used to — ultimately gives you more flexibility to measure user experience and marketing performance data across your website.
For those of you with Dealer Inspire websites, you’ve already been set up with a GA4 property that is collecting data as we speak so that when Universal Analytics shuts down, you’ll have a full year of historical data in GA4 to reference and use in comparison performance reports.
If you don’t have a Dealer Inspire website and you aren’t sure whether you have a GA4 property created for your website or not, then you’ll want to check with your website provider to ensure that one has been, or will be, created for you in a timely manner. If you wait until the last minute to create the property, you’ll be missing out on having any historical data to reference once GA4 becomes the only analytics platform available.
With that said, this guide is meant to get you comfortable understanding and navigating the main differences between the outgoing Universal Analytics and the all-new Google Analytics 4 so you can prepare as needed to officially make the switch well before July of 2023.
More of a listener than a reader? Want even deeper context? Watch our latest live streaming event The Day The Data Stood Still on demand over on Inspire+. We take you through some of the most notable changes coming to GA4 and discuss what you need to do to prepare before the big day arrives!
WHY IS UNIVERSAL ANALYTICS BEING SUNSET?
Before we get into the differences between Google’s old and new measurement solutions, you might be wondering why Google is even sunsetting Universal Analytics in the first place. The simple reality is that Universal Analytics was built during a time when the desktop computer was the main device for surfing the web, and session data was more easily observable from cookies.
As you know, the web today is much different than it was a decade ago. Today it’s a mobile-first web. It’s cross-platform. It spans devices. And most importantly, the premium on privacy is at an all-time high and the cookieless future is upon us.
Simply said, Google Analytics 4 was built to measure the way the world consumes information on the Internet today relying on machine learning and statistical modeling. In addition to being built for the modern web with a privacy-first mindset, GA4 was also built to be a more flexible platform that can adapt for whatever the future may hold.
So now that we know “why”, let’s dive right into the 12 things you need to know about Google Analytics 4 before making the switch.
1. PROPERTY “VIEWS” ARE NOT A PART OF GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4
In Universal Analytics (henceforth referred to as UA), you could create multiple account “views” of your analytics property that would allow you to apply different filters, create various segments, and feature customized reports for each view — all while maintaining a “master view” of unfiltered raw data.
One of the most major, and immediately noticeable, changes in GA4 is the removal of these account “views” as all data manipulation is now done on the property itself. This streamlines the data into one single reporting property where you’ll find up to 3 data stream types: Website, iOS app, and Android app.
Why This Matters: Many third parties set up their own “views” of your data within UA to be able to track and measure the metrics they feel are most important. With GA4 that capability is gone, so you’ll need to work with those partners to make sure that they’re pushing their intended events and actions to your property ensuring consistent reporting.
2. GA4 INTRODUCES AN EVENT BASED MEASUREMENT MODEL
While UA is very much based on tracking independent session data, GA4 aims to give you a complete view of the customer lifecycle with an event-based measurement model that isn’t fragmented by platform or independent sessions.
Because of this dramatic shift, it’s important to note that the data between UA and GA4 won’t match between these versions due to these different models.
Why This Matters: This will start looking at the users and audiences of your website/app for shopping behaviors vs a session, meaning that we will be more in tune with the actions and behaviors of the customers (clicks, page interactions, etc).
3. COMMON METRICS THAT ARE BEING UPDATED OR REPLACED IN GA4
For years, you’ve relied upon certain metrics within Google Analytics such as Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate to inform the effectiveness of your marketing and website experience. With GA4 however, some of those common KPIs will mean something different than what they used to, and some won’t be a part of the new platform at all.
For example, in Universal Analytics, Bounce Rate was defined as the percentage of single page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page. In Google Analytics 4 Bounce Rate is the percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions. In other words, Bounce Rate is now defined as the inverse of Engagement Rate, one of the new metrics that are a part of GA4.
With the new measurement model mentioned above giving you better insight into how users are moving across your purchase funnel, it was necessary to provide more meaningful metrics that present a clear picture of your key objectives.
Here are a few of the common UA metrics that will not be a part of the GA4 experience:
UA Metrics Being Redefined
- Bounce rate (inverse of Engagement Rate)
- Conversion rate (separated into User Conversion Rate & Session Conversion Rate)
UA Metrics Being Removed
- Pages per session
- Avg. session duration
Newly Introduced Metrics in GA4
- Engaged sessions (default is 10 seconds on site or triggered an event marked as a conversion or viewed more than one screen)
- Engagement rate (engaged sessions compared to total sessions)
- Events per session
- Avg. engagement time per session
Why This Matters: Google is focusing more on users and their engagement in GA4. This data will provide a better understanding of your engaged audience — the ones who are taking action on your site searching for their next vehicle.
4. NEW EVENT CATEGORIES IN GA4
With the previous changes mentioned, it only makes sense that the way events are tracked would change within GA4 as well.
Within UA, events are all defined using Category, Action, and Label. GA4 simplifies things by using an event name with parameters to see identified custom dimensions and metrics associated with the event.
There are four types of events within GA4:
Automatically Collected Events: As you might guess, these are the events that are automatically tracked once you’ve set up your GA4 property.
Enhanced Measurement Events: These are also automatically collected once GA4 is actively collecting website data, however these can also be enabled or disabled depending on how meaningful each event is to measuring your key objectives.
Recommended Events: These are events that Google recommends you setup based on what industry you’re in. Typically these are broad, and for an industry like automotive retail, probably won’t be widely applicable.
Custom Events: These are going to be the most important and powerful events to set up, as they’ll provide insight into how every engagement within your digital ecosystem plays into the overall experience of your website. With custom events you can track engagement with your inventory, your media, your messaging platform, your digital retailing experience, and pretty much anything that’s a part of your website.
Why This Matters: GA4 allows for more flexibility with each event and will provide more insightful and meaningful reporting. With that, it will be critical to work with your third-party vendors to ensure proper events are created within your GA4 property to track the engagement with those tools.
5. GO DEEPER WITH FEWER REPORTS IN GA4
As I’m sure you know, Universal Analytics has many out-of-the-box reports that are immediately available for users to inspect various aspects of user activity. For example, in UA there are twenty standard Acquisition reports — in GA4 there are only three.
Instead of a long list of predefined reports that try to cover every use case, GA4’s simplified reporting interface was made so that it would be easier to spot key trends and irregularities in data, while also providing you with powerful tools to build your own reports to quickly reference the information you care about.
Why This Matters: While on the surface having fewer standard reports within GA4 may seem like a downgrade, it actually gives you more flexibility to create your own collection of custom reports that’ll provide deeper and more meaningful analysis for your key objectives.
6. SEGMENTS & COMPARISONS IN GA4
In analytics parlance, a segment is simply a subset of your data, and they’re extremely useful for drilling down and focusing on a group of users based on common attributes or conditions. For example, of your entire set of users, one segment might be users who arrived at your website via organic search.
In UA, segments are saved for future use and are available in most standard and custom reports. In GA4, comparisons take the place of segments. Just like segments, comparisons allow you to narrow down and analyze a specific subset of data, but don’t have the ability to be saved for future use.
For example, let’s say you built a comparison to examine your mobile website traffic and you noticed that the engagement rate for these users has decreased over time. You could then determine when the trend began, and match that up with any changes that might have been made to your mobile website experience that could have caused that drop in engagement and correct the issue.
7. FEWER DATA RETENTION OPTIONS IN GA4
The ability to reference historical data is essential for performing granular and comparative analysis over time. When it comes to data retention, UA has the following options; 14 Months, 26 Months, 38 Months, 50 Months, or Don’t Automatically Expire. This means you are able to access historical data within the Universal Analytics interface based on the above choice, for potentially a lifetime.
In GA4 however, retention of user-level data only has two options available: a default period of 2 Months along with an option to increase that time period to 14 Months. With longer, or even lifetime, data retention options no longer available, you may want to consider developing a data export strategy using GA4’s BigQuery integration to warehouse your analytics data in a secure and scalable platform.
Why This Matters: With the default retention period being 2 Months, at minimum you should make sure that you’ve enabled the 14 Month collection option within your GA4 property to ensure that you’ll always be able to compare YoY data.
8. MORE DEFAULT CHANNEL GROUPINGS IN GA4
Google Analytics 4 also comes with revised default channel groupings that more accurately reflect the various ways traffic can be driven to your website without needing to set any rules to make sure it’s bucketed correctly.
There are a total of 16 default channel groupings spanning the categories of manual traffic, Google Ads traffic, and DV360 traffic. Most notably though, the following additions to the channel grouping specifically will make it easier to understand where your traffic is coming from:
- Paid Social
- Organic Social
- Paid Video
- Organic Video
It’s worth calling out that with Universal Analytics, you could customize your channel groupings to match your UTM structure for your various marketing campaigns. With the new groupings in GA4, you’ll need to customize your UTM structure to match the channel groupings.
Why This Matters: By having better visibility into your specific marketing channels, combined with the new engagement metrics tracked within GA4, this will allow for more easily digestible data to determine the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.
9. GA4 HAS A NEW DATA-DRIVEN ATTRIBUTION MODEL
All Universal Analytics properties were set up with the default “last click” attribution model, meaning the last touchpoint a user took on the site before conversion would get 100% of the credit for that conversion.
GA4 however is able to assign attribution credit to more than just the last click, and helps you understand how your marketing activities collectively influence your conversions using a cross-channel data-drive model.
While you can change your attribution model in GA4 to Last Click, First Click, Position-based, or Time Decay — using the cross-channel data-driven attribution model gives equal conversion credit to all touchpoints on a conversion path, showing you more clearly the effect your marketing is having on your ROI.
Why This Matters: GA4 uses machine learning which provides a custom attribution model based on your historical data that will automatically adapt as we head for the cookieless future.
10. GOING FROM GOALS TO CONVERSIONS IN GA4
Speaking of conversions, we want to make sure we discuss the changes happening here too because it’s a notable difference from what you’ve been used to. In Universal Analytics, you’re probably familiar with “Goals”. For example, you could create a destination goal, such a “thank you page” that’s loaded after a user submits a form, and the number of times that destination goal fired would reflect the number of conversions for that action.
Because Google Analytics 4 is an event-based tool, those goals from UA would all be configured as events now. So if you want to track conversions within GA4, you have to configure your event tracking first.
From there, you can then tell GA4 which events should be marked as conversions simply by toggling them on, and you can have up to 30 toggled on at any given time.
Why This Matters: In Universal Analytics, goals were configured separately from events, and were only triggered once per session. In GA4 conversions may be triggered multiple times per session, giving you better insight into your overall user engagement.
11. GA4 OFFERS FEWER OPTIONS TO FILTER DATA
With UA, you had the ability to apply filters that would limit or modify the data in a view. For example, you could use a filter to exclude traffic from particular IP addresses, include only data from specific subdomains or directories, or convert dynamic page URLs to readable text strings.
With GA4 eliminating having multiple views of your property, they’ve also reduced the ways you can filter your traffic only providing two options:
- Internal Traffic: Filter event data that you’ve identified as internal traffic
- Developer Traffic: Filter event data from your development devices
12. ANNOTATIONS ARE NO MORE IN GA4
Last on our list of differences between Universal Analytics is Google Analytics 4 is the removal of annotations. I’m not going to lie, this one hurt me in particular because I’m big on notes. For those unfamiliar, annotations were a way for you to manually record within your property when you made notable updates to things like your website, strategy, or budget. You could then overlay those annotations over your reports to quickly recognize positive or negative effects as a result of what was updated.
Why This Matters: If you’re an active user of annotations, then it will be critical to implement a process for recording those notable changes in a separate space, such as a spreadsheet.
And that’s it! Those were the top 12 things you need to know to get ready for GA4. Keep in mind that Google will continue to iterate and refine the features and capabilities of their newest analytics platform over the years to come, so there is always a chance that something that’s missing in GA4 now, could make a triumphant return in the future.
STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME
By staying ahead of the game and proactively preparing our partner’s websites for the transition to Google Analytics 4, we’re fulfilling our mission to help future-proof your dealership so you can sell, buy, and service more vehicles, more efficiently with a proven ROI backed by real data.
Want to know more about how we can help you grow your dealership’s business? Drop us a line and we’ll show you how.