Navigating the Transition: Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

With the near-constant emphasis on digital integration and increased privacy concerns, the need for effective analytics is only growing more pressing with each passing day. Given the current climate, Google has introduced a new analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which has replaced its previous platform, Universal Analytics (UA). To fully understand what this transition means for your firm, it is crucial to first understand how UA operated and what exactly has changed with the introduction of the new platform, GA4.

How Universal Analytics Operated

The first thing to know about UA is that it relies on both first- and third-party cookies to collect data and track users. While useful, utilizing third-party cookies as a method of data collection has become increasingly controversial as many users feel it violates their personal privacy.

UA also required companies to download additional software, often at an additional cost, to fully maximize mobile user tracking. Finally, UA measured engagement as the percentage of sessions that do not directly translate to an interaction on a viewer’s given webpage. This is also referred to as bounce rate.

What’s Changed with Google Analytics 4

In contrast to UA, GA4 uses first-party cookies only. With GA4, the website owner is the only one that can track your activity and retain data. GA4 also places more of an emphasis on offering users the ability to opt out of cookie tracking and first-party data collection as a way to prioritize privacy. Rather than downloading separate software, website owners can now track users across all devices using GA4.

Instead of relying on bounce rates, GA4 now measures the percentage of engaged sessions a user has on a given site. GA4 defines an engaged session as when a user does one of the following: views at least two pages or screens, spends more than 10 seconds on a page, or ends their session with a conversion event. Simply put, a conversion event is when a user moves from their first action on the site to another that the company has labeled as valuable to monitor.

What This Means for Your Firm

All this analytics talk can be a bit overwhelming, so let’s break it down to what exactly this means for your firm. Starting with one of the more positive changes, tracking and recording user activity over a variety of devices will be easier than it historically has been with UA, as GA4 now integrates mobile device tracking as a part of its base package.

One of the main downsides of the transition to GA4, though, is that user data previously stored in UA cannot be directly imported from GA4 as the structure of the platform is significantly different. Practically speaking, this means that data formerly stored in UA will need to be exported and viewed separately, either as a Google Sheet, Excel file, CSV, or PDF. For long-term storage, it may be worth looking into additional paid analytics tools, such as Big Query or Google Cloud Storage.

While this portion of the transition is somewhat inconvenient, the conversion from bounce rate to engagement rate will allow for more accurate and effective targeting of potential new clients as it emphasizes time spent rather than simply actions performed, thus revealing who has a greater interest in your services. For more assistance transitioning to GA4, contact Blushark Digital.