On July 1, 2023, Google officially retired the application that has accompanied us in our web analytics for the past ten years: Universal Analytics. By doing so, a migration process that began three years ago with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 in 2020 has come to an end, even though it was not called that at the time.
This change has caused an earthquake in the digital ecosystem because the two versions are not compatible with each other, and the transition from one to another involves a process, mistakenly called migration, which can sometimes be complex.
Google Analytics 4 does not allow the importation of the historical data stored in Universal Analytics, which can be strategically important for those who need to perform comparative analysis with previous periods. For example, the case of an eCommerce business that needs to compare this year’s Black Friday campaign results with those of previous years.
To avoid this problem, over the past two years, the Google team has insisted on installing the new GA4 in parallel with UA, thus overlapping both measurements. As expected, many people have not integrated it until the last moment. Some haven’t even done it after the blackout.
In the following lines, I will try to find a solution to this situation.
What changes does GA4 bring?
GA4 represents a radical change in the way data from your digital assets are collected and processed. There are several very important differences compared to previous versions.
Web + App
Google Analytics 4 allows tracking and analysis of both websites and mobile applications. This means that you can gain insights and metrics on your website’s performance and mobile app usage, all in one place. This is particularly useful in a world where many companies have a presence on both the web and mobile platforms.
One of the main features of GA4 is that it is based on an event-driven model. In previous versions of Google Analytics, the focus was primarily on page views. However, in GA4, all data is collected and organized into events. An event can be any action taken by users on your website or app – for example, clicking a button, playing a video, or submitting a form. This allows for a higher level of flexibility and customization in data analysis.
GA4 harnesses the power of machine learning to provide more detailed and valuable insights. It uses machine learning algorithms to perform advanced data analysis and uncover hidden patterns and trends. This helps identify opportunities and challenges for your business, such as high-value audience segments, revenue forecasts, and specific user behaviors. Artificial intelligence and machine learning in GA4 also enable the creation of custom models to predict future user behavior.
Multi-Platform and Multi-Device Tracking
GA4 has improved capabilities to effectively differentiate users browsing your site from different devices or browsers. It can now determine if the same user accessed your website from their mobile device browser in the morning, from their office computer in the afternoon, and your company app from their tablet at night. User counts are more accurate, and I can fully track the customer’s online journey.
GA4 offers more accurate and comprehensive data-driven attribution compared to previous versions. With data-driven attribution, you can better understand how different marketing channels and user actions contribute to your business goals. You can see which traffic sources and marketing tactics generate more conversions and make informed decisions about resource allocation. The attribution of responsibility for each marketing action is much more precise and fair, as it is distributed based on its effectiveness with each type of user, statistically speaking.
Should I install GA4?
The answer to this question is always “it depends.” If you have been using Universal Analytics on your website, it seems reasonable to make the transition and collect data in GA4. However, this has its technical and legal implications.
As you may already know, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires user consent to perform analytical processing of their data. This reason alone justifies the use of a cookie banner for any website whose potential audience is not only the European Union but also other countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Switzerland, Canada, some US states, and an increasing number of countries worldwide.
On the other hand, for many people reading this article, server analytics will likely be sufficient, thus avoiding this small legal dilemma.
But if you want to conduct in-depth analysis of your website’s traffic and performance, understand how users interact with your content, identify the most effective traffic acquisition channels, or discover elements with the highest potential for improvement on your website, GA4 is the most comprehensive tool and the current industry standard. Furthermore, there is already fairly extensive official documentation, numerous user blog guides, and thousands of videos showcasing many of its advanced features.
How to Install GA4
There are several ways to install GA4, all working similarly to the process for Universal Analytics. If you were already using this tool, the easiest way is to change the tracking code or identifier from one to the other.
You will find the Measurement ID in Admin > Data Streams > Web Stream Details, and you will recognize it because it starts with a “G” followed by a hyphen and a series of characters, for example, G-PSW1MY7HB4. This example ID is the identifier of the web stream for the Google Merchandise Store, a property that Google shares for demonstration purposes, and you can refer to it whenever you have a Google user.
In the same space, a little further down, in the Google Tag section, you will find the View Tag Instructions, where Google provides some guidance on how to install the tracking code on your website, either using the Measurement ID obtained in the previous step or the complete script for manual installation.
The most comprehensive method for all those WordPress users who care about respecting their visitors’ privacy is to add the GA4 tracking script to their website through a cookie plugin. For example, GDPR Cookie Compliance has a section in its settings for third-party cookies where you can add it.