Sep 22, 2022

Google Analytics 4 is giving everyone $150,000 a year.

All you have to do in exchange is forget everything you know about Google Analytics.

My name is David Fields, and I am a senior analyst at HZ. For the past 10 years I have made a career out of setting up best-in-class website tracking for clients. The services I provide clients would not have been possible without Google Analytics. It’s a wonderful tool. Most people don’t know this (you might be the exception if you are reading this blog) but since November 14, 2005, there have only been two versions of Google Analytics:

  • Universal Analytics (Google Analytics 3 AKA GA3) – free version
  • Universal Analytics 360 ($150,000 a year) – premium version

For most companies, the free version of Google Analytics has more than enough power, as it tells you so much about the relationship between your digital assets and your audience.

The bad news is the universal analytics platform is shutting down in July 2023. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing Universal Analytics (UA), and every website owner needs to update their code or they will lose the ability to track website engagement. 

The good news is that a lot of services that were only available to Universal Analytics 360 clients are built into the new, free version of GA4.

Okay, I admit the headline is a bit of an overstatement. Google isn’t going to be sending out $150K checks to Stephen in the mailroom anytime soon. However, suppose you plan for the depreciation of Universal Analytics correctly and embrace all that the new GA4 has to offer you. GA4 is almost like getting the best parts of UA360 free.

Here are some basics about the transition

  • On July 1, 2023, all Universal Google Analytics accounts will stop working
  • Updating the core tracking code isn’t enough
  • The data model (and any custom events you’ve implemented) is different
  • GA4 data will be in a new property, meaning your old data won’t be available alongside new data
  • Scariest of all: Google has said that not only will your existing Google Analytics stop working, but they will be removing data from these older versions

If you do nothing, all of your historical website analytics data will be lost indefinitely, and you will have no information about how your audience is engaging with you online.

There are a lot of differences between UA and GA4, but the most important difference is that the new Google Analytics is not the out-of-the-box solution that organizations relied on in the past. When it comes to GA4, you get what you put into it. For example, if you simply install the GA4 base snippet on your website or app, you will collect less information than what you collected in UA. On the flip side, if you embrace the new custom event-based tracking features and take advantage of some of the useful integrations available in the new GA4 property, you will not only capture more information, but that information will be more accurate and more actionable.

Again, UA has been wonderful, but it wasn’t perfect. Fun Fact: GA doesn’t analyze all your data when you request a report. Instead, it looks at a portion of that data (sampling), which takes less time, and provides you with an accurate answer fast. In the past, the only way to see all your data in Google Analytics would be to purchase the Universal Analytics 360 version for $150K/year.

Google Cloud’s BigQuery is a data warehouse that helps you manage and analyze your data with built-in features such as machine learning. GA4 will give you access to the BigQuery connector previously available only in a 360 property. That means every event triggered on your website or app can be stored and queried in BigQuery. This goes beyond the reporting and analysis interface of GA4 and can bring a ton of additional insights for your site. 

Some advantages and use cases are listed below:

  • No sampling (unless you exceed the limit of 1 million events a day)
  • Unlimited amount of dimensions
  • Calculate aggregated goal completions
  • Build your own Channel Grouping
  • Correct data errors on past data
  • Combine GA data with third-party data sources
  • Use native BigQuery connectors to push data into advanced visualizations tools

Best news to date: We’re here to help!

This may seem daunting, but Google has provided a generous window to transition. We can help across the implementation, data backups, BigQuery setup, and integrations, as well as ongoing dashboard support. We have provided some tips below If you aren’t ready to partner up for a GA4 implementation just yet.

How to set your organization up for success with GA4

Start as early as possible

  • GA4 can collect data alongside UA up until the deadline, so use this time to check differences in data collection and understand the changing functionality

Protect your historical data

  • Pull key reports and datasets out of UA to retain them after switching to GA4
  • Ideally, port UA data over to BigQuery so you can stand up dashboards that stitch old UA data with new GA4 data (we can help with this component)

Use the transition to re-evaluate your tracking needs

  • Does your analytics implementation capture the right data to map to business results?
  • Now that GA4 data flows directly to BigQuery, what other datasets in your organization can you connect to your GA4 data to unlock deeper insights? Commonly ad platform data, CRM data, email marketing data, etc.

Let’s get started!