Google Analytics 4 Frequently Asked Questions (GA4 FAQ)
What is GA4?
Google Analytics 4 is the replacement for Universal Analytics (Google Analytics 3). GA4 is a new product designed to better track user activity in a changing digital environment. Although it may sound like a mere upgrade, it really is an entirely new product that will require major adjustments.
Why is Google introducing GA4?
Universal Analytics (UA) was designed when smartphones were few and cookies were plentiful. Its data model was tied to “sessions,” which are periods of use by a single user on a single device. This no longer gives an accurate picture of how users are interacting with websites. GA4 is designed to track user interactions more granularly, and tie those interactions to sessions as well as individual users – even if they use multiple devices. GA4 is capable of doing this while still following current and planned data privacy legislation.
When will Universal Analytics disappear?
Universal Analytics (UA) properties will stop processing data on July 1, 2023. Google has stated that access to historical data in UA will remain at least until January 1, 2024.
What are the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4?
The differences are too numerous to list in a single article, but some key points are:
- User Interface: UA’s interface is basically a large collection of pre-built reports, whereas GA4 is built for actively exploring data. GA4 definitely comes with a learning curve.
- Data Modeling: UA’s session-based data model is replaced by GA4’s event-based model. This change provides better and more accurate data, as well as understanding users’ behavior regardless of what device they use or if they move between different locations (e.g. with a smartphone).
- Machine Learning: Since more and more users are opting-out of data collection, GA4 utilizes machine learning to fill in the gaps. By modeling the general behavior of a great number of users, most holes in data can be interpolated. In case that makes you uncomfortable, GA4 keeps track of recorded data versus modeled data and can quickly report on variance between the two. In addition, machine learning will be used to provide insights into data as well as identify anomalous activity.
- Views: GA4 does not have views. It is strongly suggested that you pay close attention to user permissions and who can edit sensitive settings, or make separate “private” properties to minimize unwanted interference.
Can I migrate my data from UA to GA4?
No. Comparing UA to GA4 is like comparing apples to oranges. While there is some overlap, most metrics and dimensions have changed slightly or entirely.
When should I switch to GA4?
Right now! Since UA and GA4 do not have the same data structures, direct historical comparisons are not possible between the two without significant manual work. Since UA will stop processing new data on July 1, 2023, your GA4 properties will either have to inaccurately compare historical data to UA or have enough historical data on their own beyond that date. This means GA4 should ideally be set up before July 1, 2022.
I’m late to the game and haven’t migrated yet! What do I do?
If you waited too long to migrate to GA4, first off, don’t beat yourself up – the vast majority of website providers and plugin vendors are behind as well. Several large providers have stated they will not be able to roll-out GA4 compatibility until March 2023. This doesn’t mean that you’re helpless! If you already have a Universal Analytics account and use Google Tag Manager, it shouldn’t take more than an afternoon to create a GA4 property and get it started collecting data. Although you won’t be able to track every interaction, you can start tracking the important ones right now. It will be a pain comparing data between UA and GA4 until your GA4 properties have enough historical data on their own, but the faster you get GA4 up and running, the less of a pain it will be!