In the world of website and marketing performance tracking, Google Analytics has been the go-to tool since its inception in 2005. Over the years, Google has continuously improved and expanded its capabilities. However, a recent announcement has shaken up the analytics community. On July 1, 2023, Google will be discontinuing one of its most widely used instances of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics. This change marks the rise of a new era with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
What's Changing and Why?
The transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 may seem confusing at first, but understanding the key differences and benefits will help you navigate this change with ease. Universal Analytics, the default version of Google Analytics since 2012, will no longer process data after July 1, 2023. Although you will still be able to access Universal Analytics reports for a limited time, new data will only flow into GA4 properties.
So, why the switch? Google Analytics 4 is not just an upgraded version of Universal Analytics; it is a completely reimagined platform designed to align with current and future reporting needs and privacy regulations. GA4 offers several distinct advantages over its predecessor, including event-based tracking, cross-device tracking, machine learning capabilities, and enhanced privacy features.
Understanding Properties in Google Analytics
Before diving deeper into the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4, let's clarify an important term: properties. In Google Analytics, a property refers to the website or app that you are tracking. If you are currently using Universal Analytics to track your website, it is referred to as your "Universal Analytics property." Once you set up GA4, you will have a "Google Analytics 4 property" for the same website. It is crucial to note that UA and GA4 provide different reports and insights for each property.
The Evolution of Google Analytics
To fully grasp the significance of GA4, let's take a brief trip down memory lane and explore the evolution of Google Analytics. The journey began in 2005 with the introduction of the first version of Google Analytics. This initial release laid the foundation for subsequent iterations, including Universal Analytics in 2012 and Google Analytics 360 in 2016. Finally, on October 14, 2020, Google unveiled its latest iteration, Google Analytics 4.
Key Differences Between UA and GA4
Google Analytics 4 represents a significant departure from Universal Analytics in terms of functionality and purpose. While UA is session-based, GA4 operates on an event-based model. This means that GA4 provides built-in tracking capabilities for events like button clicks and video plays, whereas UA requires additional setup for such tracking. GA4 also offers enhanced cross-device tracking, allowing businesses to gain insights into customer journeys across various websites and apps. Additionally, GA4 leverages machine learning technology to provide valuable insights and predictions. Lastly, GA4 prioritizes user privacy by reducing reliance on cookies, aligning with increasing privacy regulations.