How to make the most of your data in a post-Google Universal Analytics world

“This property will stop processing data starting July 1, 2023”

If you’ve logged into your Google Analytics account recently, you might have seen an ominous countdown screen. Google Universal Analytics (UA) is shutting down on July 1. While its replacement, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), is an improved analytics platform that can deepen your insights and improve your marketing, it has its own challenges. And unless you’re proactive, you could lose all your existing Google Analytics data.

When it comes to GA4, there are three types of marketers: those who are excited and have used it for years (like the data nerds at LaFleur), those who set up a GA4 property but believe it is a necessary evil, and those who won’t do anything with GA4 until Google makes it mandatory.

Why are we so excited about GA4? This blog explains why, what it means for you, and will deepen your understanding of the benefits of data analysis.

Why is Google changing from UA to GA4? 

Since 2012, many businesses have used Universal Analytics to help their business grow and thrive. For 11 years, it’s been an essential tool for collecting data about who visits your website, how they interact with it, and your campaigns’ performance.

Many of us are comfortable with UA, but UA could not keep up with our increased use of artificial intelligence, the need for better data privacy, and consumers’ increasingly multi-device journeys. Marketers needed a more advanced platform.

Google responded to this need with GA4, which offers more flexibility, better data privacy, and enables more robust cross-device and cross-platform tracking.

What does this mean for your business?

GA4 is a powerful tool that can deliver deeper insights and more control over data. Here are some of the platform’s biggest opportunities.

Better metrics can help you understand what interests your audience

UA focused on tracking visitors to your website through cookies and sessions. GA4 has a different data model. So, some metrics and dimensions may not be available or may look different in your analytics dashboard.

For example, many firms track Bounce Rate metrics; the percentage of people who visit one page on your website and then exit your site from that same page is considered a bounce. What that metric doesn’t tell you is if they engaged with that page.

In GA4, the bounce rate metric is replaced by engaged sessions. Engaged sessions tell you how many people went to a specific page, what percentage of people were engaging, and what actions they took while on the page. If you customize your engaged sessions, it can tell you who stayed on your site for more than 10 seconds and what actions they took – from how far someone scrolls down a page, to discovering where your website traffic is coming from. This capability, and many others, allow you to better understand what content interests your visitors. Digital analytics experts can help you translate those into actionable insights to deepen relationships or gain qualified leads.

Collecting data and creating custom reports made easier

GA4 uses an event-driven data model, while UA uses a hit-based model to collect data.

GA4 has advanced cross-device and cross-platform tracking capabilities. In an age where we often use multiple devices at the same time, this capability allows you to track interactions across multiple devices and platforms. UA had limited capabilities in this regard.

GA4 also provides machine learning and AI-powered insights to help you gain a deeper understanding of how people use your site and what they prefer.

Compiling all this data may seem like a lot, but the GA4 dashboard is easier to read thanks to its enhanced visualization capabilities. And creating custom reporting is simplified.

Data privacy is a top priority

The transition from UA to GA4 is essential for those who want better data privacy controls. GA4 has improved privacy controls, like data retention periods and data collection restrictions based on user consent—crucial in an era of heightened privacy concerns.

Now, if someone does not want to be tracked, you cannot collect their personalized data. (And that’s a good thing for consumers who are concerned about privacy.) You will be able to see that this person converted on your website, but you will not have access to unique identifier information.

However, there is a downside to these privacy protections. Universal Analytics lets you store user data (like information about users’ ages, genders, and interests) forever. With GA4, you can choose how long user data (like information about users’ age, gender, and interests) is stored. But that time is capped at 14 months.

If you do not have a data warehousing or data protection plan, you will lose user data.

What happens to my UA data?

Your data is valuable. It offers so many essential marketing and business insights:

  • Where your website traffic is coming from
  • How different age groups interact with your content
  • The percentage of people who come to your website and convert
  • Which pages are the most engaging and which lead to the most conversions
  • Year-over-year growth trends

Unfortunately, the transition to GA4 poses two risks to your data.

1. Your UA data will not migrate to GA4

When you transition to GA4, your historic data will not go with you to the new platform. Until January 2024, you will still be able to access your historic data on the UA platform. But after that time, it will be completely inaccessible—unless you move it to a data warehouse.

2. GA4 won’t keep your data forever

We mentioned this already, but GA4’s data retention policies are a challenge. You can only store data for a maximum of 14 months on the platform. And after 14 months, your user attributes are wiped from the GA servers.

You can, however, migrate your data to your own data warehouse. (And if you have questions about data warehouses or want to learn about how you can view all your UA and GA4 data on a single dashboard, reach out to LaFleur. We can help.)

What should you do before the GA4 switch on July 1?

If you are a LaFleur client already, our team has already transitioned you to GA4. We wanted ample time for Google’s machine learning algorithms to start learning about your website visitors. So, we started working with GA4 over a year ago. We should talk about data retention, but you’re in relatively good shape.

If you’re not a LaFleur client and you haven’t moved to GA4, you still have some time to set up your GA4 instance and learn more about the new platform. Google will create a property for you, but you will need to connect this to your website and install the code. (It’s simpler than it sounds. Reach out if you have questions or want to learn more).

If you set up GA4 now, you will have some historical data that you can use for comparisons on the platform. Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) will stop collecting data on July 1st, 2023. But, for six months, you will still have access to historical data in UA. During this time, you should consider warehousing your UA data. Again, GA4 will not import your website data from UA, or retroactively get website data. Unless you preserve your UA data, after January 1, 2024, the data will be gone.

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Don’t lose those valuable insights

We’ve been working in GA4 for more than a year now and know that its advantages far outweigh the seeming complexity of switching to GA4. As digital marketers, we know that analyzing past data helps us create better strategies for the future.

If you’d like to know more about saving and storing your historical UA data, we have a data warehouse, which holds large amounts of data. We can also use that data to help you build interactive dashboards that blend both past UA and current GA4 data, giving you a holistic picture of how people engage with your website. Over time, this helps you make data-driven decisions, personalize web experiences, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about our services and how we can help your business grow, reach out to schedule a time to meet with our team today.

Bob Flavin

Bob Flavin is LaFleur’s lead digital strategist, directing all the agency’s paid advertising and data analytics work. He has over a decade of experience guiding B2B and B2C digital strategy.