Two men sit side by side at a desk looking at the screen of an open laptop. The man on the left is wearing a midnight blue button-up shirt and has a relaxed look on his face. His right hand is operating the laptop trackpad. The man on the right is wearing a blue button-up shirt and gray plaid tie and has a smile on his face. Another open laptop sits on the table in the foreground, out of focus.
Google Analytics 4 will make the current Universal Analytics system obsolete. Google has a six-step migration plan for website owners to transfer their existing data. — Getty Images/Erik Von Weber

Google Analytics (GA) is a free tool available for website owners. It tracks site traffic, usage statistics, and search engine optimization (SEO) ranking. Millions of companies use Google Analytics for marketing purposes, and it’s changed quite a bit since Google introduced it in the early 2000s. However, the latest version brings many new capabilities.

When it finishes transitioning to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), Google will stop processing data in the Universal Analytics version. Since many businesses rely on historical information when planning and assessing marketing goals, you’ll want to take steps now to save your data and move forward. Here’s what you need to know and where to start.

Understanding the next generation of Google Analytics

According to a joint report from Google and Forrester, The Future Of Analytics

, 84% of executives believe cross-platform analytics is “critical or very important.” Yet, “only 43% have cross-platform analytics tools implemented.” Google Analytics 4 allows users to collect and analyze event-based information from apps and websites.

Unlike Google’s Universal Analytics (UA), GA4 combines data from both platforms into a single view. It uses machine learning algorithms so users can map the site visitor’s journey and better understand engagements. GA4 also provides direct integrations to media channels, letting you see what drives actions on your app or website.

Google said, “Google Analytics 4 is designed with privacy at its core.” Indeed, the latest version adds privacy controls, including behavioral and conversion modeling and cookieless measurement.

[Read more: Best Services for Online Marketing Analytics]

Google Analytics 4 vs Uniform Analytics

The main difference between versions is that GA4 shows data from mobile apps and websites under a single property, whereas Uniform Analytics puts mobile data under a separate property. The metrics also vary, which can be an issue if you compare new GA4 data to historical information from UA.

For instance, GA4 counts every conversion, even if they occurred during the same session. Universal Analytics only counted one action per session. GA4 page view information includes web and app screen views, whereas you need to check two properties to get the combined total when using UA.

Google Analytics 4 is designed with privacy at its core.

Russell Ketchum, Director, Product Management, Google Analytics

Google Analytics 4: dates to remember

Google Analytics properties created before October 14, 2020, will need to transition to GA4. Properties developed after this data most likely use Google Analytics 4, so further action isn't required. Google has been notifying clients about the changes via email.

Starting in March 2023, Google will create a GA4 property for accounts that haven't done it. It will base the settings on your existing UA property. Likewise, if you've already developed a GA4 property, Google will copy any uncompleted configurations.

On July 1, 2023, Google will stop collecting and processing data in Universal Analytics properties. This means you won't see who visits your website or converts. New information will show up in GA4.

In addition, Google provides access to historical UA data for "at least six months." It encourages users to export their historical reports before losing access to reports. Alternatively, you can opt out but cannot collect, process, or view new data through Universal Analytics after July 1, 2023.

Actions to take before and after the transition

Google provides a migration guide for new administrators, those moving to GA4, and content management system (CMS) users. It’s a step-by-step blueprint for switching to Google Analytics 4. Google rates the effort required for each method and links to tools, including the GA4 Setup Assistant and Goals Migration tool. Completing all stages ensures your Google Analytics can collect and turn data into powerful insights.

The six phases include:

  • Determining your account structure.
  • Developing a GA4 property and data stream.
  • Gathering website and app information.
  • Enabling Google signals.
  • Configuring conversions.
  • Adding users.

[Read more: 10 Website Analytics Tools for Your Business]

Resources for learning about GA4

To hit the ground running after the transition, administrators should learn how to configure their GA4 properties and use the program to answer common business questions. Google offers videos showing how to install e-commerce, recreate an audience, and more. It also has a playbook that walks you through various Google Analytics 4 metrics and reports.

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