Oliver Palmer

Why you need to migrate to GA4 (immediately)

Universal Analytics will stop ingesting data at the end of June 2023, but there are some good reasons why you should make the switch now

Illustration of UA logo crossed out next to GA4 logo

In October 2020, Google released a new version of Google Analytics. GA4 was missing a lot of features to begin with and was fairly useless. Now, GA4 is a fully featured product and your old analytics implementation won't be able to ingest any new data after July 1st 2023. It's time to upgrade and here's why.

What's different about Google Analytics 4?

Universal Analytics (GA3, if you will) came out in 2005. The mobile web didn't exist in any meaningful way, apps weren't a thing, and cookies reigned supreme. It was a different world. GA3's measurement model is a reflection of that time and it is no longer fit for purpose. It hasn't been for years.

Event-based tracking

GA4 elevates the ‘event' to a first-class citizen. Instead of sessions and pages, GA4 centres around 'events' and ‘parameters'. This is a massive shift. Yes, GA3 had event tracking but using that data in any compelling way was basically impossible.

Track apps, websites, whatever

GA4 makes reporting on app-based activity vastly easier. Web and app reporting use a set of consistent metrics and dimensions, so you can compare apples to apples without squinting.

Better engagement metrics

The old GA was garbage at measuring engagement. ‘Time on Site' and ‘Bounce rate' were so distorted and aggregated as to be only vaguely useful. GA4 has some new metrics that provide a considerably more nuanced view than before.

‘User Engagement', for instance, reports the duration that your app screen is in the foreground or your web page is in focus. ‘Engagement rate' tracks the number of sessions that last longer than 10 seconds, have a conversion event, or at least two page or screen views.

Less standard reporting

GA3 is stuffed with useless preconfigured reports. There's one that plots your visitors on a world map, one that shows which version of Flash they have installed (really), one that displays screen resolutions.

Most of these reports are absolute dogshit. Worse, they provide the illusion of complete, out-of-the-box business reporting. As a result, most GA users have not discovered the powerful insights found in custom reports, let alone custom tracking. GA4 looks very sparse by contrast. This is a good thing.

More sophisticated reporting

In place of standard reports, you get a highly sophisticated and flexible report builder. Create funnels on the fly (for whatever you want), use ‘Trended funnels' to see how a funnel is performing over time. Use in-built cohort analysis tools to find your best customers.

You can understand user journeys in a straightforward way with the path exploration report. Identify the traffic source or campaign which generated customers with the highest lifetime value. Mix, match and interrogate your data in every way. It's very cool.

Better Google Ads integration

GA3's Ads integration always felt a bit kludged together. GA4 has been built from the ground up with Google Ads integration in mind. This makes creating dynamic remarketing audiences a breeze and ensures greater consistency between your success metrics.

Less spam, bots and junk

41% of website traffic in 2021 came from bots. Competitors scraping your prices, DDOS attacks, bots testing stolen credit cards. This automated, non-human traffic dilutes your conversion rate and muddies up your analytics data. GA4 automatically excludes bot traffic (you had to tick a box previously, and many sites did not) and stops spam referrers dead in their tracks.

Predictive metrics and conversion modelling

Where GA3 tells you what's already happened, GA4 uses machine learning to gaze into the crystal ball. There are three new metrics to predict which users are going to convert, which users will return and project revenue for the next 28 days.

To work, you need at least 1,000 visitors who have purchased (and another 1,000 who did not) in the last 28-day period. The results that I've seen so far are a bit mixed, but there's definitely some potential here.

Automated tracking

GA4 will automatically track some useful events which would previously have required cumbersome and non-standard tracking in GA3. There is built-in form tracking which fires an event the first time a user interacts with a form during a session and another when a form is submitted. It has scroll depth tracking to record when a user scrolls to the bottom of the page. File downloads are tracked. Video tracking is also automated, firing events when a video is played, reach various milestones (10%, 25%, 50%, and 75%) and when it is complete.

Anomaly detection

With some baked-in data science magic, GA4 will let you know if conversion tanks, or sessions spike or something else weird happens. This helps you identify trouble sooner and speeds up your BAU analysis.

Umpteen other things

The features listed above are the ones most relevant for me, and for a generalist eCommerce audience but there are so many more. Have a look at a much more detailed view over at OptimizeSmart.

Why it's time to switch to GA4

GA4 is the future of Google Analytics. If you want a very powerful analytics platform for zero dollars, there is no avoiding it. Come mid-2023 it will be your only free option. If you're willing to pay, yes, you could absolutely move to Amplitude or Heap or Mixpanel or Adobe Analytics. Here are a few reasons to make the switch before the hard shutdown.

Avoid the rush

Simple sites without a lot of custom tracking won't have trouble migrating to GA4. There's a fairly straightforward set-up assistant and even goal migration tools. More complicated sites will need careful set-up, instrumentation and testing. Many agencies and consultants that I know already have waiting lists stretching into February 2023. I expect that the closer we get to June, the more in demand this help will become.

It's a better tool

GA4 was flimsy when first released. It didn't have any eCommerce tracking or attribution functionality. But now it has pretty much everything that GA3 had and bucketloads more. It's a better product, more suited to the omnidirectional trainwreck that is the internet circa 2022.

Your numbers will probably be different

You can expect that there will be some fluctuation between new and old analytics platforms. Shifting across the GA4 now ensures that you'll have a good sense of the delta, to avoid surprises in July next year.

More historical data

Conducting meaningful website performance analysis often means comparing what's happened recently with a baseline of historical data. You're already too late to have YoY data. But the sooner you switch, the better basis for comparison you'll have.

Time to learn the interface

GA4 is not an upgrade. It's more of a migration to a new evolution of Google Analytics. As a result, the interface is completely different. It will take a little while to get used to. But if you switch today, you can have the luxury of using the two side-by-side while you transition.