It’s time to complete the switch to GA4

Sunset timelines for Universal Analytics, what the switch means for your organization, and new features.

Google Analytics 4 was officially released in October 2020, and since then, our official advice has been to implement it in parallel to Universal Analytics (A.K.A. GA3). The aim of this was to allow organizations to start building up historical data in GA4 and start adopting new product features for when the time comes for a hard cut-over from Universal Analytics. This advice was/is important because there will be no way to export your historical Universal Analytics data into GA4.

Now, as of the 16th of March 2022, Google has announced the sunset timelines for Universal Analytics whereby your existing UA properties will no longer process new hits from July 1st 2023 onwards.

This big announcement adds concrete timelines for organizations to prioritize migrations to GA4. Where previously conversations looked at the incremental value that GA4 could bring, it’s now a matter of whether or not the organization would like to continue to leverage web analytics.

During the past 18 months, we’ve seen many organizations begin their GA4 journey with varying levels of adoption. For many, a hesitation to invest heavily in the switch was delayed until key existing UA features were replicated in GA4. We’ve been keeping an eye out for when enough key features from UA would be available in GA4, and we believe that for many, that time is now. Not only are the majority of key features now in GA4, but there are additional new features that weren’t previously available in UA.

Universal Analytics Features Already Available in GA4

Premium version with higher hit limits
The premium (paid) version of GA4 is called “The New GA” and can now be procured through GA resellers like Reprise. There is also a new pricing model which will make it more accessible for small to mid-size organizations.
DV360 Integration
The DV360 integration just went live in The New GA (February 2022), allowing us to build some really powerful (ML-driven) audiences for retargeting or lookalike audiences.
Google Optimize Integration
You can also now use Google Optimize with GA4. The key difference here is that you can now run experiments using user-metrics instead of looking through the session scope of UA. For many CRO professionals, this is seen as a positive move towards more user-centric experience optimization.
Data-Driven Attribution Modelling
Anyone familiar with GA360 will know the value brought by the data-driven attribution modelling reports. In Q1 2022, GA4 launched data-driven attribution, even for non-premium properties. Further to this, DDA isn’t just available in a separate attribution report, you can use it in any of the key reports in the platform.
Channel Groupings
A mainstay of the UA platforms is the ability to classify traffic from multiple sources into a clean, condensed set of channel groupings (e.g. Paid Search vs Organic Search vs Email etc.). The ability to create and manage these channel groupings was implemented in Q4 2021, bringing a much-needed feature back to the platform.
Google Search Console Linking
For SEOs, the Search Console linking in UA, was an easy and efficient way to see organic search terms and stats quickly and easily. In Q4 2021, this feature was added to GA4.

Missing (and hopefully future) GA4 features

The features we’re most keen to see added to GA4 in order to reach product parity with Universal Analytics:
Data Import with API
This is a big one for more mature organizations who are importing fields related to products, customers, transactions, platform costs, or predictions, into GA. At present, no API or automation  methodology is available for GA4 data imports. However, it may be possible to replicate your data import functionality into GA4 using the measurement protocol instead.
Properties & Views
Before, we were used to seeing organizations create multiple views in Universal Analytics as a way to analyze their websites in segments, to help distribute access to the right data to the right people, or to allow for risk-free testing as to not sully your production analytics data. Beyond this, for GA360 users, roll-up properties are a key way to combine and analyze data from multiple properties, of particular importance for complex organizations. We’ve heard many asking for this feature, but don’t let this be your blocker to implementing GA4, because you could always apply filtered views and roll-up properties down the track if/when they become available.
Salesforce Integration
A big drawcard for GA360 is the Salesforce integration which allows you to stitch your online experience with your Salesforce Marketing Cloud data. Because we’ve seen a lot of GA360 features start their replication into The New GA, we have no doubt, this will be on the horizon before too long.
If you’re currently leveraging these features, we recommend to start implementing and migrating to GA4 regardless. We’ve seen new features developed for GA4 in rapid succession, so it’s just a matter of time before GA4 reaches complete UA product parity.

New Features in GA4, not in Universal Analytics

With all this comparison between GA4 and UA, it’s only fair to call out the features in GA4, that aren’t available in UA.
BigQuery export for non-premium properties
Before, to automatically export GA data into BigQuery, you needed GA360. Now, BigQuery exports using the data transfer service are available to all GA4 properties, free and paid. This opens up a new world of reporting, insights, and modelling capabilities to more organizations.
Predictive audiences
The predictive audiences in GA4 allow you to predict which users will churn, conversion, and lifetime value based on the data available in GA. These audiences far-outperform broader retargeting audiences, putting advanced AI at your fingertips.
Privacy-centric, IP anonymisation by default
GA4 was built with privacy at the centre. It enhances privacy for users by leveraging IP anonymization by default. GA4 can also be used in conjunction with consent mode, to make tracking opt-ins easier and more reliable to implement.
New data model with fewer scopes
Within GA4, we now have just 2 data scopes instead of 4. This means that all information that used to fit within the hits, sessions, users and ecommerce scopes, are now condensed to just user and event scopes. As a result, transitioning is about more that changing your existing tagging to GA4, some thought should be put into how you name and add parameters to your events. Conveniently, select events are now automatically collected in GA4 such as: Language, Page location, Scrolls, Link clicks, and YouTube video views. The new model replaces the Event Category, Event Action, Event Label, and Event Value used in UA with 25 event parameters which can be configured and sent with each event.

Is it time to move?

Yes. With the recent sunset announcement, this is now a much easier question to answer. If you want to build up at least a year of historical data in GA4 before the hard cutover, then you have approximately 3 months to set up GA4. Not only this, but because it takes time to transition an organization and your entire technical debt to GA4, it’s best to start now to make sure you can take the time you need to move over.

All the best with your transition to the next generation of web analytics. As always, for support, please contact us.