Come July 2023, our Google Analytics accounts operating under the “Universal” tracking method will go dark and tracking will end. Google Analytics 4 will be the replacement and, all going well, we will enjoy and profit from the transition. So when is the ideal time to make the move?  

June 31st 2023 could be a bit late, but is tomorrow too early? After reading the blog posts from Google and the rest and browsing around the new application, here’s my first take on when to make the move.

Let’s not forget that what you see is not what you will get – the application is still in development. 

As with most software updates, there are features of the old application that we’ll miss in the new. We can hope that some of these will be delivered later, but others – based on what we see so far – are gone for good.  With the caveat that I do not know Google’s development plan for this product, here are my best guesses on what could be (hopefully) “coming soon” and what is “gone forever”.  

Better data organisation is an area that I hope is on its way. Previously the application allowed you to organise your data into “Views”. You could use 25 views for each Google Analytics property you owned. So we had “raw”, “test”, “unfiltered”, “main” – whatever naming convention worked for you to treat your “bucket” of tracking data in the way you wanted. The upgrade has none of this; you have just one “bucket” or “data stream” to work with. No way to test your changes, just one “live” data stream and no way to revert back from errors that any custom configuration makes. 

I hope there are also more features coming to ecommerce measurement. It’s a part of digital marketing that sucks up as much measurement data as you can throw at it. Previously you could invoke “Enhanced Ecommerce Reporting” and push a stream of ecommerce-specific data into your Google Analytics account to better understand shopping behaviour. There’s nothing like this in Google Analytics 4 – yet.

Next up, reporting. Data is nice but the insights garnered from great reporting is what really matters. A well thought out report can enable new knowledge to jump off the screen. So it pains me to see that one of my favourites – the “Source / Medium” report in the “Acquisition” section of the old application – is missing from the standard reports now on offer.  

I loved this report. While taking many Google Analytics training sessions, I witnessed “lightbulb” moments come from this report. Business owners would see their data displayed in this way and instantly understand what was and wasn’t working with their digital marketing.  

Thankfully, it’s not totally gone – you just have to click, click, search, click and create it for yourself. Before, however, it required zero effort to deliver maximum impact. Grr.  

I am hoping all of these are just bumps on the development road the Google Analytics team is traveling on.  But what about the stuff that’s goneburger?  

Bounce rate has been bounced.

There is no concept of bounce rate in the upgraded product.  

That handy “catch all” metric, displayed as a percentage, showed the proportion of visitors who visited your website, looked at one page and “bounced” out of the site.

I get why it’s not there – more on that later – but there are bazillions of web pages on this metric and how to improve it, and come July 2023 they’ll need an update. Some may consider it arrogant to remove this from a measurement tool used by millions, but others may not.

In its place we have the “glass half full” metric of “engaged” users.

To become members of this group, people need to have sessions that last 10 seconds or more and / or do something on your website that triggers an engagement type “event” –  such as scrolling down the page, viewing a video etc.  

The offset to this omission is the neat coding trick that the new application allows. Tracking these types of “events” used to require some custom coding, but now they’re built into the applications. It’s a handy list too: 

Scroll tracking – movement down the page

Outbound clicks – e.g., clicking to your social channels

Site search – if you offer search within your website

Video engagement – for YouTube style videos

Tracking file downloads – if there are PDF documents offered on your pages

This makes the actions of an “engaged” user so much easier to measure. And if your website is made up of the majority of your visitors viewing just one page of your website and making a decision, then you’re in luck. 

Of course, all this improvement in behaviour tracking requires the “cookie consent” of the website visitor. And as I have previously noted, we all want more control of our data and this consent is no longer a foregone conclusion.

So how will this measurement work when fewer people want to be tracked?  

Enter Behaviour Modeling. 

The old version had no answer for this; your data just shrunk. Google Analytics 4 comes with “behaviour modeling” built in by Google to fill the gaps with… you guessed it, more data-driven guesses.   

Again, Google has no choice. Users who come to your site and turn off cookies will remain hidden unless there’s some guessing going on. Ideally I would like to see some reporting to show what percentage of traffic is being guessed and how the data would look without modeling. It may be there or coming soon, but as I write this it’s hidden.  

Get used to more fuzzy data coming your way.  

So, is it time to shift?

In these instances I would switch tomorrow.

For those who sell decisions that are frequently made from one page of a website, it’s a no brainer. Make the move now. The extra event tracking you gain is a win, and getting used to understanding the new customer-centric view of reporting will take some time to master (more on this coming later.) 

To ecommerce folks, I suggest you bide your time. Have Google Analytics 4 installed to run parallel with Google Analytics Universal to spot the size of your data gaps, because there will be some. The new application uses a different measurement protocol than the old. There’s no need to go into the details here, but expect manageable gaps.  

My advice for mega site owners is the same; wait for a better way to organise your data, because inadvertently messing up your tracking data is a problem. Yes, you can roll in a fix today for an error you made last week, but you cannot fix the dud 7 days of data you created.  

Remember, this is an entree – the full meal arrives July 2023. 

I have a lot more to write on this subject so expect more as the months count down. The whole reporting space has gone through a massive rewrite that needs some comment. In particular, the “customer journey” cues Google has taken when laying out their data is interesting. 

Make contact today to book a complimentary chat re your own Google Analytics 4 migration plans.