The Parallel Tracking Universe of GA4
Late last year, Google Analytics, the ubiquitous (read free) search analysis tool that is the cornerstone of many marketer’s digital playbooks got a major facelift. The new version of Google Analytics, named Google Analytics 4 (GA4), is a new and updated data analytics platform, incorporating a new data model, features, structure, reporting, and even a new tag. But, understandably, this has left business owners and marketers unsure about whether (or, rather, when) to upgrade. Rumours flourished, claiming that users would lose all their data if they didn’t upgrade, and the update left marketers with concerns about what will happen to the old version of Google Analytics.
In this paper, we’ll present an overview of what’s new, what has been upgraded, and what’s no longer available in the new platform. We’ll also highlight how important it is for marketers to be on top of new releases in technologies and tools. But most importantly, we’ll answer the question the whole industry is asking themselves: what should I be doing?
The old, well-known Google Analytics version, also known as Universal Analytics (UA) was introduced to the market back in 2013 as an upgrade to Classic Google Analytics. UA was hailed as being much more user-centric, making it possible to collect data at the user level and integrate it across multiple devices with visitor-scoped on-site metrics.
GA4: the scoop
GA4 was released in 2020 in order to completely revamp the contemporary methods for web data collection and analysis, automating set up, and removing some level of the manual work needed previously.
Some of the new features in GA4 include:
Relevant for technical teams (who do set-ups and configurations and have the technical skills)
- Hits are captured as events; while other hit types (like Pageview) don’t exist anymore.
- It incorporates automation to execute the tracking of certain standard events (now referred to as Enhanced Measurement), including Scroll tracking, YouTube video engagements, PDF downloads or Outbound clicks.
- It’s more GDPR compliant, by using IP Anonymisation as a default feature.
Relevant for performance managers and analysts (who read and analyse data and reports)
- It enables collection and integration of data from website and apps in one single property.
- The reporting interface has had an overhaul, including new names for reports, such as Analysis Hub and User Lifetime reports, as well as new metrics, such as Engagement metrics. The concept of “Bounce Rate” will be all but forgotten in a few years’ time.
- GA4 uses machine learning to close the gaps in data collection, a precursor to what will inevitably occur in the cookie-less world we’re rapidly heading towards. It emphasises the use of cohorts for the analysis.
So far, so good, right? It sounds like the new GA can do some exciting new things, and its potential in terms of machine learning is exciting. This could even open up opportunities in the coming years for marketers to predict potential future revenue. Yet, the introduction of GA4 has generated a lot of confusion within digital marketers and the industry, triggered by doubts and questions around what Google’s plans are for the future of Analytics.
There’s been some speculation around the doomsday of Universal Analytics and whether it will be discontinued or even directly taken down. Marketers are unsure whether or not to adopt GA4 in its early stages and be the pioneers in discovering its various uses, or wait until it’s well established in the market, when its features can be unveiled and explained more thoroughly by others.
But if that is the case, the question is: when is a good moment to embrace this new technology? The experts agree that as we progress through 2021, it’s highly recommended that marketers have two Google Analytics Properties collecting data under the (not so original) term, “Parallel Tracking”. In fact, Google itself has endorsed this approach as an interim measure while users adjust.
So what does this mean? For starters, your old Universal Analytics property will remain untouched, remaining 100% operational. As a result, you won’t feel pressured to switch to the new version and potentially lose existing data. However, it’s highly recommended that, at this stage at least, you take your first step into the future and try creating a GA4 property and installing it in parallel. It’s unknown how long Google will retain the UA version of the platform, but if the previous transition is any indication, this took several years. (Making it safe to say we’ve got some time up our sleeves!)
GA4 is still in its early days, so anyone using it enthusiastically might find some features are still missing. Fortunately though, Google is releasing updates almost every week to refine the platform. It’s literally a moveable feast! Therefore, it’s expected that in the very near future, GA4 will completely surpass the capabilities of the older version.
But for now, with millions of websites still using UA and users far more familiar with its interface, it’s highly recommended you keep UA for your usual day-to-day reporting. At the same time, experiment with the new features in your parallel GA4 property, then when you’re familiar with the new platform and feel confident, you’ll be ready to switch.
In the digital marketing industry, it’s essential to stay up to date with new technologies, especially when they come from the mega players, because their decisions have enough power to completely change the way that the industry operates. GA4 is just one of the most recent and largest updates in terms of scale and impact.
Change can be scary – with it comes risks, fears and resistance. And some people are more inclined to embrace it than others. But in the end, it all comes down to how quickly you’re willing (and able) to adapt and filter any changes down within your organisation. The good news is Universal Analytics is not going anywhere anytime soon, so the timings for your personal journey with GA4 will be dictated only by you. And of course, the Bright Sparks at AFFINITY are happy to help out. Just contact our Head of Digital at firstname.lastname@example.org