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Google will deprecate Universal Analytics (AKA Google Analytics 3) on 1st July 2023. From that date, the only option will be to use Google Analytics 4. Since Universal Analytics data won’t migrate, it’s important to set up GA4 now, so you can start building up historical data in your GA4 property. Here’s how to set up Google Analytics 4… and why you should!
In October 2020, Google announced the most significant change to Google Analytics so far: Google Analytics 4. Since then, Google Analytics 4 and the old version of Google Analytics – called Universal Analytics or Google Analytics 3 – have existed in parallel, with many bloggers and website owners choosing to stick with the old, familiar version of Google Analytics.
However, Google have recently announced that they are going to deprecate Universal Analytics (AKA Google Analytics 3) on 1st July 2023. This means Universal Analytics properties will no longer process data from 1st July 2023 (although Google have said that the old Universal Analytics data will still be available to view for at least 6 months after the deprecation date).
One really important factor to consider is that Universal Analytics data won’t migrate to the new Google Analytics 4. This means that you need to set up the new version of analytics – Google Analytics 4 – as soon as possible, so you can build up some historical data ahead of the deprecation date.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the new version of Google Analytics. Since 2013, website owners have been using Universal Analytics (also called Google Analytics 3 or just ‘Google Analytics’) to measure traffic and engagement on their websites. But in October 2020, Google launched a brand new version of their analytics tool: Google Analytics 4.
Google Analytics 4 is not just a minor tweak – it’s a completely new version of Google Analytics – totally reimagined from the ground up. Data is collected differently and presented differently, with a totally new interface. GA4 also requires a different setup process.
Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 have existed alongside one another since GA4 was first launched in October 2020. However, many bloggers and website owners continued to use Universal Analytics as it was more familiar and there was no big reason to change.
The announcement of the deprecation of Universal Analytics has changed all that. It’s now vitally important to set up your GA4 property as soon as possible, so you can start building up some historical GA4 data ahead of the deprecation of GA3.
What is the difference between GA3 and GA4?
Google Analytics 4 is quite different to Google Analytics 3. Put very simply, GA3 (Universal Analytics) tracks sessions and pageviews whereas GA4 tracks users and events.
In GA4, the emphasis is much more on what users actually ‘do’ on your website. Instead of creating a new session when a user returns to a site, GA4 records all the events they complete. Every action taken by a user is counted as an ‘event’.
The new version of Google Analytics is also much more privacy focused. For example, IP addresses (considered ‘personal data’ according to the GDPR) are automatically anonymised and there is a stricter data retention policy.
Do I need to switch from Universal Analytics to GA4?
You don’t necessarily need to stop using Universal Analytics right now, but you should at least set up Google Analytics 4 so you can start collecting data in your GA4 property. Like it or not, GA4 is the future of Google Analytics, and the longer you put off setting up GA4, the less data you will have available for historical comparison when Universal Analytics is deprecated on 1st July 2023.
Universal Analytics data won’t migrate to GA4 and the new GA4 property will only collect data from the time of creation. This means that if you put off setting up Google Analytics until the last moment, you will have no historical data in your GA4 property when you are forced to switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 on 1st July 2023.
From July 2023 onwards, Universal Analytics will no longer collect data and Google has said that the Universal Analytics data may only be available to view for 6 months after the deprecation date.
Should I run both GA3 and GA4?
The good news is, it’s not an either/or scenario – you don’t have to choose between the old familiar Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4. It is perfectly possible to run both GA3 and GA4 in parallel until July 2023 and, in fact, I recommend you do run both GA3 and GA4, at least for the time being.
It’s a good idea to run both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 in parallel for 3 key reasons:
1. Historical data
Your new GA4 property will only collect data from the point in time when you set it up. If you are just starting out with GA4, you won’t have any historical data – meaning you won’t be able to compare your current data with data from previous months and years.
By running both GA3 and GA4 in parallel, you can continue to use the historical data you’ve already built up in your GA3 property for comparison purposes, while building up data in your GA4 property, which you can use for comparison in the future.
2. Ease of use
Google Analytics 4 is still in its early days and, if I am honest, it still feels awkward, unintuitive and clunky. (And I am very much not alone in that opinion!) GA3 is generally seen to be much easier to use and understand.
However, it is expected that Google will continue to make significant improvements to GA4 over the coming months. By the time Google deprecate Universal Analytics, I expect GA4 will be considerably more intuitive, user friendly and useful.
To me, it does not feel like a good use of time to do battle with a half-finished, clunky version of Google Analytics 4, while there is a much more user friendly and familiar option available.
3. GA4 is likely to change
Because it’s generally expected that Google will continue to improve GA4 in the coming months, ahead of the deprecation of Universal Analytics in July 2023, it seems to me to make little sense to spend a lot of time right now learning how to use an interface that’s likely to change.
Personally, I recommend you keep using Universal Analytics for now, but set up a GA4 property to ensure that you have plenty of historical data available in GA4 for when GA3 is no longer an option.
How to set up Google Analytics 4 (step by step with screengrabs)
Setting up Google Analytics 4 is very easy and will take you less than 5 minutes to do. I recommend you do it RIGHT NOW, so you can get the maximum amount of historical data in your account ahead of the GA3 deprecation date in July 2023.
Remember, you don’t have to start using GA4 right now. The only thing you need to do right now is set things up so GA4 starts collecting data.
(Please note, the following step by step tutorial assumes you already have Universal Analytics set up on your website. If you don’t have Universal Analytics, head to this tutorial which shows you how to set up both GA3 and GA4 from scratch.)
1. Select your Universal Analytics Property
Navigate to Google Analytics and select the gear icon (‘Admin’) in the bottom left. Select the correct account from the dropdown menu under ACCOUNT (You only need to do this if you have more than one Google Analytics account.) Then, select your Universal Analytics property from the dropdown menu under PROPERTY. (If you only have one website, it will automatically be selected.)
2. Launch the Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant
In the PROPERTY column, select GA4 SETUP ASSISTANT and then click GET STARTED under ‘I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property.’
3. Create your new Google Analytics 4 Property
You should see a popup appear telling you what the setup wizard will do. This popup contains a checkbox which gives you the option to ‘enable data collection using your existing tags’. This means Google Analytics can use the Google Analytics tag you already have set up for your Universal Analytics property to collect data for your new Google Analytics 4.
You can use this option if your existing tag is a gtag.js tag. If your existing tag is an analytics.js tag, or if you use Google Tag Manager, the wizard won’t be able to reuse your existing tagging and you’ll need to uncheck this box and add a new GA4 tag manually (see Step 5 below).
Choose whether or not to enable data collection using your existing tags, then click CREATE PROPERTY.
Once the process is complete, you should see a success message which says ‘You have successfully connected your properties’.
If you were able to to enable data collection using your existing tag, the setup is complete and your new Google Analytics 4 property is now ready to use. You can jump to straight to Step 6.
5. Get your new GA4 tag
If you were not able to to enable data collection using your existing tag, you have one more step to complete, as you need to add your new GA4 tag to your website, so Google Analytics can start collecting data.
To get your GA4 tag, select DATA STREAMS under the PROPERTY column. (Make sure the property is set to your new GA4 property.) You should see a screen which looks like this…
Select WEB and then click on the data stream (the bit that says your GA4 property name and number). You should see a screen which looks like this…
Scroll down to where it says ‘Google Tag and click ‘View Tag Instructions’…
You should land on a screen which looks like this…
Select ‘Install Manually’ and you’ll land on a screen which looks like this…
You should see a section of code beginning with:
<!– Global site tag (gtag.js) – Google Analytics –>
and ending with:
This is your GA4 tag. You need to copy all of this code and paste it into the appropriate section of your website. (For more on where to paste this code, see this blog post on setting up Google Analytics from scratch.)
6. Check your Google Analytics 4 property is collecting data
The final step is to check that your newly created Google Analytics property is working correctly and collecting data.
To do this, navigate Google Analytics and select your GA4 property from the dropdown menu in the top left hand corner. (This is where you can toggle between you Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 properties.)
Select REPORTS then REAL-TIME from the left hand menu. If everything is working correctly, you should see data appearing here. (NOTE: It can take up to 30 minutes for data to begin appearing in your new GA4 property.)
Over to you!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Google Analytics 4! Do you like it? If so, what features do you particularly like? Or do you find it awkward and confusing, and you are quite happy to keep using the old Google Analytics for as long as possible – let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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