In March, Google announced that it will sunset Universal Analytics as of June 2023. Here are the answers to some questions you might be asking, along with a roadmap for your agency to migrate clients to Google Analytics 4.
What is Universal Analytics?
Universal Analytics was the name for the previous (third) version of Google Analytics, which focused its data model on pageviews. Analytics properties with tracking IDs in the UA-XXXXXX format are Universal Analytics properties.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the newest version of Google Analytics. It provides more relevant insights into your website’s performance so that you can make better, data-driven decisions across your marketing initiatives. GA4 bases its data model on events. Analytics properties with measurement IDs in the G-XXXXXXX format are GA4 properties.
Why the Change to GA4?
Google Analytics 4 is radically different from Universal Analytics. Google is making this change for two reasons:
- End-user privacy is top of mind. From regulatory changes and browser updates, there’ve been a lot of updates to online privacy in recent years. Users now want more control over their data. This has pushed Google to transition to a more secure platform, while still providing marketers with accurate and rich data.
- There is too much data to consume. Whether you have a local business or enterprise-level website, marketers are overwhelmed by available data. In this world of big data, Google Analytics is changing how it consolidates and displays its data so that it’s more useful and powerful.
What Happens After June 2023?
On July 1, 2023, Google will stop processing Universal data into reports. From that day forward, your Analytics reports will show zeros for pageviews, sessions, time on site, etc.
Google will allow marketers to access historical data for their Universal Analytics properties for at least 6 months after this date. During that grace period, you can download historical data as needed.
Can I Upgrade a Universal Analytics Property to GA4?
Because the shift from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 changes the way data is collected and processed, you can’t simply upgrade a Universal Analytics property to Google Analytics 4.
Instead, Google recommends a dual setup. This means running a Universal Analytics property in parallel with a Google Analytics 4 property.
When to Set Clients Up with Google Analytics 4
If you’ve been waiting to get your clients’ websites transitioned to GA4, now is the time. You’ll likely want a year's worth of historical data in each of your GA4 properties before beginning to analyze the GA4 data. This means you should try to have all of your clients set up with GA4 by the end of June 2022.
How to Set Clients Up with GA4
If your client already has a Universal Analytics property, here’s Google's documentation on how to add a Google Analytics 4 property to your existing account.
If your client doesn’t yet have a Google Analytics account, we still recommend the dual setup approach. When creating a new Google Analytics account, you’ll need to “Show advanced options,” then select the option to create both GA4 and Universal Analytics properties. Here’s additional documentation from Google.
No matter how you proceed, there will be three primary steps:
- Setting Up the Account in Analytics — Google doesn’t make this easy. There are an overwhelming number of options when you create a new Analytics account. The standard setup wizard won’t even lead you through Google’s recommended dual setup, so you’ll need to take control. While there’s a steep learning curve for your first few setups, we promise it’ll get much easier.
- Adding the Tracking Code(s) to the Website — How and where you add the tracking code will depend on how each website has been built. Here are suggestions for adding the tracking code to the most common content management systems:
- WordPress — Plugins such as MonstersInsights and Site Kit by Google support the dual setup of Universal Analytics and GA4. You can also use Google Tag Manager.
- Squarespace — Squarespace has built-in Google Analytics that supports both Universal Analytics and GA4. Learn more.
- Wix — Wix has built-in Google Analytics that supports Universal Analytics and GA4. Learn more. Wix also allows Google Tag Manager integration for a more customized setup.
- Shopify — Add the Google Analytics tracking code directly to the Shopify theme file. Learn more.
- Customization — An out-of-the-box Google Analytics setup is a great way to get started. But if you customize your client’s Analytics account, you can get even more powerful data. For example, adding goals (Universal Analytics) and conversions (GA4) will allow you to track custom key performance indicators like form completions. This type of customization requires setting up Event Tracking, which is easy for agencies who use Google Tag Manager. Here’s a link to some free training.
How to Communicate with Clients about Google Analytics 4
Your clients will likely hear about Google Analytics 4, so they'll have questions. You can be proactive and reach out to clients directly. Start by sharing the what, why, and when, just as we have here. Then, outline the how.
For agencies that offer ongoing SEO services, upgrading your Google Analytics accounts to GA4 is a great monthly task.
For agencies who don’t have an ongoing retainer to cover action items like this, it is an opportunity to upsell a one-time project to handle this transition.
How Pathfinder Will Handle the Transition to GA4
Pathfinder SEO currently relies on Universal Analytics. Over the next several months, we’ll also begin supporting Google Analytics 4. Once we’ve connected to GA4, you’ll get to choose when to have us update your monthly reports for GA4 data. We recommend waiting until you have 12 months of historical data, if possible, to allow for a more accurate trend analysis.
Additional Resources You Might Need
From lessons on configuring accounts to one-on-one coaching, Pathfinder can support your agency as you get started using GA4 for your clients. We even provide email templates to make communicating about GA4 easy.