Jen May | May 09, 2022
Ahh, a beautiful sunset. You might think web developers absolutely love sunsets and the shift from daylight into the deep, dark hours of night. Afterall, most of us do our best work after hours, when email and DMs are quiet, and we are free to code long into the night.
But hearing that a company is sunsetting a software product or service we love and have depended upon for years ignites a tiny little fireball of panic deep in our brains.
“Can we survive without it?” “What’s the plan to replace it?” “What if I wrote a new and even better thing to replace it??”
Change is hard, sure, but any coder worth their salt has grown to embrace and even thrive on change. It’s what we do to stay up to date on the latest web trends and coding techniques.
But this sunset is a bit different.
(Stick with me on this and you might even grow as excited as I am by this particular software sunset.)
Google Analytics’ is sunsetting its well-known Universal Analytics (UA) platform on July 1, 2023. But never fear! Our wonderful friends at Google already released its successor, GA4.
GA4 was released into the wild in October 2020, so we’ve had some time to get cozy with it. But while most of us have tried our best to follow all the articles and YouTube tutorials available, it has been daunting to work on an entirely new platform that is far different than the UA we’ve known and loved since 2005 - and the backlash from the internets has been pretty rough.
Change is never easy, and changes to software you’ve grown accustomed to can be really hard. The new GA4 interface, which has some similarities to UA, is a bit of a learning curve. The left side navigation elements are still there, but any interaction with each section’s main content is very different, since most of the functionality you are used to is - well, gone.
That’s OK because the data stream is all there still. What Google is actually asking you to do is tailor Google Analytics to your liking. Which, in my mind as a front-end developer, is a very modern approach to a redesigned interface.
Implementing GA4 in your Google Analytics account couldn’t be easier. You hit the button, answer a few questions, and set it up on your site just like UA. (Ideally using Google Tag Manager, my personal favorite Google product.) The two properties live alongside each other in GA (that is, until UA takes its long dirt nap), and you just click between the two to compare.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, GA4 did not come with an automatic “import all my UA data into GA4” option. Nope. As of yet, there are no plans to carry over historical data from UA, and Google recently stated UA will still be accessible (but not capturing any new data) until October 2023. So if you need to retain any of your analytics data from the past 26 months (the longest GA will retain your data in your analytics property), all of that data probably should be exported and saved to the corporate archives somewhere.
Which brings me to the biggest point of this post: set up your GA4 account now so you have some historical data before July 1, 2023!
If you have GA4 up and running by July 1, 2023, that will give you a whole year of historical data to compare when the big switch happens next year. And there’s a lot to explore so you’ll have plenty of time to kick the tires.
Among its many features, GA4 comes with basic site measurement already set up, something you had to DIY in UA. Things that measure user activity on your site, such as site search, video engagement (yeah, YouTube only, it is Google after all!), file downloads, user scroll depth (aka how far a person scrolls down a page, demonstrating engagement and assuming content consumption) and even outbound link clicks are built in.
Some will work out of the box. Some need a little more refining to suit your site’s specific needs. With a little planning, it’s easy to bring over your existing custom UA events. I actually think goal and conversion setup in GA4 is far simpler than it is in UA.
Another great feature of GA4: easier audience setup. Including … wait for it … easy creation of predictive audiences to determine if a visitor will perform a certain behavior, like buy a product or return to the site, based, among other things, on the predictive trends of your visitors at large. Google is preparing us for a cookie-less future, which means it will collect less data from individuals and more machine learning about your visitors as a whole.
Custom reporting and explorations. I think Google is trying really hard for a free software platform to give users all of the options they might need. While the basics - page views, referral traffic, campaign tracking – are all still in GA4, GA4 comes with easier and smarter ways to set up custom reporting.
And I’m pretty excited about Explorations — the ability to create your own tools within GA4 to display data relevant to you. Most of the time, free software is a one size fits all deal, and the inclusion of dozens of reporting templates you can use means you don’t have to settle for analytics that aren’t custom for your unique site. Now you can create your own view and get exactly what you want!
While you’re setting up your new GA4 account, it’s also a great time to check in on some other site reporting factors to make sure everything is up to date. Here’s a list to consider (and if you need help, the Analytics Team at Falls & Co. is here!):
The analytics experts at Falls & Co. can help ease your transition to GA4 and assist you with its proper setup. Every site has unique goals and visitor tracking data. Contact us and let’s see how we can help you with yours!
Jen May is the Open-Source Team Manager at Falls & Co. and a front end website developer. She specializes in WordPress websites and loves amazing clients and co-workers with the magic you can do in Google Tag Manager. Find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jmay1959/