Embracing GA4: From Fear to Data Ninja Mastery, Learn How To Leave UA in the Dust


The Epic Journey for Marketers: How To Bid Goodbye to UA and Leverage GA4 for Success

Let’s face it — change is hard.

Google “how to change,” and you’ll get thousands of search results on six-, seven- or even 10-step plans to achieve change. But change is the catalyst for growth, and in the world of marketing analytics, embracing change is key to staying ahead.

If you’re one of the many smart marketers who’s already set up your full Google Analytics 4 (GA4) account but find yourself crawling back into Google Universal Analytics (UA) to dive into those familiarly satisfying reports, you’re not alone.

Discover why some marketers haven’t fully switched to GA4 from UA yet, some reasons to embrace it —and tips to be successful.

Overcome Your Fear of Change

Many marketers are hesitant to switch to GA4 due to the familiarity and comfort provided by UA. As of December 2022, about a third of marketers in one survey were using GA4 in earnest as their primary reporting source. We’ve grown accustomed to relying on UA for our reporting needs. But by sticking with our old ways, we limit our ability to gain valuable insights into what users are actually doing on our websites.

Taking it a step further, we all want to complain about what we’re losing. But was it really as valuable as we thought? We’re mostly giving up visibility into what the customer isn’t doing.  For example, bounce rate.

GA4 no longer provides a defaulted bounce rate metric. In UA, a bounce was recorded when a user landed on a page and left without any further interaction. GA4, however, emphasizes event-based tracking and user engagement, so the bounce rate needs to be calculated using custom event triggers. So, let’s flip that thought about losing bounce rates and think about what we are gaining: a better understanding of what users are doing. 

Also, GA4 goes beyond sessions to something more important: events and parameters. “Its measurement model is based on events and parameters rather than sessions and pageviews,” Connor Trygstad, a Goodway Group data insights analyst, explained. “Events are any interaction with GA4 — including session starts. GA4 focuses much more on the user rather than being a session-based reporting platform.”

Take the Glass Half-Full Approach With GA4

Instead of dwelling on what we might lose, let’s shift our perspective and consider what we stand to gain by embracing GA4. GA4 introduces a new data model that grants us more control over our analytics. This means that we have the power to customize reports according to our specific needs, providing us with the relevant data required to make informed decisions.

GA4 Versus UA: What You Need To Know

Here are some of the key differences between GA4 and UA.

Event Tracking

One of the significant advantages of GA4 is its ability to automatically collect events, ensuring that we don’t miss out on any crucial data. With UA, we had to configure and track specific interactions manually. In GA4, events are captured by default, providing us with a comprehensive understanding of user actions without the need for additional setup.

GA4 emphasizes event-based tracking, allowing you to track various user interactions and actions more effectively. While events existed in UA as well, GA4 expands their role and provides more flexibility in defining custom events based on your specific tracking needs.

GA4 is redefining hit types, categorizing all page interactions as events. In UA, you would have page view, ecommerce and social interactions split out. In contrast, in GA4, every hit type is an event. This is a fundamental change in GA4 data — and an opportunity to slow down to rethink your event structure in your GA4 setup. There are automatically collected events and an opportunity to set up custom events.

You will want to lean on what Google has already set up before using a custom event. Check out Google’s full recommended events list to get started.

GA4 Relies on Interactions

GA4 prioritizes every user interaction, allowing for a focus on the user journey. This lets you zoom into active users — not just total users – on your website and what they are doing.

What is an active user? Typically, you are going to see this number close to your total user number. An active user is someone that has had an engaged session.  Google is defining an engaged session as follows:

  • 10 seconds
  • 2+ page views
  • 1+ conversion

Interactions are important — this is what captures users’ attention when they arrive at your website and what actions they are taking while there. GA4 offers custom reporting that digs into the user journey, providing insights with new metrics focused on engaged session durations, engagement rates, and engaged sessions per user.

Data That Leads to Insights

With these changes, GA4 excels in the reporting area, leveraging enhanced event tracking and attribution to deliver meaningful insights about user behavior on our websites. The transition to GA4 allows us to move beyond the limitations of UA and access customized reports tailored to our requirements. These reports not only provide us with our familiar metrics, but also introduce new ones that offer deeper insights into user interactions and engagements.

Going beyond reporting, GA4 introduces predictive metrics powered by machine learning algorithms that enable us to anticipate the future behavior of our users. These metrics help us make informed decisions based on insights into user preferences and trends. By leveraging predictive analytics, we can optimize our marketing strategies, personalize user experiences — and drive better business outcomes.

The Value of Interactions and Attention Metrics

By embracing GA4, we can gain a better understanding of user interactions on our websites. GA4’s emphasis on attention metrics aligns with the industry’s focus on measuring engagement and capturing the value of consumer attention. This shift allows us to refine our advertising strategies, understand the impact of our content and optimize user experiences for maximum engagement.

Embracing GA4: The Time Is Now

While change can be challenging, it’s essential to acknowledge that the window of opportunity to transition from UA to GA4 is closing. On July 1, 2023, UA will stop collecting data. To ensure a smooth transition, it’s crucial to plan your approach. Google provides valuable resources to guide you through this process.

Interested in doing more with your GA4 data? At Goodway, we have analytic options to ingest GA4 data into custom dashboard views as well as blend your GA4 performance metrics with campaign delivery — creating a holistic reporting view across all channels. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss GA or anything related to marketing data and analytics.

Amy Burrows is a seasoned marketing and PR professional with a diverse background. She worked with notable clients such as Bertucci’s and Ronald McDonald House Charities. Prior to joining Goodway Group, she gained experience at The Walt Disney Company and was a course instructor at Full Sail University. Currently, she excels in programmatic advertising and digital market strategy, working with some of Goodway Group’s biggest clients and agency partners.