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Should I be using universal analytics or ga4?

If there’s one thing you can count on in this industry, it’s that the rate of innovation never slows down; between algorithm updates, platform overhauls, and an endless amount of updates to tools we use daily, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to new releases. 

However, with the news that Google will be sunsetting Universal Analytics in favour of its shiny new GA4 platform in July ‘23, a fair amount of controversial opinions have made their way to the forefront. In this blog post, we want to break down whether you should be using Universal Analytics or GA4, GA4 vs Universal Analytics, why we’re using both platforms, and why early adoption means you won’t be left in the dark come UA’s sunsetting.

Universal Analytics Or GA4

When it comes to picking favourites, our general observation is that people are not wholly enjoying the GA4 environment, with many believing that this incarnation of Analytics is inferior to its predecessor, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. GA4 has been developed from the ground up to effectively tackle problems UA had with data modelling, and has done so to give people the power to track the metrics which are important to their business goals. 

An example of this is how events have changed: google analytics events have had one of the most dramatic overhauls, giving users the ability to define their own scope, inclusive of the requirements they need to track. Universal Analytics offers “fixed” events, only allowing for the gathering of event categories, actions, labels and an arbitrary value. Whereas GA4 events allow for the complete customization of events, outside of GA4’s “enhanced measurements”, which automatically detect interactions such as page views, scrolls, clicks, downloads, and much more. 

GA4 VS Universal Analytics

Putting GA4 and UA side by side as a comparison is difficult, GA4 carries on the legacy of UA, although it does so in a much more complex environment. From my experience, many Analytics users have become akin to knowing exactly what reports they need to be looking at, and where the metrics they wish to view are located; GA4 has muddied the water, by giving users the ability to create their own reports using its data modelling capabilities (reminiscent of Google Data Studio), and, whilst in its infancy, not spoonfeeding reports to users as UA did.

Comparatively, GA4 has a much more developed set of tools for marketers, improving upon older metrics (such as Bounce-rate, now effectively called Engagement Rate), and will also help in Google’s fight against third-party cookie tracking, and the current war against browsers depreciating their support in favour of improving every user’s privacy and right to choose whether to be tracked or not. 

Utilising the strength of both

As an agency, it is important that we adapt to any changes in the industry, and having both a developed and renowned team of SEMs, spanning across SEO, PPC, Social, Email & CRO, it is vital to us that we continue to gather the data that brings our clients results. Owing to the current shortfalls of GA4 (with a number of features currently missing, e.g. annotations), we are advising our clients to run both UA and GA4 side by side, and to do this with immediate effect so that GA4 has as much legacy data collected as possible. 

Switching over to GA4 prematurely and removing UA would result in no legacy being available on the account, but switching over too late has the same outcome. For the best possible implementation, we suggest running UA and GA4 side by side until its final sunset and ensuring that all events and conversions are set up within GA4, even if it is not being used to report in favour of UA. 

For websites without GA4, but currently utilizing Google’s Global Site Tag (gtag.js) library, we would suggest a codeless implementation (which is set up when using the wizard). If this step was skipped, a connection (using the GA4 measurement ID) can be created via Universal Analytics > Settings > Tracking > tracking info > Connected Site Tags.

This will allow you to run both GA4 using the current UA implementation, thanks to the gtag.js implementation which should already be in place. Using older libraries such as ga.js, or analytics.js will, unfortunately, not allow GA4 to track via this implementation. 

As part of our renowned service, we offer both consultation and implementation of the new Analytics platform, in keeping with current best practices – to enquire about our services, or how we can help ensure you’re tracking the metrics which are crucial to your business goals, contact us by dropping us an email at seo@colewood.net, or drop us a call on 0845 123 2908.

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