GA4’s rocky start?

The Twittersphere, LinkedIn and most digital channels have been awash in the past few weeks with screaming memes showing various digital specialists lamenting this latest rollout and discussing the negative differences seen and felt between our comfortable ol’ Universal Google Analytics world and this latest iteration.

Most complaints are to do with the usability of this new rollout; the interface having lost that intuitive feeling many SEO professionals have been used to and the general feeling of just being more complex and harder to use, to get to that data we care about. It’s made life harder, rather than making data analysis and reporting more seamless.

At Reflect, we pride ourselves on being ahead of changes like this and so, we’ve been stuck into the new GA4 experience for about a year now. We set up GA4 properties for all our clients last year and have been collecting data, digging into the opportunities presented by the new overhaul well in advance of any potential Universal to GA4 switchover. So, what do our SEO and Paid teammates think about this new environment?

Well, before we dive into their opinions, let us explain what Google Analytics 4 is and what this deployment means in terms of its replacing Universal Analytics.

GA4 vs Universal Analytics - What’s the difference?

GA4 is the next-generation data measurement solution. This latest roll-out has overhauled how GA is processing and providing data and it is giving us access to more data opportunities.

Some examples are evident in how goals and events are now being tracked. Unlike Universal Analytics, where an event was a “hit type”… in GA4, all hits are events. That means that most meaningful events in the browser or app are automatically being captured and sent to the property.

Google’s latest and best machine learning is also at play in the GA4 world providing further automotive insights and intelligence. These could provide an exciting way to gain new insights and visibilities on problem areas automatically, rather than having to do the dig and assessment yourself.

And then GA4 is also offering far more robust and expanded reporting, analysis and customisation options. There are pretty detailed sets of templates ready to use so you can get stuck into analyzing user behaviour with better user experience and visibility in ways you couldn’t with Universal Analytics. 

There are now improved funnel analysis, user retention and cross-device tools and views which are miles ahead of where they were before in Universal Analytics. 

So there’s some good stuff to be had in this new GA4 world.

However, all this added data complexity has made the entire platform itself feel more complex. It just feels harder to get to the sweet stuff….more effort and time has to go into understanding how best to slice and dice this great data to get the view that helps make informed business and digital marketing decisions.

But, it takes time to embrace new things and so, whilst we are 50% happy with it thus far, we are sure that we’ll get happier with it. And, we’re pretty sure the Gods of Google will continue to listen to their users, their global digital community and keep making improvements.

So, is Universal Analytics going for good?

GA4 is here and it will be replacing the old Universal Analytics. As of July 1s 2023, Universal Analytics will stop processing new hits….so whilst you have time, it’s best to start preparing and onboarding onto GA4 sooner rather than later.

Once that full rollout has taken place, after July 1st, you’ll still be able to access your historic Universal Analytics properties for up to 6 months. So, it’s probably also best to export your historical reports before then. 

If your analytics property was created before October 14, 2020, you are likely using a Universal property. If you created your property after October 14, 2020, you are hopefully already using a Google Analytics 4 property - in which case you don’t need to do anything….but it’s best to check!

What do our experts think?

So, what do some of our SEO and Paid leaders at Reflect think about all this?

Ciaran - Head of SEO
"GA Universal was pretty ancient by digital standards, having launched back in 2012. Cookies are also being phased out soon and so the whole system that GA UA was based on needed to change.

"It’ll be interesting to see how Google responds to the current backlash as there may well be liability issues for Google when it comes to data privacy. If Google processes Personal Identifiable Information (PII) on its GA servers, they are liable. It is very easily done currently via URLs being gathered that contain email addresses, for instance.

"GA UA was widely used and, for the most part, free. Google is moving the world onto a paid version…data collection can cost users depending on their needs and so, essentially, the more function and data collection you want, the more you could likely end up paying. Whilst, for the most part, this is likely to be a low cost it does mean the world is moving towards a data/commodity exchange…we’ve been in this world for a while, but now there is a genuine £ value being put to it." 

Andy Palmer - Technical SEO Manager
"July 1 2023 is the day we are going to all have to start using GA4 in earnest.

"I would hazard a guess that 90% of the analytics accounts I look at are heavily reliant on their current UA property. Most of those also have a GA4 property running alongside, but it isn’t being used as the main source of truth. Like any new system, it will take some getting used to, but it is a new system we have no choice but to embrace so why not dive in now?!

"A great start would be to try to pull the current metrics your report on from UA but from your GA4 property. That will give you a small indication of what kind of discrepancies you may have to investigate. Plus, you can start getting more comfortable swimming in your GA4 data ocean!"

Rob - Head of Paid
"From a paid point of view, it’s going to be a bit of a mixed bag I think.

"The use of GA4 will solidify the cookieless way of working and move things to a predictive/algorithmic led conversion world. This is already in motion anyway with Google’s enhanced conversions and consent modes.

"For the most part, this will actually help keep all sources of traffic on a consistent method of counting conversions but it’s going to take a lot of work to get clients on board with the consent initially.

"The predictive nature of GA4 does, however, unlock several cool features that will help refine audience cohort targeting for paid. This is the Google Explore toolset which can help break down audiences by their percentile likelihood to take an action. So, we can design future activity around targeting new prospect audiences or remarketing to audiences that have the highest likelihood to convert based on predictive data.

"This is going to boost the performance of display based activity in particular but will have so many uses beyond this that will be really exciting to dig into."

So there you have it. 

Sure, there’s a lot about this new GA4 landscape that has SEO teams screaming and pulling their hair BUT it also affords a set of new exciting data analysis tools and opportunities that can only help us drive performance, conversions and digital success from our search and marketing efforts.

So, embrace the new, get stuck into the discomfort and we’ll continue to drive forward for success for our clients.

Key Takeaways

  • GA4 will be replacing Universal Analytics
  • GA4 is far more data-rich with great updates, it’s also quite a bit more complex to use
  • There are opportunities for detailed data insights helping inform business decisions - make data and GA4 your friend!
  • Run your UA alongside your GA4 properties and practice getting your reports from GA4 before the official switch
  • Export your report views from your UA properties before the switch
  • Best to get to grips with GA4 sooner rather than later!

Need some help with the big switch or looking to level up your SEM strategy altogether? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!


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