Google’s Move from Universal Analytics to GA4 

What You Need to Know

On July 1, 2023, Google Analytics officially sunset its legacy system and stopped processing Universal Analytics to prioritize the new GA4 measurement solution. This new iteration has the flexibility to measure many kinds of data, delivering a more robust analytics experience designed for the future. However, GA4 has its differences – how certain KPIs are defined, what standard reports look like, and how and where customers are identified across channels. Rest assured, Listrak is here for support as you compare different data models year over year, and to help you understand how the impact to your day-to-day campaign performance management. Continue reading this quick-reference guide to help you understand the changes:

What’s Happening?

What is Google Analytics’ New Iteration, GA4? What’s Different from Universal Analytics?

  • GA4 is Google’s ‘next-generation measurement solution’ that replaced Universal Analytics.
  • GA4 is configured differently than Universal Analytics, notably including:
A different attribution model that is ‘event driven’ instead of ‘session driven’
Data streams for iOS apps, Android apps, and websites that flow together and connect data points
Removal of ‘bounces’ to use ‘engaged sessions’ instead
Fewer pre-built reports, with more ad hoc data capabilities
  • GA4 switches from a focus on ‘last touch’ to ‘first touch of the session where the event happened,’ to shift where revenue and engagement are attributed.

When Did Universal Analytics Go Away?

  • Google Analytics officially sunset their legacy system and stopped processing Universal Analytics properties to prioritize the new GA4 on July 1, 2023.
  • Historical data from Universal Analytics was accessible through the end of the year (December 31, 2023), at which time it was permanently deleted.

What If I Have Google Analytics 360?

  • Current Google Analytics accounts with 360 properties will receive a one-time Universal Analytics processing extension ending on July 1, 2024.
  • Google has planned a general degradation of the 360 platform and features leading up to the July deadline:
Beginning in early March 2024, 360 advertising features, like remarketing, conversion export, and more, will not be supported for traffic from the European Economic Area (EEA).
Additionally, certain features like realtime reporting will not be supported for ALL traffic.
  • If you aren’t sure whether this applies to you or not, reach out to your Google representative immediately.

What Should I Look for Within GA4?

What Is the New Definition of a Session in GA4? 

  • UTM parameters changing no longer create a new session, meaning email and SMS campaigns will not earn as much revenue attribution as they have in the past.
‘Welcome Series’ revenue, in particular, will decrease dramatically, even without any changes to your strategy.
  • The clock hitting midnight does not create a new session.
  • User and event data retention will default to 2 months.
Listrak recommends using the maximum value, which is 14 months, instead

What Is Different About GA4’s New Attribution Models?

  • Universal Analytics leveraged attribution based on last click, while GA4’s model is ‘data driven’.
  • One session can have multiple events, including orders.
  • Definition direct from Google

What Is Different About Bounces in GA4?

  • Bounces do not exist in GA4.
  • Instead, an ‘engaged session’ has the following criteria:
10+ seconds on a page, OR
1 completed event, OR
2+ screens/pageviews

What Are the Reporting Changes in GA4?

  • Reporting in GA4 requires customization by the end user and is more developer-centric.
  • While Universal Analytics had 70+ pre-made reports, GA4 has very few.
  • In GA4, you can create various forms of reports with access to all dimensions, metrics, and models with its improved customization functionality.
Make sure you’re pulling exactly what you want in precisely the right way, as not all variables work together or interact appropriately (with no disclaimers).
  • While expressions and filtering in Universal Analytics were ‘OR’ statements that were case insensitive, expressions in GA4 are an exact match and require (?i).* in front and .* at the end of filters to work in the same way; for example:
In Universal Analytics, the campaign regex of “welcome|cart” would include all welcome and cart campaigns regardless of lower or upper case.
In GA4 to accomplish the same it needs to be “(?i).welcome.|.cart.”

What Are the Biggest Campaign Changes I Can Expect to See In GA4 With New Attribution?

  • There are five main channels in digital marketing: Paid Media (CPC), Direct, Organic Media (SEO), Owned Channels (Email/SMS/Push), and Social/Affiliate.
  • Since Google makes money in Paid Media, they wouldn’t introduce a new system where revenue attribution to Paid Media decreases.
  • Activity from Direct is a constant pillar, and Organic will shrink compared to Paid.
  • In general, even if split into more specific buckets, Paid Media revenue will increase while Owned Media (Email/SMS/Push) revenue will decrease.

How Should I Interpret These Changes in GA4 Attribution?

  • After you migrate to GA4 and view your new results, you need to understand the following:
Nothing changed about your budget overnight
Nothing changed about your consumers overnight
Nothing changed about your strategies overnight
  • Changes to attribution substantially shift revenue and activity, and Paid Media will appear to have a higher revenue share, to Google’s advantage.
  • It’s important to take a pause and not make any blind, drastic changes.
  • Take your time to continue to compare, test, and iterate:
When you have a full YOY comparison, you can then start to make intelligent decisions in a new construct.
Listrak’s comparative audit of GA4 and Universal Analytics should provide a better understanding of campaign and channel performance.
We’ll help you set new goals and expectations for long-term performance, and provide conversion tables to view data as close to an apples-to-apples context.

Which Email & SMS Campaigns Will See the Most Impact?

  • Based on the audits completed so far, Welcome Series, Transactional, and Post Purchase campaigns appear to see the most significant revenue delta with the change to GA4.

Clients can expect to see a change anywhere from +10% to -70% revenue, depending on the campaign.

  • Welcome Series in particular will be most impacted by the new session definition, as a user who signs up originally came to the website from a different channel.
Transactional and Post Purchase will likely also see significant impact
Marketing (Broadcast), Abandonment, and Alerts campaign will see less impact

Listrak understands Google’s move to GA4 brings a big change in how you analyze your digital marketing performance and overall business results. We’re here to help set you up for success, so reach out to your Account Manager for more details.

Additional Resources to Help You

This in-depth, hands-on demo webinar explains the differences between GA4 and UA data. Watch our experts pull, clean, and compare the data from both sources to understand the performance differences in a demo account.
With the start of GA4 on July 1, understand the differences between the systems and the significant changes GA4 brings in its attribution, reporting, and channel performance splits. Get best practices for setting up your new GA4 account and securing historical data.
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