Don’t miss the boat; the clock is ticking, and if you don’t use analytics on your website, now is the perfect time to start.
If you’re a decision maker, it’s time to take note of the seismic shift in Google Analytics, the most ubiquitous platform people use to collect and manage some of the most important data for their digital presence.
Analytics can be challenging at times for even seasoned digital marketing professionals. Not everyone has access to a team of analytics professionals, but we have pulled together our top advice for business decision-makers on what this change means and what you need to do to take control before it’s too late.
In this guide, you’ll learn about what Google Analytics is, and why the new version of it Google Analytics 4 (GA4), is so important. To help you, we’ll list some of the top pros and cons of this completely new approach to analytics for Google Analytic Users and the simple steps you need to take.
To get the most out of our guide, follow each section and take note of the actions under each section and the action plan at the end to formulate your plan to take control of your marketing data.
The Clock is Ticking (June 30th 2023, Retirement of Google Universal Analytics)
Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. Google’s current analytics platform GA3 or Universal Analytics, is being retired. Here are the key dates you need to know.
- June 30 2023 – Google Universal Analytics accounts will stop collecting impressions
- At this stage, Google has announced that you have 6 Months after June 30th, 2023 to access the data before it is deleted.
Key Takeaway – Historical Data is Essential
Year-on-year, and period-on-period data is extremely valuable to your marketing efforts and advertising platforms that directly use this data to optimise your ads. The longer you wait to implement and transition your marketing efforts to a new platform or GA4, the less data your team and advertising systems will have to optimise performance.
- Upgrade to Google Analytics 4 or Implement an alternative analytics platform ASAP to protect your ability to compare past with current performance and plan your future marketing efforts.
“The longer you wait to implement and transition your marketing efforts to a new platform or GA4, the less data your team and advertising systems will have to optimise performance.”
What is GA4?
In Google’s words, GA4 is “the next generation of Analytics which collects event-based data from both websites and apps.” If your new to the world of analytics, Google Analytics 4 is a service that collects information from your website on who is visiting from where, and what they do when they get there.
On a more complex level, it allows you to collect and store this data in a way that you can share with your stakeholders & marketing systems to inform your strategy and ultimately measure the return on your marketing investment (ROI).
This new platform is not what you would consider a traditional upgrade where your data is migrated and available. GA4 uses a completely new data model, meaning you need to start your data collection, configuration, integrations and reporting from scratch with no data from your previous analytics installation available in GA4.
But why is Google doing this?
There are many reasons, but let’s cover the top reasons google is transitioning to GA4.
Universal Analytics is old
A lot has happened in the digital world since Google Analytics was launched in 2005. GA4 responds to these changes to meet the needs of the current world analytics environment and deliver functionality and integrations that marketers and business owners need. Like any system, it will get better as it matures and the needs of customers and the business and technology environment shape it.
In my opinion, It’s time for a change; as hard as it can be, it’s the right thing to do.
Privacy and Technology environments have changed
Regulatory environments and corporate privacy have been in the spotlight more and more and there is no sign of these pressures easing. To give confidence to regulators, businesses and users alike, changes are required.
Europe led the way with their GDPR regulations aimed at protecting the rights and data sovereignty for all EU citizens. On the corporate side, companies like Apple Inc have led the way in terms of protecting users’ privacy. These changes have already sent shockwaves through the marketing world with Facebook’s response to Apple as a perfect example through their implementation of the conversion API to help their advertisers gain back confidence in their advertising platform.
GA4 borrows from data management that is not unlike application analytics for mobile app developers, and for good reason. They have been operating in a more regulated environment dictated by app marketplaces and device manufacturers for a long time now.
The rest of the world is catching up with this trend and it is a good thing for consumers, but potentially difficult for businesses wanting to target people online reliably and maintain the relevance and quality of their ads to current and potential customers.
Key Takeaway – Understand the Drivers of Change
Privacy and legislative environments from corporate and government-based organisations are changing the requirements for marketers at a lightning pace. GA4 is a necessary evolution of analytics responding to this environment to allow you to take control of your own compliance (and Google to avoid liability for your management of user data).
If this all sounds complicated, it’s because it is!
If it’s too much, we recommend engaging an analytics professional that lives and breathes marketing data to avoid the pitfalls and take advantage of the opportunities.
Action – Plan for This Changing Environment
It is important to understand what is driving these changes in the privacy and legislative environment and their impact on your analytics. This will also help you to plan a robust and resilient data collection strategy that is impacted less by the changing environment.
Google Analytics 4 Vs Universal Analytics
So what is different in GA4? Well, almost everything! While there are many metrics and concepts that are transferable from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, it has a completely new data model that is event-based along with a new user interface.
When GA4 was introduced in 2019 in Beta we immediately tested it and it was clearly not a viable replacement for Univeral Analytics at the time. But, just like Google’s first versions of Analytics, it has grown in functionality and sophistication over time. It is getting better, but there are some notable differences to navigate.
|#||Google Universal Analytics (UA)||Google Analytics 4 (GA4|
|1||User Interface||New User Interface|
|2||Property Views||No Property Views|
|3||Unlimited Data Retention||14 Month Data Retention Limit|
|4||Hit Based Metrics||Event Based Data|
|5||Established Metrics||New Naming Conventions, Event Types|
& Missing UA Metrics
A New User Interface
If you are familiar with the Google Universal Analytics User interface, you will have a steep learning curve when accessing the GA4 interface. The standard reports that you are used to are largely missing from GA4. There are powerful custom reporting tools built into the new interface, but we highly recommend using data visualisation tools like Google’s “Looker Studio” (Formerly Data Studio) to make it easy to access and digest your new analytics information.
No Property Views in GA4
GA4 has no equivalent of property views in the free version. If you are used to using properties to filter different information or test configurations of your analytics, then you will miss this functionality.
The enterprise version of Google Analytics 4 includes Roll-Up Properties and Sub properties, but this feature is not available on the free version at the moment.
Use of live reporting like Google’s “Looker Studio” to filter your data streams from GA4, along with testing with Google Tag Manager, can help you work around these changes.
Data Retention is Limited to 14 Months
Gone are the days when we could collect years and years worth of data in Universal Analytics for free. In response to the shifting privacy and regulatory environment Google has defaulted your analytics collection on GA4 to 2 months, configurable to a maximum of 14 months.
If you want to collect and use data beyond 14 months (which we definitely do), you’ll need to store it externally and access it using another tool.
We recommend using the integration with Google’s Big Query service to data warehouse the analytics information and then connect this repository to your live reporting allowing for seamless storage and access regardless of age. If you plan to use this method, be aware that you need to review your local laws and legislation to remain compliant. After all, this is a privacy-led change!
Hit Metrics Vs Events
GA4 is an event-based data model replacing hit-based metrics with the event-based model. For example:
- Page views;
- user Timing;
- Exceptions; and
- Views are all replaced by events in GA4
This model will be familiar to app developers and analytics professionals, particularly if you have used Firebase before, but to many, this will be a new way of thinking.
New naming conventions and different metrics
Along with a new data model there are new naming conventions and different metrics in GA4. You will find that some metrics like “Bounce Rate” are redundant in GA4 which is a theme you will find when transitioning. We recommend exploring these differences and finding viable replacements or alternatives that may add more value to your collection and reporting.
You will need to update any reporting to match this new data model. Start now! There is a bit to work through and some decisions may take time.
This GA4 Google Support Article on the major differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 will help you navigate the change.
Google Data Studio Pros and Cons (Now Google Looker Studio)
Users can create interactive dashboards and reports from a variety of data sources using the web-based data visualisation and reporting application known as Google Data Studio. The following are some benefits and drawbacks of utilising Google Data Studio:
- Simple to use: Google Data Studio’s user-friendly interface makes creating reports and dashboards simple even for those without programming experience.
- Integration with several data sources: Data Studio enables you to link to various data sources, including SQL databases, Google Analytics, and Google Sheets, among others.
- Templates that can be customised: Google Data Studio provides a large selection of templates that can be customised to serve as the basis for your reports.
- Dashboards that are interactive can be made using Data Studio and include drill-downs, filters, and data exploration.
- Collaboration is facilitated by Data Studio’s ability to let multiple users work concurrently on the same report or dashboard.
- Google Data Studio only has limited data manipulation capabilities, thus you might need to clean and modify your data before importing it into Data Studio.
- Limited customization possibilities: Despite the fact that Data Studio offers editable templates, the programme only gives a small number of customization options, and making unique representations may call for coding expertise.
- Restricted sharing options: Users with Google accounts can only share reports and dashboards, which can be a barrier for users without Google accounts.
- Restricted data volume: Since Data Studio can only handle a certain volume of data, preparation or the usage of other tools may be necessary for huge datasets.
- Restricted reporting capabilities: Since Data Studio is primarily intended for data visualisation and dashboarding, it might not be the greatest tool for producing intricate reports or other types of documents without some pro skills or support to execute your vision.
How to upgrade to GA4 – An Action Plan
There is a lot to consider when upgrading to GA4. Google provides a handy “upgrade to GA4” button in Universal Analytics, but do some planning before you do to save a lot of potential headaches.
Whether you do it yourself or get someone to help you, this action plan covers the top considerations for decision-makers before taking action.
There is a lot to consider when upgrading to GA4. Google provides a handy “upgrade to GA4” button in Universal Analytics, but a warning to the wise; do some planning before you do upgrade to save a lot of time and headaches.Whether you do it yourself or get someone to help you, this action plan covers the top considerations for decision-makers before taking action.
Review your current analytics setup
- Take note of your goals that are custom configured
- Review all the property views you are using and plan how to replace this functionality
- Plan on how you will access this data post-June 30
- Make note of all connections to external data sources and advertising platforms
- Ensure you have the highest level of access available to give you authority to edit the analytics account
- Review all the systems that are using your analytics data and list them to help you plan and transition once GA4 is up and running
Consider data warehousing your Universal Analytics
- Your data is valuable. Consider exporting your data to Big Query or at the very least export key reports in PDFs and spreadsheets so you can access it later.
Set up GA4 in parallel to Universal Analytics
- Start a new GA4 account
- Install GA4 on your website and start collecting data in parallel
- Compare the data you are getting from Universal Analytics and GA4 to ensure it is working properly
Configure your GA4 with equivalent Goals (events)
- Use your list of goals you have configured in Universal Analytics and replicate them in GA4.
- If you have no goals in Universal Analytics, now is a great time to start!
- We recommend using Google Tag Manager to manage the configuration of your goals.
Integrate with external data sources
- Use the integrations available to you in GA4
- Start with Google Search Console and Google Ads (if you’re using it)
Update your UTMs
- GA4 has great new capabilities for UTM parameters. Read Google’s Support guide to it here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10917952?hl=en#zippy=%2Cin-this-article
Configure your live reporting dashboards to GA4 as a source
- Because GA4 uses a new data model the data and names that are available to your live reporting tools like “Looker Studio” formerly “Google Dats Studio” will be different. We recommend duplicating your existing reporting to continue using it in parallel until you transition entirely to GA4 once it is tested and fully functioning as you require.
Plan for a full transition on or before June 30, 2023
- Universal Analytics will stop collecting data on June 30, 2023. You will need to plan, implement and test your GA4 migration before this date to continue to operate your digital marketing.
- Anytime is a good time to migrate; the earlier the better in this case!
Analytics is a big topic and while we have covered some basics to allow you to understand the change that is happening and how to plan for it, there is a lot of detail that is not included. We would encourage most businesses to engage with an analytics professional to implement their GA4 to ensure you get the most our of it and avoid some major risks.
Please feel free to leave a comment, or get in touch with me if you have any questions about the details in this guide, how to implement the plan or experiences you want to share.