Preparing for the Introduction of Google Analytics 4
What this shift from Universal Analytics means for your data and insights
Google Universal Analytics accounts will stop processing new hits and data on July 1, 2023, and Universal Analytics 360 accounts will stop processing hits on October 1, 2023. Universal Analytics (UA) will be replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
This is not a migration of UA but a completely fresh start to defining your measurement frameworks and data collection that underpins that. The journey begins today for anyone wanting to ensure they have comparatives in place before “T minus 365 days (T-365)” arrives in a little over two months from now!
Why is Google making us switch?
In a nutshell, Google has redefined and rebuilt the front and back end of Google analytics, making for a significant step change in its analytics product roadmap. But don’t panic, there are lots of new and exciting updates arising from this action. We’ll touch on a few of these along with the some of our thoughts as to why the change and what we advise people to think about.
The digital/legal worlds have aligned
It’s worth highlighting upfront that Universal Analytics is 10 years old now and with improvements in data privacy legislation and technology within browsers to control the information that’s being collected about users, an increasing number of gaps in data collection have arisen that need to be resolved. Herein lies one of the foundations of GA4 – its adaptation to a world that formally prioritises privacy.
GA4 is Googles response to building out more machine learning capability and privacy-first design into analytics, and interestingly, upping the ante with what the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Apple are also building out, each with their own ‘walled gardens’.
Digital engagement is multi-channel
The second, and arguably more significant, change with GA4 is that it’s built for the ‘cross platform’ landscape, which has also changed significantly over the last 10 years.
GA4 is largely built on the backend of Firebase Analytics and aims to make it easier to track both mobile and web properties under one roof. Data for web and mobile platforms are all within the same schema making it more powerful and seamless to join together user journeys.
The old hits-based model is being replaced with a new event-based model, intended for use across channels with a user-centric mindset, which means better data on how users interact with your domain or app. UA wasn’t built for understanding multi-platform user journeys, the increased accessibility of mobile and impact of COVID have only served to amplify mobile related searches and in-app purchases, so we should only naturally be reporting across the entire journey.
What should you be doing to prepare for the inevitable?
- Take this window of opportunity before 1st July 2022 to start with a clean slate and devise fresh measurement frameworks against business goals and objectives \
- Document your current analytics set up with a keep|revise|delete approach based on your measurement frameworks
- Plan for a dual set up of tags to run in parallel from 1st July or 1st Oct depending on the version you use; this is critical if you want to enable year on year data review by the time that GA4 is live.
- With such significant changes to data collection and the tool, we suggest implementing and refining your GA4 set up on a continual basis between now and July 2023. You can learn more about how metrics compare here or how to export your data here
- Learn as much as you can about GA4 and the impact it will have for your business
Whilst GA4 will bring in some major changes to how we report data, what becomes clear from the data collection and UI of GA4 is that we will be moving towards a world that will have more emphasis on collecting 1st party data and we will be focusing more on user-centric metrics.
It’s important to recognise that GA (now and under GA4) cannot do everything – there are situations where it falls short when it can’t be used to answer certain questions – it’ll give you the ‘what’ (quantitative data) but not the ‘why’ (qualitative data).
To build greater understanding around user motivations / frustrations we strongly advise complementing GA with qualitative tooling to enhance your data capabilities such as Content Square & Glassbox and having a team that is ready to interpret that data into action.
Remember Google Analytics’ main purpose is trend analysis, and more specifically, marketing trend analysis. GA is not necessarily meant to do everything, and it’s not the place to collect all of your data, hence why GA4 intentionally has a direct integration into Big Query (previously only GA360 clients benefited from this integration).
Now is also opportunistic timing to flesh out and plan a data strategy (online and offline) in a data warehouse such as Big Query. This will allow you to;
- Store and retain data to avoid expiry of Ga4 data (https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/7667196?hl=en)
- Unify data with other sources, eg CRM or other advertising data to create a single source of truth
- Enable you to really mine data and build advanced analytics solutions to business critical challenges
Stay tuned for more information as we tackle more recommendations to get you ready for the switch exploring team structures, skills and tactics to make the most of this exciting change.