In this episode of TABS (Talking About Business Strategy), I talk with Vincent Rose from Verdis Digital Solutions.
We discuss the transition to Google Analytics 4. Including what it is, why you should switch to it, and what that transition looks like from Google Universal Analytics (previous version).
What is GA4, and how is it different from Universal Analytics?
Google Analytics 4 is Google’s new platform for tracking user behavior on websites and applications. While it’s been in beta for a few years now, Google is now making it the primary Analytics platform it recommends to users. In fact, Google Universal Analytics, the previous and most widely used version, will be sunsetted on July 1, 2023.
Vince says that there is a lot of trepidation in using GA4. For many, it’s as simple as learning to use a different interface. But it also requires code changes and reconfiguring of reporting attributes. However, Vince says it’s a good thing in the long run. He mentions a few new benefits:
- Event Driven – GA4 is based on event tracking versus session tracking in Google Universal Analytics. This unlocks better ways to aggregate data in reporting.
- Robust Tracking – GA4 allows you to better track users across domains, websites, and apps. Your “data streams” from different sources can be compiled in one property, enabling a better understanding of how a user engages with all your digital properties.
- Default Interactive Tracking – Because it’s natively tracking events, GA4 has built-in abilities for interactive tracking. For example, reporting how users interact with a video or tracking file downloads of a PDF on your website.
- Better User Segmentation – Vince says the new reports are also better at segmenting engaged vs. unengaged users. This will make it easier for you to track how your users engage with your website’s pages or product content, and better complement your marketing/advertising strategy with data.
- Google Ad Tracking – GA4 also has tighter integration with Google Ads. Seeing users flow through ad clicks to your website is easier and more accurate. This will enable you to make better ad targeting and spending decisions.
What does the transition look like?
Vince said that every company’s transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 will be different. He listed a few factors that play a role:
- The complexity of your current reports – Your current reporting setup will affect how much time is required to rebuild those in GA4. For example, the number of conversion goals you have. Vince recommends doing an audit of your current custom reporting setup and then determining how much you actually need/want to migrate.
- The CMS (Content Management System) you use – Your content management system may or may not already be configured for GA4. Some have plugins or extensions available to make migration straightforward, while others require more manual work.
- Attributes, labels, etc., for tracking – If you are utilizing custom attributes and labels for tracking incoming data to Analytics, they may need to be reconfigured for GA4. If your CMS doesn’t have those fields built-in, you could need to hire a programmer to help you make those changes via web development.
- Google Tag Manager – Vince said that if you already use Google Tag Manager, that can help streamline the migration through one interface.
We also discussed how you could run Universal and GA4 simultaneously. Vince says the numbers can show up differently because of how interactions are measured in GA4. Running them in parallel helps you see the equivalent historical data and the impact of the new reporting methodology.
Why do people need to make the transition?
Vince points out the big reason that you need to make the transition… It’s mandatory. Google will stop collecting data through Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023. Then a year later, on July 1, 2024, reports and data will be inaccessible altogether.
Starting now ensures that you can have data continuity as the sunsetting occurs.
Vince also points out that it’s great to get a head start so that you can correct bugs and address mistakes in how data is being collected. This is especially true if you need to rebuild custom reports or create unique attributes/labels.
We discussed how the reports from Universal Analytics are still available, but they have moved to GA4. So be prepared to set aside time for learning the new interfaces as part of the transition.
Where should people learn more about Google Analytics 4?
Vince shared a few places he recommends people learn more about GA4 and the transition to it:
- Google: Migrate from UA to GA4
- Google: Google Analytics 4 training and support
- Analytics Mania’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/analyticsmania
Vince noted that nearly 100% of his clients initially feel overwhelmed by GA4. But he says the transition is worth the effort.
In addition to the benefits earlier, he noted a few other observations on how GA4 is an improvement over Universal:
- With more robust reporting and data points, you can become more effective at making marketing strategy decisions.
- Because the new event-based tracking captures more interactions, you’ll have more information by default.
- Debugging issues is a far better experience in GA4. Vince said it creates a separate view to keep your data clean as you test new labels/attributes.
- You’ll also have more control over privacy data. For instance, some features make complying with GDPR much more manageable.
Vince says you can make a long list of reasons to make the move. But at the end of the day, nearly everyone likes it after they make that leap.
His final advice – take a deep breath; you’ll be okay!