This article was written in collaboration between Jakub Otrząsek, VP of Data, APAC and Edie Cheng, Head of Digital Marketing & Analytics, Media.Monks.
Google Analytics is the most commonly used tool by organizations to get an in-depth understanding of customer behavior on their website or app. Furthermore, it integrates with the Google Marketing platform and helps connect the dots between user behavior and digital marketing campaigns that impact brand experience.
Now Google Analytics’ third generation, Universal Analytics (UA), is approaching the end of its life cycle. Google is heralding its successor, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), as an easier and more seamless way to connect data across multiple touchpoints and provide marketers with a clearer picture of the end-to-end customer journey.
What is changing?
As GA4 matures, Google recently announced it is committed to retire the legacy version, Universal Analytics. Users of the free version will have until the end of June 2023. Premium (paying) customers will however receive an additional grace period of three months.
By that time, Universal Analytics will stop collecting new data and users will need to completely migrate to GA4. As most organizations need more than one year of data to run year-on-year analysis and prime for change, we strongly recommend brands implement tracking in GA4 before the end of June 2022. This is crucial as Google is not planning on providing any data migrations from Universal Analytics to GA4.
Why does it matter?
As data will no longer be collected by Universal Analytics, multiple metrics and measurement will come to a halt, which will hinder a holistic view of traffic and marketing activities on your website and/or app. Here are things that require immediate attention to achieve 100% business continuity.
Metrics and goals
As GA4 has a different data model to Universal Analytics (event based vs. session based), metrics will be defined differently, even if they might have the same name. For example, a lot of reporting in Universal Analytics was based on Goals. Universal Analytics Goals can be mapped to GA4’s Conversions, however the configuration is slightly different therefore comparing YoY results may be challenging as it isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.
GA4 allows 30 Conversions per property (50 Conversions for paying customers), and while Universal Analytics only allows 20 Goals per view, a single property could have more than 30 different types of Goals. If this is the case for your organization, we recommend reviewing your measurement approach and working to consolidate your Goals so that you are only tracking the most important events as conversions. Additional conversion points can be still tracked and presented in custom reports.
Reporting and dashboarding configuration
Regardless of how your dashboards or reports were implemented, changes are required to swap to the new version of GA. In many instances, additional work is required as there is no 1:1 functionality from GA360 to GA4. Actions to take include:
- Create new reports and dashboards using GA4 metrics and properties.
- Make sure commonly used reporting views in GA360 have counterparts in GA4 with data collected correctly.
- Remove user access for obsolete dashboards to ensure everyone is using the right data.
- Secure additional data exports so that you can create multi-year comparisons and conduct trend analysis.
- If your organization has GA360, keep in mind that you can access more reports and data through the UI than what is stored in Google BigQuery. Data coming from integrations via Campaign Manager, Display & Video 360, and Search Ads 360 containing metrics and advertising dimensions (affinity, demographics) are not available in BigQuery. Review any dependencies on UI-based reporting and identify alternatives.
Audiences and integrations
Integration of Audiences shared with other Google Marketing Platforms—from Google Ads to Optimize 360 and DV360—will stop working, as Universal Analytics will not receive any additional data. Actions to address integrations include:
- Reconfigure available platform integrations in GA4.
- Identify custom-built integrations using the Core Reporting API. These will need to be recreated with the GA4 API.
- Identify important audiences for analysis and media buying and create them in GA4.
Channel and cross-device attribution
GA4 shares a module for Attribution with Universal Analytics. However, the “old” conversion reports had a premium (GA360) module called Data-Driven Attribution (DDA). Data-Driven Attribution has not carried over to GA4. If you are using an “old” conversion report, be sure to understand the differences in the attribution of Channels because GA4’s event-based model calculates attribution differently to Universal Analytics.
Cross-device attribution in GA4 is more sophisticated and leverages Google Signals, Google’s privacy-safe identity software that links Google user activity across devices, across all reports, if enabled. Universal Analytics only leverages Google Signals for some reports. Create GA4 vs. Universal Analytics Comparison dashboards to compare conversions attributed to channels and standard user metrics to create comparable GA4 baselines for decision making.
Remember, you will not be able to use Universal Analytics baselines for GA4 data analysis, so it’s important to set up a baseline GA4 implementation as early as possible.
Data collection methods
For data collection that doesn't use a typical tag manager, other considerations need to be made:
- Measurement Protocol
- Hard coded (not tag manager), or libraries (e.g. React Google Analytics Module)
- Custom data imports
- Server-side tagging
- Offline conversion importer
Simply leaving the code/scripts “as-is” may not break anything initially, but may cause issues down the line. Once you are ready, remove any old Universal Analytics code from the code base and move towards a tag manager.
Training and capability
As you can see from the points above, there are vast differences in collecting, managing, and using data between GA4 and Universal Analytics. Preparing your organization with the knowledge and skills to derive value from GA4 will require investment in time, technical resources and upskilling your workforce. Identify skill gaps across the organization and develop tailored training modules to upskill stakeholders in GA4.
Some examples of training could include:
- Implementation and Data Collection in GA4 for developers or technical analysts.
- GA4 Analysis Fundamentals for analysts or marketers who are concerned about website or campaign performance.
- Foundations of GA4 Change Management and Migration for administrators, project managers, or decision makers who need to understand how migrating to GA4 will affect them and what they can do to prepare for it.
Dawn of new changes
With Universal Analytics ebbing away, there is a lot to be done to get your organization ready. While July 2023 sounds far away now, if your team wants a year-over-year comparison of data, you will need to implement data collection by June 2022. Setting up data collection, getting familiar with the differences and benefits of GA4, and developing baseline reports are gradual and necessary projects to take on in the coming months to set yourself up for a seamless transition in 2023. Media.Monks can tailor a GA4 Migration Program for your organization to ensure business continuity and digital maturity uplift as you enter the new era of GA4.
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