The countdown has begun. Google is forcing the rollout of its latest version of Google Analytics, GA4, and it’s a massive upgrade. With the GA4 upgrade comes a lot of preparation, because—wait for it—Google will be deleting all data from the current version of analytics (Universal Analytics, or UA) whether you transition or not. Before we jump in, let’s start with some historical context around UA and then get into the details of what’s new in GA4 and what marketers need to do now.
How we got here
Back in 2012, Google launched UA (its third release of Google Analytics), which became one of the primary tools in measuring most of the global website traffic over the last decade. We all know that technology changes at an incredibly rapid rate. With the increase in mobile apps, machine learning technology and privacy regulations (think General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR), UA was not built for the complex digital world that we’re living in today—both from a measurement and policy perspective.
What we’re loving about GA4
While UA has supported app data for years, it was first and foremost a website tracking tool—and required technical maneuvering to bring additional data streams into a single view. With GA4, we can track websites and applications in a turnkey fashion, which makes reporting across platforms easier within the same analytics property. Marketers are also able to report on an entirely new set of metrics to better understand the customer and user journey.
With many of the enhancements, we can get more accurate reporting on unique users—cross-device and cross-platform. If a user signs in on your website and then transitions to a mobile or app version of the experience, GA4 helps us see them as a single user instead of multiple.
Historically, developers had to get into the code or Google Tag Manager (GTM) to track metrics beyond users, pages viewed, time on page, etc. With GA4, there are several pre-configured events that provide insight into user behavior. Clicks, page scrolling, transactions and file downloads are just a few that come out of the box. E-commerce goals and form submission tracking still need to be manually implemented but can be much more turnkey than working within UA.
It’s time to figure this out
One of the biggest changes you’ll see is the user interface of GA4. Learning how to pull data, apply dimensions and track conversions by channel has a steep curve. However, this is a small price to pay given all the benefits that come with GA4.
Now that we’ve hit the positives, it’s time to get into the news that is giving so many people heartburn. Remember these two dates, put them on sticky notes or add them to your calendar—July 1, 2023, and January 1, 2024.
July 1, 2023:
Less than a year from now UA will stop tracking visitors to websites. This is not an option, but a requirement.
If you do not begin the migration to GA4 before that date, you will no longer be collecting analytics for your site.
You will, however, still be able to access your historical data within UA after July 1, 2023, but there is a catch.
January 1, 2024:
Historical data within UA will be deleted. I repeat—as of January 1, 2024, you will no longer have access to years’ worth of data.
For companies with multiple websites, custom events and filters and tailored dashboards, these two dates can bring tears to any marketer’s eyes. So, what do you do?
Put your checklist into action
We’ve been helping a myriad of companies through this process. At a very high level, below are the steps to follow:
Audit your existing Google Analytics events (leveraging GTM), as well as your existing segments and filters.
Determine which events (meaning on-site actions) you need to track going forward – document them.
Implement your tracking requirements via GTM, and then in GA4 (here’s some helpful reading on setting up custom dimensions).
Add the GA4 tag to your website.
Test that the data is accurately being tracked within GA4 using your preferred reporting view(s).
Export your data from UA so it can be used for future historical analysis.
It’s not necessarily a quick or easy process, but it allows you to retain visibility into users’ behavior, website performance and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Now is the time get started. The sooner you implement GA4, the more data and familiarity you’ll have before UA is gone for good. Many of our clients are working to make this change before the end of the calendar year—which is the wise choice and will only simplify future YOY or Q/Q reporting.
If you’re unsure how to get GA4 up and running, or don’t have the internal bandwidth, we’re here to help.
This article was initially published by our sister company Padilla on The Buzz Bin.
——— Joel Erb is Vice-President, Digital at Padilla, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations