Before we get into it today, I wanted to be clear about one thing – I think that the upheaval in analytics and tracking should be seen as a good thing. Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) is ten years old. It was built for yesterday’s web. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is built for today and tomorrow’s web. It is going to bring us, as marketers, closer to understanding how and what our users are doing and what their journey looks like, and it’s going to help us take into account newer devices.
We are well past the idea of doing a soft migration in GA4. The sunset date for UA Standard is set at July 1, 2023. That’s it, and it’s happening whether I continue writing this piece or not. That means that we’ve got three months (and change) to get migrated over to GA4, to get good data coming out of GA4, to get the reports we need out of GA4, and to get weaned off UA (though less and less frequent, we’re still popping into our UA account at Be Found Online).
As you read through the GA4 opportunities below, think about all the things you need from your data and all of the challenges.
Finally, on July 1st, 2023, make sure to wish all your friends, colleagues, and your entire LinkedIn network a Happy GA4 Day when UA sunsets! And if they don’t know what you’re talking about, well…that’s a different story.
Opportunities in GA4
1. Improved Implementation
You’ve been in UA a long time (probably “over a DECADE old” long time), and there’s probably stuff in your implementation and your Google Tag Manager that could likely use some housekeeping. There’s probably stuff that can be retired and stuff that can be refreshed – so you have an opportunity to clean up and/or improve your implementation analytics. You may even clean up your website code as a byproduct, too!
2. More Intelligent Data Collection
The shift to event-based tracking will confuse us all for a while (heck, I’m still confused by it at times, and I’ve used the platform for several months). And it’s not that it’s confusing, per se; it’s just that it’s a shift in thinking. So, you were going to sessions and pageviews in UA (where you added events to that), and now you’re starting from events and seeing your pageviews there in GA4. It’s a little different, but trust me on this: it’s a really cool opportunity to understand your users’ journey better. You will get so much more insight and data out of this bad boy – it will be incredible. The improvement in the data model and the data analysis will be better than ever.
GA4 also promises the ability to track your users as they move from one device to another. This is pretty tricky but it has to do with using Google accounts that are logged in. If your site uses its own login – meaning you have a User ID – then it is even easier! Google loves to say that this feature is seamless; we’ve found a few challenges along the way, but it’s certainly powerful and worth exploring!
3. Built for Data Privacy and a Shift Away from Third-Party Cookies
We’ve heard about the “death of the cookie” for a few years. Well, the cookie isn’t dead yet, but GA4 was developed with the move away from cookies in mind. Maggie Sauer, our Associate Director of Analytics, recently published a great article about third-party cookies that touches on the history and purpose of the cookie, existing and emerging privacy laws, and the changing landscape of data privacy/collection. I think she does a fantastic job of explaining how all of these pieces work and what changes we’re looking at in the future. Here’s a sneak peek if you don’t feel like clicking the link:
“GA4 tracks data in a distinctly different method than UA by relying on events as opposed to sessions. This will help with visibility on user interactions in a world without third-party cookies.”Maggie Sauer, BeFoundOnline
Cons (or Learning Opportunities) in GA4
1. Reports and Reporting
Most of the reports you’re used to will be gone. For some of the reports that you need, you will need to create them. If you know what you’re doing with the new reporting model, keep going! If you’re unsure where to start, or feel inexperienced, talk to someone who knows what they’re doing.
There is going to be a learning curve, which is why many started their GA4 journey early, but there’s still time! Remember, GA4 is not the new version of UA; it’s is a new tool and should be thought of that way. Listen, I get it, you’ve got other things on your plate, and this sunset felt so far away a few months ago, but it’s coming. When you’re in GA4, you’re going to notice some things look different. There’s a new data model – the way stuff is stored and tracked is slightly different, but you’re going to get used to it.
I will say, though – that apples and apples look different. There are red and green apples between the two platforms. If you’re going to look at historical data and reports, those reports are going to look a little bit different because they track differently (think 10-15% sway in reporting).
The interface is different. We’ve got some different tabs, different opportunities to click into things, and different ways to build reports. What Google wants us to do is build the reports we need in Looker. So, we’ll have the data collection in GA4, but you’ll want to build your business intelligence out on a different platform. Google recommends Looker, but you may have other ideas (entirely up to you).
3. Custom Reporting, Views, and Filters
GA4 comes with its fair share of technical challenges. Some of us may have experience working with data connectors such as Supermetrics to bring our Google Analytics data into visualization software such as Looker Studio. With GA4’s new Event Based Data model, many of the reports we have relied on for so long will have to be rebuilt.
Universal Analytics divided the account structure into Account, Property, and Views. We frequently saw clients use Views and custom Filters to cater their GA data to a specific user. Well, in GA4, both Views and Filters (as we knew them before) are gone. As a result, GA4 users must learn how to segment their data in the reporting UI. Custom Filters can be applied to reports that exist within the reporting UI but can no longer be applied to the entire GA scope via a View. Only two filters can be applied throughout an entire GA4 Property: Internal Traffic & Developer Traffic. Depending on the structure of your company, these can be tricky to set up in today’s remote working environment.
What I am most excited about for GA4 as we reach the UA sunset is seeing our data in a different way. I’m going to know where my dollars are going, I’m going to make my boss happy, and I’m going to better understand more about the user journey all the way through so I can make better business decisions.
So, in the end, Google Analytics 4 is not good or bad, it’s just different. At this point, the window is closing for businesses to implement a soft migration of GA4 because of the sunset, and it’s time to get on with it and tear off that Band-Aid.