Despite attempts to bill itself as a simple search engine, it’s clear that Google governs the World Wide Web. Thankfully, Google is kind enough to provide free tools to help marketers keep pace with its governance: chief among them, Google Analytics.
Something like 28 million websites rely on Google Analytics to keep them apprised of site performance, visitor behaviors, sales funnel efficiency, and countless other insights. That’s why there’s such a panic around Google’s decision to sunset its beloved Universal Analytics (UA) in favor of next-generation Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Critical tools are changing, and it’s bound to have an impact on how businesses measure and understand site performance. If you’re freaking out about GA4, you’re not alone. Don’t worry—change is never as scary as our minds build it up to be.
Here’s a crash course in how to handle the transition with confidence.
GA4: the CliffsNotes version
Let’s answer the basic question first: why is Google rolling out GA4? The primary reason revolves around changing standards that govern user data—standards even Google needs to abide by, like GDPR. Specifically, how sites track and report user behaviors using cookies. First-party cookies are in; third-party cookies are out.
GA4 is also built for a cross-platform future. Through Signals, GA4 is able to pull activity data from Google-affiliated sites and apps (when you sign in with your Google account), to paint a clearer picture of user behavior that goes beyond reliance on third-party cookies.
Now comes the all-important follow-up question: what’s changing? The answer here is… a lot. GA4’s event-based data model is a departure from UA’s session-based model, and it’s changing the way marketers understand and measure activity. It affects several long-held metrics. For example, UA’s Bounce Rate has paved the way to GA4’s Engagement Rate as a measurement of landing page performance.
For some, changing metrics might mean changing their data attribution model or revamping reporting for a more holistic look at how people interact with properties. Either way, a new outlook on data means a new understanding of causation and correlation. This is why GA4 is so intimidating for many brands.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to GA4 migration
There’s one glaring problem with the transition from UA to GA4, and it has to do with setup. Data from UA won’t import into GA4, which means you’ll only have access to data starting at the point you add a GA4 tracking tag to your properties. That’s right: there’s no historical data.
To complicate matters further, some core features in UA either don’t exist (yet) or have changed in GA4. Goals are now Conversions, filters and customizations won’t port over, and integrations might go defunct until they’re updated. This means spending time reestablishing preferences and rebuilding now-extinct views as Event Parameters.
Setting up GA4 is going to be a time-consuming process for many brands. It’s best to break it down into phases—to both ease the pain of transition and make sure you’re not missing anything during the port-over. Here’s how JXM is approaching it with our clients:
Phase I: Create and launch the GA4 property (ASAP).
Phase II: Get acclimated with GA4 interface and reporting.
Phase III: Inventory UA key tracking items and settings.
Phase IV: (re)Build custom tracking elements in GA4.
Phase V: Check that tracking in GA4 works as-intended.
Phase VI: Phase out usage of UA before sunset (July 2023).
Phase VII: Archive UA reference data before the sunset date.
The good news is that after a little up-front heavy lifting, GA4 should provide marketers with not only a level of data they’re used to, but new opportunities to leverage that data into effective action.
Simpler than SparkNotes
While the transition seems like a downright debacle, it’s important to remember that GA4 is designed for simplicity and ease-of-use. Aside from a simpler interface, it’s built for the era of automation and machine learning—which means less work needed for more robust (and better) insights.
While UA is beloved by many marketers—and perhaps the only analytics console they’ve ever used—GA4 is the future. Event-based tracking, customizable reporting, and automated insights across platforms make GA4 a suitable console for the modern age of the internet and the shifting landscape we find ourselves in.
If the transition to GA4 is beyond your patience or expertise, don’t worry: it’s right in our wheelhouse. JXM will help you take it step-by-step, so you walk away with the reporting you need to stay aligned with Google’s ever-changing governance over the internet.