The sunsetting of Google Analytics Universal Analytics in July 2023 will mark the end of an era for web analytics. When Google Analytics was first released in 2005, it was groundbreaking for businesses, developers and marketers. It has remained a foundational piece of the web analytics toolkit for more than 15 years, persisting through massive changes in web technology—and this announcement came as a shock to many in the analytics community.
On May 3 and 5th, 2022, we are hosting an in-depth session titled “Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Transition Planning,” which will answer the multitude of questions marketers might be facing during this transition and how to best overcome the challenges.
It’d be easy to believe that the transition to Google Analytics 4 will be a seamless process. However, the reality of the situation is much more complicated for many users. GA4 captures data in a different way than Universal Analytics so the tagging for this implementation is new. The fields and interfaces that hold your data are different as well. Below are a few high-level ways to begin preparing for the transition.
Update Your Tagging Structure
All of your existing tags will need to be rebuilt to support GA4 tags as they capture data in a new way. For each event that exists within Google Tag Manager, you must build an additional tag tied to the same trigger to send data to GA4.
Update Your Reporting
GA4 data capture is based on the firebase platform which means it is optimized for collecting data from both mobile devices and applications. It also means the fields captured in reporting are more customizable. However, they do not align with the existing fields captured in Universal Analytics. The reports that are currently powered by UA connectors or data flows will need to be rebuilt using GA4 data.
Luckily, Google has prepared a list of equivalencies between GA4 and Universal Analytics data that you can find here.
This guide will help you recreate reporting, but it’s not a guarantee that the data will match UA exactly. Since you must rebuild reports with GA4 data sources, your data will not show for YoY, so you have until August 2022 to implement GA4 if you desire historical reporting. If you have a data ETL and storage process, you might be able to stitch GA4 data with historical UA data to get a longer loopback window, but parity is not guaranteed.
Understand the New Functionality
The new GA4 platform lacks many of the critical functions that current Universal Analytics users have become accustomed to using. Things as simple as allowing user control over features like custom channel groupings and filters are currently missing from the administrative toolset.
Instead, users must set their filters via variables that leave the IP, domain and other matching datasets up to the end-user in their tag manager. Setting custom utm parameters for channel groupings is crucial for classifying campaigns from outside platforms.
GA4 also lacks the ability to map custom dimensions which are key for many users, particularly GA360 customers. Many GA360 customers have 50 or more custom dimensions that they use for advanced reporting. The expansion of the available customizations is one of the things that makes GA360 great, so to have them missing from GA4 makes implementation much more complicated. Google has additional custom dimensions on their roadmap, but the fact that they are missing at the time of the transition announcement creates room for user error.
Learn About the Benefits of GA4
Although GA4 will require significant effort to set up, that doesn’t mean it won’t be an improvement. GA4 configurations are wired with what Google calls “Advanced Measurement” and it integrates page view, scroll, outbound click, site search, video engagement and file download tracking into the platform by default. The platform switch adheres Google to the personal data laws such as GDPR and CCPA and will help marketers better navigate the cookie-less digital world.
If you’re requiring assistance or have questions about this change, our team of experts are here to help! We are a Google Premier Partner and ready to set you up for success.