Please note: This article is written for business owners and marketing managers and is aimed at people who are not techies. If you are looking for an article on the tiny intricacies and technical changes in GA4, then this one is not for you. But read it anyway so my bounce rate doesn’t suck.
Do not migrate all of your data tracking to GA4 just yet! Run UA and GA4 together until such a time as there is a migration strategy for existing goals, and until you are comfortable with the new reporting format. This is especially true if you are using GA to optimise your Google Ads accounts! If you do just switch over without a plan you are going to be a very unhappy bunny!
What is Google Analytics 4?
When you work in the field of digital marketing, you pretty much know that at some stage, a major platform is going to pull the carpet out from under you and make you relearn something you thought you knew pretty well. We had it with Google Ads in 2018, and Facebook seems to do it quarterly! Now Google Analytics has completely rewritten the rule book, and is making us relearn everything. Joy.
Okay, I seem to be very negative about this, but in truth it’s a massive leap forward in the way we measure data. I am just grumpy because I LOVE Google Analytics. I understand it inside and out and over the last 11 years, there is very little info that I can’t tease out for our clients. Now I need to figure out something new – which keeps my brain young.
Google Analytics 4 has been in beta for a while – it presented as an option when creating a new GA (Google Analytics) account as the options to track Web and App. That gives an idea as to one of the core reason we need GA4 – the need to track users over multiple devices. If you think about how complex your journeys with a brand may be, you can understand why marketers have been so frustrated at their lack of insight into that journey. Enter Google with machine learning. This together with elevated privacy concerns and issues with using cookies to track user journeys are what have motivated the development of GA4.
So let’s take a look at what has changed:
What’s Different In GA4?
Access to raw data – So, this is great news for massive websites. For most small businesses however, it makes no difference whatsoever. What would you do with a massive dump of raw data anyway? So it’s nice that Google is making something available for free that you had to pay for before, but it’s a good to know, as opposed to an opportunity to jump on.
Enhanced Measurement – Now this one I am super dooper excited for! Before in GA, we had to set up goals, events, alerts etc to know when anything interesting had happened – external link clicks, PDF downloads. Now, GA4 will use codeless tracking to alert us when these things happen. HOT DAMN. My job just got easier! The one thing I am worried about is getting overwhelmed by extraneous info that actually doesn’t matter (who cares if someone downloaded your October 2015 newsletter 30 times?). But I am looking forward to not having to setup an vent every single time we want to track the 30 salespeople’s email addresses as external link click events.
Automated Insights – One of the challenges with GA is that you need a human who knows what they are looking at to alert when there is something strange happening e.g. massive spikes or slumps in traffic. With automated insights, GA4 will use Google’s machine learning and AI (yes, artificial intelligence) to give insight to – and even predict – important events such as high churn and customer clustering. Fun times!
Enhanced Data Deletion – I have never personally had it with a client but I have heard of instances where their GA account was tracking data it really should not have. Getting any data deleted before was an absolute nightmare. Apparently this has been made a lot easier now. I just hope that unscrupulous agencies won’t use the feature to remove data showing they messed up or didn’t do what they were supposed to. Time will tell!
Future-Proof – Google has said that looking ahead, it will work with or without cookies or identifiers so that you can learn about your customers even with gaps in your data. I have NO IDEA how this is possible, and I will be sad to lose my chocolate chip cookie. There are obviously privacy concerns along with this but there is nothing out there currently that comes close to solving the cookie-blocking challenge to data. So let’s wait and see.
Cross Domain Tracking – Now this is also very exciting. Cross domain tracking is very useful when you need to track a user across different domains. A great example is hotels and lodges that use a third party booking engine. By tagging both domains, you can track the user from the website to the booking engine and record completed bookings. This is now a lot easier to configure than it was previously
Sounds Amazeballs – Let’s Migrate Now!
Hold onto your buffalo. Not so fast:
Reports – the number and type of reports have dropped dramatically. Wanted to know how many users were visiting the website on a Wednesday from Chile using a smartphone? Used to be easy, now you need someone proficient in Google DataStudio to create the reports you need, and it’s a lot more difficult to pull info on the fly.
Integration – For now, the only products GA4 integrates with are Google Ads and Google Big Query (for Raw Data). Even Search Console and 360 Ads are not integrated yet. Beta means STILL TESTING so not ready to rock and roll just yet.
Data Reads Differently – We are going to have to learn how to read the data again. And I say we because I will be honest, I am still a little befuddled. I have been looking at Google Analytics pretty much every day for 11 years and I still feel like someone put a Confundus charm on me! So just take some time to acclimate to the new normal.
No Way To Migrate Goals – If you are like us, and you are analysing everything from paid spend to organic traffic to social media according to Goal Conversions, then the new GA4 is a disaster – you can’t (at this stage) easily migrate those critical actions into GA4. There will be a way at some point, Google has promised us this will happen. But for right now, hang 5.
Do what Google suggests you do – run your UA and GA4 codes simultaneously on your website until UA becomes completely phased out. I expect this will be at least 12 months. This gives us time to learn the new platform, and for Google to create a smooth migration from old to new. Although anyone who survived the Google Adwords transition knows that Google’s idea of a “smooth transition” may mean something different in our version of English.
And if your Agency migrates from UA to GA4 without maintaining both, fire them and come to us.