Many organisations now rely on digital as the backbone of their business, operating across multiple platforms, websites and apps to drive business or provide services to their customers.
The dominance of digital channels and this continued shift has meant customer journeys have become far more complex and far reaching. This has driven the need for analytical insights to inform marketers of their performance across all of their digital channels to help drive decisions and refine marketing activity. Achieving this visibility enables you to measure and learn from your online interactions in order to continually adapt your online presence to best serve your customers and drive change.
The end of an era
Google announced on their blog that they are beginning the process of sunsetting Universal Analytics (UA) on the 1st July 2023 and the historical data inside UA will be deleted after 6 months. This means your current Universal Analytics will no longer record data from this date onwards and you will no longer be able to access your historical analytical data after sometime in December 2023.
With this announcement, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was also announced as UA’s replacement which would feature a completely new set of tools which will help businesses more accurately measure their data in the modern business environment. With no clear or automated ‘migration’ process, businesses must begin to consider the way they are going to approach the migration to GA4 and how they will measure metrics moving forward with a completely new tool, starting from scratch.
What does this mean for businesses?
While Universal Analytics provided a firm foundation to track and analyse your website traffic more closely, the platform was initially created to cater for single site tracking when the use of the web was becoming more popular. The platform no longer caters to modern day businesses who require a centralised platform which can analyse data from multiple web sources and applications.
The new GA4 allows you to integrate your analytics with your website data, mobile device data and app data which allows you to gain a complete overview and more in depth visualisation of customer interactions, journeys and activity across multiple touchpoints. While this may sound good so far, achieving the level of visibility you require can be challenging and must be carefully planned in order to gain the visibility you are looking for.
Should migrating to GA4 be a top priority?
Yes it should. In this case, time is most definitely of the essence, aside from setting up a completely new analytics platform, marketers must also ensure they are adept at using the new platform to ensure that when the 1st July 2023 arrives, all of your marketing team members can proficiently use the new system to track, analyse and measure the data effectively. This is not only the case for marketing teams, but important for providing insights and metrics at all levels of the business, across multiple teams and even at board level.
Why start the migration process now?
Although the 1st July 2023 seems like a long time away, leaving this process until the deadline date will mean you risk having less data available in GA4 and potential ‘gaps’ in your data and tracking, e.g no overlaps from data in UA and GA4. In order to avoid this, we recommend that you start tracking with GA4 today to ensure that data is at least being collected across the board from the earliest possible point.
With the migration process presenting an array of challenges and considerations which must be addressed in order to emerge with a configured tool, the time taken to do so should not be underestimated. Starting from scratch may be a daunting prospect but it allows you to re-evaluate the way you measure and learn from your online activity and means you can achieve visibility which was previously unattainable.
What steps do I need to take to get started migrating to GA4?
- First things first, you need to install the GA4 Property and install it on your website. Note: you do not need to remove your current UA property, this can run alongside your GA4 Property to ensure you are collecting data on both tools to ensure you have the most data possible.
- Take the time to get used to the new analytics tool and try out some of the new features, functionality, dashboard and reporting capabilities to make sure you can use the tool proficiently.
- At this stage you will need to consider what ‘events’ you would like to track across your site and how these events will allow you to measure your ability to meet your KPIs/KPMs as a business. This for example could be tracking downloads, purchases, sign up and a whole range of other activities available in GA4.
It is also important to consider you are not just looking to track ‘vanity metrics’ which often provide no clear or actionable insights into how your business is performing or what you can do with that information to improve. Depending on your business model, you will need to consider the types of events you would like to track in order to gain the most insight into how your site/app is performing and what needs adapting in order to improve your offering.
To map out what events you should be tracking in the new GA4, you should consider listing all of your current metrics in UA to see if they are still needed, if they need adapting or if they need to be carried over to the new tool.
What new features are available in GA4?
Where the UA data model traditionally tracked users, page views and sessions (along many more) the new GA4 data model follows a similar pattern but now includes ‘events’ which can be utilised to track almost any metric on your site. This new data model ensures flexibility in your analytical tracking by allowing you to track even the most defined elements on a page as an event to improve your insights across the board. (GA4 even allows you to track POS systems to give more insight into a wider customer journey).
Some notable new features
- AI Insights – Analytics Intelligence allows you to utilise automated intelligence which detects emerging trends and themes throughout your data and even notifies you automatically in your dashboard. You can also use custom insights which allow you to set your own parameters and conditions to be able to alert you when the data that is important to your business is changing and requires attention.
GA4 also includes anomaly and contribution analysis to provide granular insight into campaigns and trends happening now. This allows you to narrow down which user segments are contributing to valuable events across your site and pinpoint where your most and least effective segments are. For example it would allow you to see that the most effective segment of your audience to drive conversions was email traffic from the UK.
- Integrated Web and Mobile Insights – A major new feature in GA4 is the ability to combine mobile and web data in a single Analytics property which is a result of the event based data model which GA4 adopts. Using data streams allows you to integrate a combination of online data which spans across multiple platforms and devices.
Traditionally this type of analysis has been unavailable with Universal Analytics only allowing a separated view of these data streams. This powerful new feature allows you to analyse user journeys cross-device and cross-platform to provide more visibility and a greater understanding of activity across online platforms.
- New User Interfaces and User Controls – New interfaces across GA4 provide a more user-friendly and understandable approach to managing the visualisation and presentation of data to help users understand what is happening on a more granular level.
New user controls allow you to manage your user data more closely which helps marketers and businesses comply with data regulations such as GDPR. User data retention for GA4 is limited to a maximum of 14 months which means this data will automatically be deleted after this period to maintain the GDPR standards, you can change this date for specific metrics such as age, gender and more audience specific metrics which may need to be deleted sooner. GA4 now also allows you to delete individual users from Analytics if you do receive a request to delete their data.
- Exploration Reports – The new exploration reports section in GA4 is a dynamic shift from the previous analytics set up. Instead of having large amounts of pre-defined reports which are hard to customise and provide no real insight, the new GA4 reports provide a simpler approach to reporting.
The new GA4 reporting allows you to create highly customisable reports which allow you to discover a whole range of different activity such as User Exploration, Path Exploration, Acquisition, User Behavior along with many more to enable you to gain a complete overview of your performance across all channels.
Google is continually releasing new features for GA4 in the lead up to the final date when Universal Analytics is sunsetted. The features released will be in line with the platform roadmap, with new features being available.
Can you migrate your old data into GA4?
A big concern for many organisations now lies in the amount of historical data they are able to measure and track in GA4. If you begin tracking with GA4 after the 1st July 2022, you will have less than a year's worth of data in your new GA4 account when Universal Analytics turns off.
This is because there is no direct way to migrate your historical UA data over to the new Google Analytics 4 platform, meaning you must start tracking as soon as possible in order to be able to build up a stream of new data in GA4 to ensure you have metrics to measure when the time to switch arrives. You can still use your historical data from UA but you must ensure you export this data before the deadline date arrives, 6 months after the 1st July 2023. You can achieve this by exporting the data from your account to the required format e.g .csv, .tsv etc. You must also consider a new way to visualise your UA historical data if you want to be able to run historical analysis of your activity in the future with GA4 not providing this feature.
Although this may be the case, you can migrate other elements of your current UA set up to GA4. Available from Google, you can migrate certain elements of your existing set up to the new google platform, learn more here:
- The need to adapt to changing customer behaviours and journeys is essential in achieving visibility which informs your activity as a business.
- With customer journeys becoming more widespread, the need for visibility cross-device and cross-platform is becoming the new norm for marketers.
- Time is of the essence and the need to make the switch to the new Google Analytics 4 is looming. Failing to make the switch in time means you run the risk of creating gaps in your data and not having a fully configured system when the time to switch over from Universal Analytics comes.
- To emerge with a full configured platform which best serves your business and allows you to track and measure your activity effectively, you must ensure you are measuring the right metrics which will help to deliver actionable insights which drive changes throughout your business to truly take advantage of the power of GA4.