Moving to Google Analytics 4
So you’ve got an email telling you that your tried and tested Google Analytics is sailing off into the sunset to be replaced with GA4 in July 2023 and you’re worried.
In the words of both the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Lance Corporal Jones … Don’t Panic!
To help you embrace the new normal, the SEO experts at tictoc have put together this guide to GA4 properties.
What is GA4 and how is it different to Good ol’ Universal Analytics?
The first version of the de facto web tracking service was launched in 2005 after the purchase of Urchin, an early analytics program but it wasn’t until 2012 that Google’s Universal Analytics morphed into the form that most of us would recognise today.
Universal Analytics was quickly adopted by early digital marketers and agreed upon as the best thing since sliced bread. As great as it was, UA was developed in a world before the smartphone became all things to all people, where the vast majority of online experiences were conducted on hulking beige desktops and relied on cookies to capture data. Still, this was great for many years.
However, things are changing. Google announced in 2020 that third-party cookies would be phased out by the end of 2023 (let’s all cheer for not having to interact with Cookie popup notices!) and far greater emphasis has been placed on user privacy with the likes of GDPR and similar initiatives coming into force.
While it is true that Universal Analytics had various privacy controls added over the years, GA4 has them baked in at the core which not only protects users but allows businesses to evolve their customer data usage as the privacy landscape continues to change.
The change is not just being driven by privacy concerns. Most of us live a life across multiple platforms, jumping from work laptop to smartphone app, to tablet, to IOT enabled fridge. For UA, tracking user behaviour outside of web applications was always tricky.
UA measures traffic using sessions with all of the possible interactions like eCommerce transactions, playing a video or downloading a PDF captured as actions within that session.
Where GA4 differs is it measures every interaction as an event which can be very detailed and offers a much deeper level of understanding of the customer journey. Straight out of the box it measures a suite of interactions without having to change anything.
Sounds good? Well it no doubt will be but there is a learning curve to get past first. GA4 is totally different to UA so all the familiar metrics you used to report on have changed.
What can GA4 do?
Say hello to AI
Using advanced machine learning tools, GA4 promises to deliver smarter insights into customer behaviour which in turn allows you to make smarter business decisions.
Get the complete picture
With full support for collecting data across multiple platforms, you will be able to see the complete journey your customers take no matter where they start or end.
The new analytics tools are now the default for any new properties and are the focus of Google's ongoing development. As tighter and tighter user privacy controls are enacted GA4 has the granular controls to cope with it, all while tracking the data marketers need across multiple platforms.
I’ve got ages to swap over to GA4, I’ll do it tomorrow
You sound like my kids.
It’s important to note that you can not migrate data over to GA4. GA4 uses a completely different measurement process and so you’re starting from a blank sheet. By moving over now you have a full year of collecting data on both platforms so when the switch is thrown, you can still get a complete picture of year-on-year progress for your site/app.
And although I said not to panic at the top of this article, after UA floats off on its Viking funeral barge, ablaze and leaves us crying on the beach we will only be able to access legacy data for 6 months. That's right, just 6 months so the more data you can get into GA4 now the better. Perhaps a little bit of panic is warranted.
Another reason to embrace GA4 sooner rather than later is that the reporting structure and data presentation have changed dramatically from what you’re used to so take advantage of the time to get your digital team up to speed.
How do I change over to GA4
Ok, so this is the part you’ve probably skipped down to.
Setup your GA4 property
This step is fairly straightforward. Log into your current UA account and you should have a notification prompting you to create a new GA4 property. If you don't see the prompt then head over to ‘Admin’ and then the ‘Property View’ within which you’ll see ‘GA4 Setup Assistant’.
If your site uses the gtag.js, tag, you have the option to Enable data collection using your existing tags.
If you use a website builder/CMS that already supports the gtag.js tag (e.g., WordPress, Shopify, Wix, etc.), you may have the option to Enable data collection using your existing tags.
If your website builder/CMS does not yet support the gtag.js tag, if you use Google Tag Manager, or your website is tagged with analytics.js, the GA4 setup wizard can't reuse your existing tagging and you'll need to add the tag yourself. With Goggle Tag Manager it’s as simple as adding GA4 config tag and setting it to fire on all pages.
Connect the new property to your existing account and then connect any data sources/views such as Google Ads or Search Console.
It’s always a good idea to check Realtime reporting to ensure data is flowing although be aware it can take up to 30 minutes for data to appear.
Event tracking setup
In GA4 event tracking is far more granular than in the old UA. You can now determine what events you’d like to track and then choose how those events are triggered. Events can be set up directly within GA4 or of course through the GTM Event Tag. I’d suggest having a play with the new features.
Ecommerce tracking setup
Data layers! I know, it scares me too. Have a discussion with your developers and they will help to implement the schema which will then spit out Monetisation reports.
Check your data
Compare and contrast against your current UA account, run your reports and make sure everything that was being captured still is.
If all that was like trying to decipher Sanskrit, then again, don’t panic.
At tictoc, we have digital specialists who can help you get the most from GA4 so if you don’t feel confident in making the transition yourself, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org today.