Why you need to make the move to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) now

It’s a universally acknowledged truth; Google is the master of the universe, but terms and conditions apply.

Changes made by Google, ripple across the marketing landscape and the recently announced rollout of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is no exception.

Google Analytics has been the backbone of so many businesses as a way of tracking website traffic, monitoring marketing channels, and keeping track of KPIs. On top of this, companies have always used this tool to track their user interactions across various channels including websites, mobile apps, and much more.

Google is well known for always updating (and sometimes killing off) some of its most popular products and Google Analytics is the latest to be overhauled. The new and improved GA4 comes with excellent features and advancements over the previous version of Universal Analytics (UA) that gives you a much more complete insight into where your efforts are working and where they’re falling short.

A scan of major global websites by 256 shows that a majority of the businesses surveyed have yet to make the switch to GA4. But the time to act is now.

Why is GA4 important

The key objective of introducing GA4 is to leverage the machine learning capabilities and predictive analytics of Google. GA4 adopts an event-based approach where the mobile app and website data are combined into a single Google property - enabling you to better track your visitors' behaviours.  

Machine learning? What can that do? GA4 relies on machine learning technology to keep a tab on user journeys where consent wasn’t given, reducing the dependency on cookies (and those annoying pop-ups too).  

This is a pretty innovative step in the online space where most businesses currently use the cookie feature to track their website visitors. This is a really exciting change and the first brands and businesses to make the jump will have a more enjoyable user experience, without sacrificing the data. How does GA4 impact you and your business? Any major change like this is bound to cause a brief moment of panic and confusion. But it’s okay. Breathe. GA4’s advantages are well worth taking the time to migrate to as early as possible. 

  • GA4 brings with it a plethora of reports, useful to all categories of marketing and sales teams. These reports have interfaces that differ from UA, but they give more data on various Customer Lifecycle events, including acquisition, engagement, and retention. It also includes funnel analysis reports and user lifetime reports. 
  • GA4 uses an event-based model, instead of the session-based approach of earlier versions, allowing the events to have custom parameters tagged so that you can draw more actionable and specific insights. 
  • The new version also allows automated event-tracking, enabling users to track events by activating them in the GA4 settings. This is much more flexible compared to the earlier versions where you needed the Google Tag Manager and some hard coding skills.
  • GA4 now reports extract data on various engagement metrics, including engaged sessions, engaged sessions per user, and more. These attributes were not found in the earlier versions, which primarily revolved around the bounce rate to track the sessions of unengaged visitors. 
  • The new version of Google Analytics comes with a free integration with BigQuery. So it now enables businesses to connect their unprocessed data to the entire data stack and realize its full potential. 

Why GA4 needs to be added now

There’s one big advantage of moving to GA4 as soon as possible – historical data which is crucial for you to monitor your performance. 

Without sufficient historical data on various business parameters, drawing meaningful insights, recording trends, setting benchmark standards and making informed decisions becomes much trickier.

From July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics, the current version of Google Analytics will stop processing new data. By making the switch to GA4 now you get a headstart on building historical data before UA goes out of action. ”Marketers should start using GA4 by July 1, 2022, so that you can track the data differences with UA alongside GA4," says Mark Scully, Head of Digital, Innovation and Strategy at 256.

How much work is involved in migrating to GA4?

There are quite a few aspects you need to look at when moving to the fourth version of Google Analytics. First things first, we need to understand certain core differences from the earlier versions. 

GA4 makes use of a new form of event-based measurement which differs from the earlier page-view style of measurement. There are also changes in the tags used earlier in Google Tag Manager and the interface features. And finally, there’s also a new Google Analytics property designed to store data. 

“Unfortunately, moving to GA4 isn’t as straightforward as replacing the old code with a new one. It involves many more aspects, so we think it’s best to carry out the migration by adopting a phased approach depending on the kind of data collected”, adds Mark Scully. 

This can be classified broadly into: 

  • Page view tracking 
  • Event tracking 
  • e-Commerce tracking 
  • Inter-platform integration 

With a phased approach, you can segment the process of migrating to GA4 into four steps: 

  1. Creating a GA4 property to track page views and standard events. 
  2. Implement e-commerce related events. 
  3. Implement any other custom events and integrations. 
  4. After completing all the implementations, complete a full check. 

Once you’ve finished your GA4 migration, you’re all set and you can now see all your data along with the Universal Analytics version.  

After your migration to GA4, there are a couple of things to do to ensure you get the reports you need later: 

  • Debug everything to ensure all tracking is working properly with accurate data rendered. 
  • Revise your Google Analytics settings for the new GA property. 
  • Check the data from GA4 and those from UA to compare the differences. 
  • Draw a checklist of any upcoming integrations - dashboards, plug-ins, etc. 
  • Conduct a review on specific data points as GA4 is nascent and there might be some changes in the next six months. 
  • Finally, make sure you train the business stakeholders on the aspects of extracting reports, tracking, and using GA4.

256 is here to help you navigate your migration to GA4

As data-driven storytellers, the team at 256 uses analytics to shape our award-winning strategies. Our data analysts can help you step up your analytics ahead of time.

Come say hi and let’s take advantage of GA4.

Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is Founder and CEO of 256, a multi global, award-winning digital strategy agency based in Dublin, Ireland. With over 25 years’ experience helping B2B and B2C brands make informed business and marketing decisions, Karen specialises in using storytelling to grow brand love and guide digital transformation. 
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