Have you heard about these companies that are stressing over GA4? (That’d be Google Analytics 4, for you fans of the long form.)
Well… maybe you should be one of those stress-obsessed. Just look at some of what’s got businesses losing sleep (and clicking links) as they wonder and worry about how GA4 can impact their 2023 and beyond.
– 80% of companies are not prepared for the move to GA4.
– 72% of companies are concerned about losing the data contained in their current google analytics property during the transition to GA4.
– Estimates suggest that businesses could lose up to 25% of their website traffic due to the changes in GA4.
– GA4 may impact a company’s ability to comply with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA.
Worried yet? That’s not our intent! Truth be told, it’s not in our nature to add to anyone’s anxiety. It’s in our DNA to be problem solvers. But to solve the problem — if there is one — it’s helpful that we’re on the same page in terms of understanding. (Or at least on the same screen, given the digital nature of our review.)
The End of Universal Analytics
As you might guess from its name, GA4 is the fourth major version of Google Analytics. Google Analytics, of course, is the pre-eminent web analytics service offered by Google to track and report website traffic. The original Google Analytics dates back to 2001.
The traditional tracking code in previous versions of Google Analytics was relatively unsophisticated. It collected only basic information about web traffic: number of visitors to a site, and the pages viewed. This level of data would then go into general reports.
GA4 does away with tradition, evolving to a new tracking code called the GA4 Measurement ID. This works with a new data model and method for data collection to provide granular data related to user interactions with a website: the pages they visit, how long they stay on the site, the specific actions they take. This data is used to create more accurate and detailed reports on user behavior.
(GA4 Measurement ID also allows for better data privacy controls and regulatory compliance, increasingly important with GDPR and CCPA.)
But what does all this mean for your business? Well, some experts believe that GA4’s changes are more than just technology. In terms of the bigger picture, they represent a shift in Google’s overall philosophy. What GA4 collects is more than “just” analytics — it’s marketing insight. This means that the data that GA4 collects for you can be used to provide a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior, enabling your business to make informed, data-driven decisions.
The Google Analytics 4 Clock is Ticking
“What’s the rush? Don’t we have ’til July ’23 before Google ends the current standard Google Analytics?”
Yes…that is true. And if your “plan” is to wait things out, you might be even more excited to find out that Google has delayed the sunset for GA360 — the enterprise version of Analytics — until July ’24.
But time is not on your side here. Google advises that it will continue to decrease support for all versions of current Analytics (aka Universal Analytics) — meaning performance will actively degrade throughout 2023.
Like Thanos, GA4 is inevitable. You gain nothing by delaying. In fact, you are increasingly at risk. Universal Analytics will stop processing, and any data collected through your Universal Analytics property will not be accessible in GA4. Failing to take action soon could result in the loss of historical insights about your audience and their behavior.
Taking action now — preparing for GA4, transitioning to GA4 — will preserve the value of your data history, and reap the greatest benefits for your long-term digital presence and overall business.
What’s the GA4 Upside?
Let’s start with a focus on the positive.
GA4 gives every size company the ability to integrate their Google Analytics account with the greater Google Marketing Platform stack. That includes Search Ads 360, Display & Video 360 and Campaign Manager 360 — features that were previously limited to enterprise accounts. This means every organization can seamlessly map its audiences across multiple platforms for streamlined analytics and cross-platform tracking.
With GA4’s granular data and amplified measurement capabilities, your business will be able to gain a deeper understanding of your audience — which, in turn, should help you create more effective marketing strategies.
When you join the ranks of GA4-empowered “Savvy Marketers of Tomorrow,” you should benefit in several ways:
- Advanced analysis: GA4 provides advanced machine learning capabilities with different metrics that allow marketers like you to uncover hidden insights from data and make more informed decisions with features such as data-driven attribution, custom dimensions, custom events tracking, and cross-platform tracking.
- Personalized marketing: With GA4, it’s possible to identify specific user segments, such as new users or returning users, and track their behavior to create personalized marketing campaigns, allowing you to increase conversion rates and revenue.
- Better targeting: Detailed data on user behavior helps you target specific segments of your audience with more precision for more effective marketing campaigns.
- Event-based data model: Google Analytics 4 has an event-based model, as opposed to Universal Analytics’ session-based model. Although there are automatically collected events, it is possible to set your event parameters, create custom events, and set up enhanced measurement events with GA4.
- Real-time data: With GA4’s new platform, marketers like you can quickly respond to changes in consumer behavior, to adjust strategies accordingly with more control.
- Better integration with other marketing tools: GA4’s integration with marketing tools such as Google Ads works to provide a more comprehensive view of consumer behavior and improve the effectiveness of marketing efforts.
- Improved data privacy controls: GA4’s advances in this area reflect necessary compliance with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, upgrading the opportunities to collect data in ways that still protect user privacy.
- Increased efficiency: The more efficient data management of GA4 ultimately saves you time and resources.
How about a use case of a company using GA4? Glad you asked! Let’s take the list above and run it out as a scenario:
Consider an e-commerce operator, selling consumer goods: we’ll call them WhatUWant. With GA4 on its website to track and analyze user (read: customer) behavior, WhatUWant can gain a deeper understanding of that audience. This includes which pages are receiving the most traffic, and the products that are most popular.
Is that really much different than today’s Universal Analytics model? Well, let’s drill down a bit deeper.
There are several key differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. With GA4, WhatUWant can track those interactions in real-time, including how many users are on the site, the number of active users, and user interaction, enabling quick response to changes in their prospective customer’s behavior. A significant increase in traffic and returning users to a particular product page is an alert to adjust the marketing strategy to capitalize on this trend as it’s happening. When GA4 helps to reveal that a particular ad campaign or element on that page is not performing well, WhatUWant quickly adjusts the targeting and creative elements to improve performance.
Taking data a bit further, GA4’s advanced analytics and data streams provide added value in identifying hidden insights. These can be used by WhatUWant to segment its total users and create more effective, more personalized marketing campaigns for specific groups based on any number of conditions: location, traffic from, specific page interaction, video engagement, time spent, engaged sessions, etc.
GA4’s role here is in enabling more informed decisions, for the type of personalized marketing that helps WhatUWant increase its conversion rates — and revenue.
What’s the GA4 Downside?
Into every analytics discussion some rain must fall. And so, too, we should consider the potential negatives of GA4. Giving pause to many companies: the transition to GA4 may require significant changes to your website and data management process — which could be time-consuming and seem expensive.
That said, these are set costs — investments, really — and should be judged against the long-term return in value.
But let’s go down the dark path. (Grab an umbrella!) What if our friends at WhatUWant never update to GA4?
First off, once support ceases for their standard Universal Analytics Properties (July of ’23, July of ’24 at the latest) any data previously collected will no longer be accessible. WhatUWant risks losing important legacy insights into its audience and their behavior, including ecommerce transactions — with possibly dire consequences for future informed decisions related to marketing.
Then there’s non-compliance with data privacy regulations, notably GDPR and CCPA. These absolutely require businesses to protect consumer data and be transparent about how first-party data is collected and used. Without GA4’s new privacy controls, WhatUWant will have a harder time managing these needs, risking hefty fines.
Lacking GA4’s improvements in measurement and digital analytics, WhatUWant then fails to achieve the kind of consumer analytics data and new insights a modern business needs in order to grow.
The domino effect here is that it also makes WhatUWant less competitive. When other businesses are using GA4 to gain a deeper understanding of their audience and creating better marketing based on that — WhatUWant is left wanting.
(Let’s all hope for the best for WhatUWant!)
The Major Myths of Modern Measurement
It makes sense that Google recommends that businesses enable data collection within Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible, but you may still have doubts that GA4 is an improvement from Universal Analytics. The internet is rife with common “myths” about GA4. Myth-making is fun when it’s about Greek gods and mighty deeds of lore. But when those myths can undermine your ability to empower your team, and reduce your ability to make smart decisions about data management and marketing strategy? We feel we’ve got a responsibility to step in with some truth-telling.
(If you’ve skipped/scanned ahead through this article — this is a good place to turn off your “tl;dr” filter and turn on your attention.)
Myth #1: GA4 is just a minor update to Google Analytics
Not true. GA4 represents a significant shift in the way data is collected and analyzed, and will require significant, intentional changes to your website and data processes. For example: businesses will need to implement the new GA4 Measurement ID on their website, which will require updating the website’s code and potentially making changes to the data management system and reporting interface.
GA4 is a new data model and data collection method that provides more granular data. New features that include enhanced measurement capabilities and improved data privacy controls are designed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior, which can be used to create more detailed reports and gain insights into user behavior.
There’s also a new user interface, which will require a certain level of training to use it efficiently and to get the most out of its features.
So, while GA4 may look similar to what came before, it’s a whole new Google Analytics. Don’t underestimate the work that needs to be done in order to make the transition to GA4.
Myth #2: GA4 is just for big companies
Also not true. GA4 will be there for all businesses, regardless of size. Big and small can (and will) benefit from the enhanced measurement capabilities, improved data privacy controls, and advanced analytics offered by GA4.
Myth #3: GA4 is only for companies in specific industries
False. (You may be detecting a theme in these answers…) GA4 can apply to most businesses in any industry: e-commerce, finance, energy or “pick your sector:” GA4 will provide valuable insights and opportunities for growth.
For example, an energy company could use event-based data to create different campaigns for residential customers, commercial customers and industrial customers, which could increase conversion rates and revenue. It might also be possible to tie GA4’s event tracking and real-time data to weather and energy consumption, for additional targeted promotions and offers.
In fintech, GA4’s applications for personalized marketing could provide the data needed to target different groups with varied campaigns related to specific financial products, such as loans, savings, insurance, and credit cards. Or a fintech company could use event tracking in GA4 to track the behavior of customers who have taken out a loan to then create personalized campaigns that encourage additional loans (!) — or promote more financial prudence by opening a savings account.
Myth #4: Transitioning to GA4 is only a technical task
Not so. While understanding the core functionality of GA4 is important, it’s perhaps even more important to have a clear understanding of your business needs and data philosophy in order to make the most of GA4’s capabilities.
The success of a GA4 transition depends on how well your company can integrate GA4 into its existing data management processes and how well it can use the new data and insights to drive better business results.
Myth #5: You can handle the transition to GA4 on your own
It would be presumptuous to say you absolutely cannot: a can-do attitude and the right people can accomplish nearly anything. That said, transitioning to GA4 is a complex process with a steep learning curve that requires expertise in data management and analysis, as well as a deep understanding and forward-thinking perspective related to your business needs and goals.
A professional and experienced marketing agency (yes, like IDLab) can help you smooth the learning curve and make the most out of GA4’s capabilities.
Make Your Marketing GA4 Ready — and Worthy
There’s certainly one final myth worth mentioning: while many companies and agencies say they know how to handle a GA4 transition — their proficiency goes only as far as the technical end.
The truth is more than technical knowledge. A valuable and meaningful transition to GA4 requires an understanding of data management PLUS business needs and data philosophy. One example: because GA4 stores data in Google Cloud and uses Google BigQuery as its data warehouse, you need a very different set of skills to surface insights.
You can think of BigQuery as a huge digital warehouse that stores your data (e.g., customer information, sales figures, website traffic), with powerful tools to search, explore, and analyze that data. BigQuery handles large datasets very quickly, returning results in seconds/minutes vs. hours.
Our team at IDLab is distinguished by a background in strong analytics AND marketing savvy. We excel when and where the two intersect. IDLab sees the transition to GA4 as a great opportunity to help clients transform their data into compelling stories and engagements that can have a measurable positive impact on overall business performance.
As Google’s timeline “forces” transition, we expect this expertise — and our experts — to be in increasing demand. If this GA4 knowledge-sharing and myth-busting has you intrigued — let’s talk. The net net of where the net is going with GA4 is a positive evolution for marketers. IDLab is ready to help you navigate the way forward, onward, and upward.