Preparing for the next chapter of Google Analytics

17 Jun 2022

Brian Kastelein. Image: Connelly Partners

Marketing analytics expert Brian Kastelein shares his tips for preparing to transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.

It’s official. On 16 March, Google announced its intention to sunset the current version of Google Analytics, impacting more than 30m websites currently using this tool.

Universal Analytics (UA), which has been the go-to web analytics tool for the past 10 years, is not going to be upgraded anymore. Rather, it’s being completely replaced by a whole new product in July of next year

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will usher in an entirely new era of web analytics that moves away from a dependence on cookies, a tracking mechanism that has come under scrutiny in recent years as concerns over consumer privacy have gained traction, along with corresponding legislation.

With the deadline of July 2023 clearly in view, there are things Google Analytics users need to be doing now as they prepare for what will be a major shift in website measurement, marketing and campaign tracking.

Get a head start

For what it’s worth, Google is making every effort to ensure that no one is caught off guard by the switch to GA4.

For anyone using Google Analytics with some regularity, you’ve no doubt received multiple emails, in addition to the now persistent reminder of the approaching deadline every time you log in. Now is the time to be heeding that alert.

There are ample technical considerations in planning the migration from UA to GA4. Everything from how to best export, store, and reference historical UA data to determining how to most effectively leverage new GA4 standards and functionality for event tagging, UTM conventions, and attribution models will need to be reviewed and configured in order to adapt to the new environment.

If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend setting up your GA4 property and running it in parallel to your existing UA account. This will allow data to begin to collect in the GA4 environment and provide a launching point for familiarising yourself with the new system and its differences.

Teach old dogs new metrics

One of the biggest challenges to be faced over the coming months will be effectively communicating the implications of this change to the wider marketing audience. Complicating factors abound, and it’s going to take a while to explain the impact of the new system simply.

For instance, there is a ’session’ metric in both UA and GA4. However, the methodology for calculating a session in the two platforms is completely different making any year-over-year comparisons a bit like apples and oranges. By contrast, other standard metrics in UA, such as ‘bounce rate’, are going the way of the dinosaurs. These will be replaced by new metrics, such as ‘engagement rate’, in GA4.

Explaining these often nuanced differences to time-pressed and results-oriented folk not familiar with the details, who have a low tolerance for caveats attached to their performance metrics, is going to have to be done methodically and incrementally.

The reality of the move to GA4 is that there are going to be inherent challenges to conducting cross-platform trend analysis and setting benchmarks based on historical performance levels. It truly is a brand new world.

With plenty of hurdles ahead, the upcoming months will be a true test of organisational fortitude.

All those involved in the transition to GA4, from the more technical to the more business focused, will need to collaborate and communicate to successfully navigate the road ahead.

We are on the steep part of the learning curve, but the potential reward of mastering what will likely prove to be a more robust solution built for the impending cookie-less future must serve to motivate our efforts moving forward.

It’s yet another interesting chapter for data and its role in business.

By Brian Kastelein

Brian Kastelein is director of data and analytics at Connelly Partners, a global advertising agency with offices in Dublin, Boston and Vancouver. Kastelein has more than 25 years’ experience in leveraging data to effectively measure, test and optimise marketing programmes.

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