The end of the year is a natural time for virtual house cleaning. What parts of your digital strategy are working well? What efforts need to be fine-tuned, or overhauled completely? This year, the need to check in is even more critical, as 2023 will usher in a whole new paradigm for a core part of digital strategy: web metrics.
We’ve written previously about the release of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and the impending retirement of Universal Analytics (UA) on July 1, 2023. UA is what many organizations think of simply as “Google Analytics,” the code that’s on all your website pages and the companion reports that show page views, bounce rates, click-throughs, conversions, and other metrics.
UA has been a reliable benchmarking tool for more than a decade, and many organizations have comfortably adopted strategies and reports that deliver data to inform their broader digital strategy. There’s no way around it—the shift to GA4 is and will be a major disruptor of these strategies, for a couple of key reasons:
- GA4 is not an upgrade, it’s a whole new product
We all have experience adapting to upgrades or new versions of software, operating systems, and even social media platforms. Buttons move around, some functionality changes, and it can take a little time to realize the potential of new tools or capabilities.
The change from UA to GA4 is not a simple upgrade, however. GA4’s focus on user “events” as data is a major switch away from more straightforward, or simple actions. If you’ve built reports on web traffic or page views as a way to understand who engages with your website and when, the information simply won’t be available in the same way after July.
- GA4 is a data vault, not a reporting tool
UA was equipped with about 30 out-of-the-box reports that were sufficient for many nonprofits and mission-driven organizations. Google’s Data Studio, a more advanced tool, was also used by many of our clients looking to set up more sophisticated analysis.
GA4 won’t come with out-of-the-box reports and therefore will require the use of an additional tool like Data Studio to run recurring reports. Yet this too has grown more complicated; Data Studio is now Looker Studio, a powerful business intelligence product. Those looking to have reliable, recurring reports will need to invest time in setting up custom reports in Looker Studio.
What to do now
Google continues to warn that UA data will not be collected past July 1 of 2023, and while it’s always possible the UA retirement will be delayed, that’s not something to count on. While daunting, there are clear steps for any organization to adopt.
- Don’t procrastinate
If you haven’t already, start a GA4 instance right away. You can run it concurrently with UA until UA is retired. Learn GA4 in parallel with your UA analytics to understand how data from the two systems compare. Investigate what’s required to mimic any vital reports or data you’re pulling in UA, and experiment with new metrics in GA4.
- Let go of old measurements
Prepare your team, management, board members, and anyone else relying on existing UA metrics that measurements are changing, and future data may not be comparable to your existing data. Archive your UA data, and consider a wrap-up report that tracks the rise and fall of the metrics you’ve tracked over time, and prepares your internal stakeholders for the new types of data they’ll see going forward.
- Focus on meaningful inquiries
Use the opportunity of this change to really think about the function of your website. Ideally, your site is more than a brochure, but is something you put to work in service of your mission. Because GA4 is event-based, you can more clearly and powerfully track visitor actions or events—moving from a landing page to a sign-up page, or completing a grant application, for example. Think of a few events that would be meaningful to know more about, and start investigating. For all of the trouble of switching, GA4 is incredibly powerful and allows for more sophisticated learning about users’ behavior and interests.
- Talk to peers and stay engaged
Remember that many organizations are in the same boat. The shift to GA4 is a massive undertaking for everyone. As organizations experiment, test, and try new approaches, products will be developed. Tool kits, dashboards, and out-of-box reports are no doubt coming; methodologies and best practices will emerge for organizations like yours. Stay connected to your peer organizations, share your own experiences, and look for opportunities to continue learning.
On this last note, Forum One is committed to extending learning to all our partners. Watch this space for guidance, webinars, and resources on the GA4 transition. Get in touch to discuss your organization’s specific needs, or to learn more.