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Google Analytics 4 Promises More Power, Better Privacy–Is your Organization Ready?

Google sent a bit of a shockwave through our community this spring, announcing that after more than ten years, Universal Analytics (UA) will stop collecting new data on July 1, 2023.* Most mission-driven organizations with any online presence have relied on UA for years to inform digital strategies and provide evidence of impact. Shifting to a whole new platform—and Google Analytics 4 is a whole new platform—can seem daunting. But not to worry: the shift is also an opportunity to examine practices that may have been on autopilot, gain new insights, and set an analytics plan that works for your goals.

Wondering how to get started? Begin by learning more about Google Analytics 4, what the change means for you, and how to approach the transition.

What’s new in GA4?

Google has developed a new, event-based data model with GA4 to meet digital analytics measurement needs in more precise ways and respond to privacy concerns and policies like GDPR. GA4 was built to function with or without cookies and tracks all user behaviors as events, including pageviews. 

The tool is therefore potentially more powerful at telling you what you want to know: How engaged are my visitors? What are they doing when they visit? Where did they come from?

Highlights of GA4 include:

●  Automatic tracking of certain events—page scrolls, outbound clicks, file downloads, video engagement, and site search—without additional coding or setup required in Google Tag Manager

●  New key metrics focused on customer engagement

●  Better tracking of user journeys across devices, as web and mobile app traffic are consolidated into a single property

How do I start?

There are great potential benefits to GA4, but it does take work to set up. Because the metrics and reports are different between UA and GA4, with some existing metrics simply disappearing, there isn’t a simple “click to migrate” process from one to the other.

There are also cutoff points for accessing UA data and limits to the amount of data saved in GA4 for deeper analysis. Organizations have until next year to make the switch, but the time to act is now.

For most organizations, we recommend the following process:

1. Examine your analytics

The first step is to get deeply familiar with the data you collect now, how you use it, and why. Are bounce rates and average time spent on pages the backbone of quarterly board reports? You’ll need to prepare for those to change or go away (bounce rates are no longer tracked in GA4, for example).

Think about what’s most meaningful in the data you collect or report on now. What do you wish you knew? What might you be collecting that isn’t actually relevant? What reports are critical to maintain? Actionable analytics that support the unique digital strategy goals of your organization are most important.

2. Learn and explore GA4

Learn about the differences of GA4 (helpful resources abound) and then go ahead and implement it. Until the cutoff in July 2023, all UA customers can run both platforms at the same time. This is a great way to see new opportunities for meaningful data in GA4, and how the same metric may show different results in UA and GA4.

For example, sessions are counted differently between the two platforms, and you may also see differences in pageview counts. One Forum One client with both UA and GA4 in place has seen higher daily sessions and pageviews across most dimensions with GA4.

Custom events and dimensions you’ve developed in UA will need to be recreated for GA4. However, some events like page scrolls, outbound clicks, file downloads, video engagement, and site search are available out of the box in GA4, which may save time.

In addition to new engagement metrics, GA4 has a new Active Users metric (defined as users active within a 28-day period), which was unavailable in UA. Active Users replace Total Users as the primary user metric in GA4.

3. Examine your analytics again, and make a plan

With a greater understanding of your current data use and the potential under GA4, it’s time to take stock again.

Is GA4 even right for you? There are alternatives. Organizations may find it easier to work with other tools, like Siteimprove or Adobe Analytics. Or your data audit may reveal that GA4 offers insights you always hoped for but couldn’t produce before and provide a roadmap to better analytics.

How much historic data do you need? Keep in mind that access to historic data from UA will be discontinued at some point (Google plans to announce an end date in the coming months). Do you need to archive this data? You can begin exporting individual reports now to save the specific metrics you care about. If your organization wants to maintain raw historical data for future analysis, you may need to explore a data warehousing tool, like Google BigQuery, Redshift, or Snowflake to meet your needs.

Communicate a plan and keep evaluating. Make sure the stakeholders in your organization are prepared to see different or new metrics and understand how those affect broader strategies. Remember that it’s good to revisit measurement plans regularly, at least once a year, and the changes at Google have given everyone a big push to do so.

We can help!

From auditing data practices and developing strategies to technical setup, Forum One partners with organizations at every stage of analytics. We can explore alternatives, assess organizational needs, and think through options for historical data. For organizations making the transition from UA to GA4, we can set up GA4 alongside UA, migrate custom events and dimensions, and create dashboards.

There’s a wide world of data and new opportunities to fuel your digital strategy. Get in touch to learn more!

* UA360 customers have a three-month extension to October 1, 2023.

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