In Conversation with: The final countdown to GA4
As we approach the official switchover from UA and are in the final countdown to GA4, it's undeniable that this is the most significant change in data collection and how we track data since GDPR. However, marketing managers and data analysts are often still questioning what this means for the collection of meaningful data. To help clear up any confusion, Head of Marketing Andrea Smith sat down with Adam Chamberlin, Head of Development, to debunk some of the myths and terminology surrounding the migration of GA4.
Andrea: The GA4 discussion has been dominating marketing forums and platforms, so it will be no surprise for most in-house marketing teams that as of July 1st, Universal Analytics will switch off, and GA4 will be your default analytics platform. We know that there are early adopters of GA4, and the deadline date from Google has been looming for months. The question is, are you data-ready?
Like many, I'm sure there has been an aspect of denial about the switch to GA4, but as we have worked with clients and, of course, on our own accounts, we are embracing the change in terms of collecting meaningful data that will monitor customer behaviour and trends rather than vanity metrics, which we were in danger of becoming focused on in universal.
GA4 has been a work in progress, with many changes and updates happening to the live site, which has caused frustrations for us and our clients as we navigate the 'new normal'. So the first question should be:
Why has Google changed from UA to GA4?
Adam: The biggest reason for the change is GDPR and data privacy. Data privacy is a human right, and UA tracks a lot of data, including personal information about your browser.
UA would track everything and anything it could, whereas GA4 is moving over to that GDPR-respectful way of only tracking what we absolutely have to track and storing it for as long as we need to keep it. So, a lot more about data retention and what data we are collecting.
Andrea: We know that marketers use analytics for customer behaviour and user insights, and GA4 changes have been challenging for clients to understand the differences in data.
Adam: GA4 is rewriting the data rulebook because what we presume or have been used to collecting for so many years now will not be there. We're not going to have as much information. We will have fewer details about our visitors than we are used to. That said, the information that we do get is going to be more qualitative. So it's quality over quantity because the numbers will be lower than those collated in UA.
Andrea: I know we've had instances where we've set up reports, and then it's looked different the day later, or we've done training you've gone back into analytics and Google have made more updates.
Do you think that come July 1st, it will still be a work in progress? Google is giving us this platform for free, aren't they? So how much work do they want to put into it as a free platform?
Adam: I think you've hit the nail on the head; you know you aren't paying for the platform, so how much can we sit here and complain? I think everything will be challenging and a work in progress, and we are literally in the hands of Google in terms of what we can and can't track and what we can still monitor. I had an example where I created a report for some client training, and two days later, the report changed and again when I gave the training, it was completely different. Even after July 1st, the metrics and data collected are still open to change.
When we first started looking at GA4 the metrics, particularly the user based metrics, were trimmed down compared to UA. Recently, Google added bounce rates and metrics that weren't originally there. They've now reverse-engineered back in, so we can always be hopeful that we'll get a couple more back on the reports. But I think the safest bet is to look at GA4 where it is now based on marketing on what we've currently got.
Andrea: I suppose some of that is the opportunity of rewriting the marketing and the data collection handbook. It's ensuring that we have the 'so what's' to hand and know what we want to achieve by setting up reports ahead of data collection, rather than looking at generic data reports and making assumptions.
Adam: Very, very, very much. In the world of UA, do we need to know the inside leg measurement of every visitor that comes to your website, is that a trackable metric that will affect your sales? Probably not. Let's look at what will be fundamental to your bottom line, business goals, or anything like that. And actually use the data that we've got so it will be meaningful.
Let's not worry about all the extra noise; let's focus on the root of what can help make processes, navigation, and user experience a lot more streamlined and effective.
What happens if you have been in complete denial and have not attempted to auto-update? What will you need to do now?
Adam: If you still need to update, come July 1st, Google will automatically migrate your Universal Analytics property to a GA property. Now I put the word 'migrate' in a massive quote here because my interpretation of migrate is probably different from Google's, but we'll come to that later.
Google will automatically create a GA4 property for you. They will take what they can from your Universal property and make a GA4 property so you will stay in the loop. But you are probably going to have a big shock on July 2nd when the reports you were used to, physically aren't available. All the data that was being tracked isn't being tracked anymore.
Andrea: I am glad you mentioned the term ‘migration’ earlier, which is the term used by Google regarding data switchover. Having worked on client GA4 accounts, we know it's going to be different from a like-for-like in terms of switchover.
Could there be confusion over what this means to historical data and reports?
Adam: Oh yes, I believe there is some confusion regarding the term. When Google creates your GA4 property automatically, you will get the usual page views, but you won't get the same metrics. So if you were looking at user-specific demographic data, you're probably not going to get those same reports. However, when you and I think of the term migrate, I almost think I will get everything that I had yesterday, and it's all going to come across lock, stock and barrel into my new property tomorrow.
what will happen to data in Universal Analytics?
Adam: Unfortunately, because of the change in data recording, because of that massive switch for GDPR-compliant data, none of the historical data from UA is going to make it into GA4. When Google say they're migrating, they are literally taking the part that they can move over into GA4 for and that is all based around the actual tracking. So your goals will become conversions, and your events will become an event. But none of your historical data will come over.
You are going to be starting entirely from scratch.
Finally, what are your top takeaways for GA4?
- Cross-check any of your data from UA to GA4.
- Don't be fooled into thinking that when Google says migration, it means all your data is coming over, not that it is going to be like for like platform or reporting tool.
- Export all of your data from UA. The data will be into a CSV spreadsheet, or you can put it into Google's big data queries. But you are not going to have that data in GA4, regardless.
- Build custom reports within GA4.
- Expect a change in your data; metrics and engagement are tracked differently in GA4.
- Re-evaluate your business goals as to whether those reports are fundamental to how you move the business forward.
- Remember, Google will permanently close UA in 6 to 12 months, post-July 1st, 2023.
If you are still unsure about how to set up your marketing reports in GA4, give the Mackman team a ring and we can help you set up bespoke GA4 training and reporting and walk you through the process.