Recently Google announced the hard cut over date to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), as 1st July 2023. This news has been anticipated since March 2021, and is an exciting solution, aiming to introduce a new approach to privacy, increased customisation, data-driven attribution, along with even more advanced AI-based predictions. But what does the Universal Analytics sunset timeline mean for your business and how can you prepare for the switchover?
The biggest message marketers still utilising UA (Universal Analytics) need to be aware of is that in a little over 18 months time their current universal data won’t exist. Google plans to stop collecting UA data from the 1st July 2023 and then delete UA properties 6 months after that sunset.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is not a new service, in fact it was officially released in October 2020. The initial implementation of GA4 alongside Universal Analytics (UA) enabled organisations to build up historical data along with providing ample time to prepare for the future sunset of UA.
While previously a major focus of preparation was centred around the incremental value GA4 could bring, it is now critical to decide if your business wishes to leverage Google’s web analytics tools for data-led decision making.
Over the past 18 months many companies have begun their GA4 journey at varying adoption levels. For many, a hesitation to invest heavily in the switch has been delayed until key existing UA features were replicated in GA4. While there are still features on the roadmap many of us would like to see live. Businesses relying on google analytics data for business insight cannot afford to delay any longer. We are counselling our clients to complete their customisations of the new GA4 reports now, to ensure they are sufficiently set up prior to May 31st 2022.
Preparing for Google Analytics 4
Leading up to the sunset dates for Universal Analytics, GA4 has been bolstered with new features which are currently not present in UA.
A more obvious need for the update is the requirement for flexibility around measuring a larger range of data types as the digital space has evolved. GA4 steps up to the plate here with customisation that allows marketers to include up to 125 custom dimensions, 400 audiences and 50 conversion types per property.
This is important on a few levels – with great power comes great responsibility. A lot of the default UA reports now need to be ‘built’ within GA4’s analysis hub. Whilst the changes equate to considerably more customisation, the onus is now on the user to define and ‘explore’ their data in way that meets their reporting needs.
Something to note is that GA4 operates with only 2 data scopes instead of 4. This means that all information that used to fit within hits, sessions, users and ecommerce scopes, are now condensed to just user and event scopes.
As a result, one key consideration for transition planning will be the introduction of strong naming conventions for existing parameters, as they will be added as ‘events’ and need to serve both as a concise measurement ID and logical description.
Google has conveniently supported select events automatically, and many core metrics are collected in GA4 by default. These include: Language, Page location, Scrolls, Link clicks, and YouTube video views. The new model replaces the Event Category, Event Action, Event Label, and Event Value used in UA with 25 event parameters which can be configured and sent with each event.
Introducing Advanced Predictive Audiences
Another major driver is the need to predict persona behaviour with a higher degree of accuracy. With the introduction of data-driven attribution and improved insight prediction (provided by Google Machine Learning), digital marketers will have the ability to leverage smarter insights such as potential ‘churn’ and identify the optimal re-engagement times for specific audience segments. The potential here is genuinely exciting.
These predictive audiences in GA4 put advanced AI at your fingertips, allowing organisations to go past predicting which users will churn, but also who are most likely to convert, as well as providing insights into lifetime value based on the data available in GA. These audiences can be fed into your other marketing efforts and often far-outperform broader retargeting audiences.
A potential drawback to observe here is that a lot of these insights will be coming from ‘modelled’ use, and this is data Google doesn’t share. A lot of ‘actual hard numbers’ seen in UA will be numbers ‘determined’ by Google AI and exactly how those numbers are determined is not provided.
BigQuery Export for Non-Premium Properties
In the past, organisations required GA360, Google’s premium analytics service, to automatically export GA data into BigQuery. Now, BigQuery exports using the data transfer service are available to all GA4 properties, free and paid.
BigQuery is Google’s cloud-based analytics software. This new feature opens up a new world of reporting, insights, and modelling capabilities to more organizations.
Universal Analytics Features Already Available in GA4
While the addition of new features to GA4 provides added value to the analytics service, key functionalities from Universal Analytics are already available in GA4 are outlined below.
Premium Version with Higher Hit Limits
The premium (paid) version of GA4 called “The New GA” can now be procured through GA resellers. There is also a new pricing model which will make the service more accessible for small to mid-size organizations.
Display & Video 360 Integration (DV360)
The DV360 integration also just went live in The New GA in February 2022. This allows for the creation of powerful (ML-driven) audiences for retargeting or lookalike audiences.
Google Optimize Integration
Companies can now gain greater value from Google Optimize with GA4. The key difference here is that experiments can be run using user-metrics instead of looking through the session scope of UA. For many CRO professionals, this is seen as a positive move towards more user-centric experience optimization.
Data-Driven Attribution Modelling
Anyone familiar with GA360 will know the value brought by the data-driven attribution modelling reports. In Q1 2022, GA4 launched data-driven attribution, even for non-premium properties. Further to this, Data-Driven Attribution isn’t just available in a separate attribution report, you can use it in any of the key reports in the platform.
This is a big change to Last Click reporting, so marketers should be sure to start having this discussion with any stakeholders they are reporting site performance to.
A mainstay of the UA platforms is the ability to classify traffic from multiple sources into a clean, condensed set of channel groupings (e.g. Paid Search vs Organic Search vs Email). The ability to create and manage these channel groupings was implemented in Q4 2021, bringing a much-needed feature back to the platform.
Google Search Console Linking
For Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) professionals, the Search Console linking in UA was an easy and efficient way to see organic search terms and statistics quickly and easily from the one platform. In Q4 2021, this feature was added to GA4.
How will Google Analytics 4 impact your business?
Google Analytics 4 coming into effect in mid 2023 will result in the phase out of Universal Analytics. With all standard properties stopping the process of new hits from July 1st 2023. After this cut-off date organisations can still access previously processed data in their Universal Analytics property for at least six months. However, it is strongly encouraged to export historical reports during this time as a failure to do so could result in the loss of significant historical data and valuable insights.
How to prepare for Google Analytics 4
If you want to build up at least a year of historical data in GA4 before the hard cutover, then you have until May 31st, this year to ensure your set up of GA4 is complete. Many users will find that some customization is going to be necessary to retain all the insights they currently rely on. It will take time to transition an organization without carrying over all technical debt to GA4, so we recommend that if you haven’t already started the process, it is best to start now.