The digital landscape is constantly evolving and as we bid farewell to 2023, we also said goodbye to Universal Analytics (GA) last year!
2023 heralded a new platform on the block, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), though it has technically been around for over 3 years now! 2023 was the year Google were forcing many hands to switch to the latest (and greatest?) version of Google Analytics.
This meant for many of our clients, a migration. For us and our clients, this transition year has been a journey filled with ups and downs and invaluable lessons. Here, I'll delve into some of those ups and downs of GA4 migrations, exploring the challenges faced, the victories celebrated, and the key takeaways that have shaped the way we approach analytics.
The Beginning: Excitement and apprehension
When Google started to push out announcements at the back end of 2022, saying UA was going to begin its long sunset in 2023, the reaction was one of excitement and apprehension. Though at that point the feeling was, ‘it was still a long way off’ (with some cynics thinking it may not be enforced at all), but as with many things, Christmas, your MOT, annual insurance payments, the day came around quicker than you would believe!
As GA4 was introduced, there was a palpable sense of excitement about the brave new world, with all the enhanced features and capabilities it promised. However, this enthusiasm was accompanied by a dose of apprehension. The initial challenge for us as an agency, was to get our own heads around the new platform and then, to balance clients' expectations, with the uncertainties that inevitably come with adapting to a new analytics platform.
It promised a lot of pros and as we discovered, a few cons as well (I won’t go into all of these).
Pros of GA4
Pro #1: Enhanced user-centric approach
One of the most significant upsides of GA4 is its user-centric approach to recorded data. Offering more robust user tracking capabilities out of the box, providing an understanding of user behaviour across devices and platforms and even apps. This shift can empower businesses to craft more personalised and targeted strategies.
Pro #2: Connectivity with Google Ads
Google Analytics 4 provides deeper integration with Google Ads. Very much a pro for our PPC team. Data collected in GA4, allows our in house team of PPC experts to create more specific custom audiences and segments to enhance our paid search campaigns.
Pro #3: Event tracking flexibility
GA4 introduced a more flexible event tracking system, allowing users to define and track events that matter most. This flexibility has been a game-changer, enabling us and our clients to tailor GA4 to specific objectives and gain insights into custom interactions. You can even create events from events.
Cons of GA4
Con #1: Data discrepancies and learning curves
As the migrations progressed, we encountered data discrepancies between Universal Analytics and GA4. This presented challenges in data interpretation and required a learning curve to navigate the new interface. Addressing these discrepancies became a priority, as a data driven agency, accurate data is the foundation of effective decision-making.
Con #2: Limited third-party integration
One of the downsides faced was the limited availability of third-party integrations compared to Universal Analytics. While there have been many more integrations since its inception, we have had to be more creative with how we can pull data from GA4 into platforms we use, such as Supermetrics. Even integrations with suppliers meant we were unable to track the full list of events we would have liked to.
Con #3: Falling foul of the auto account setup
The GA4 automatic migration setup, which Google handily offered, could have sat in the pro column. Google were offering to automatically create a Google Analytics 4 property for you based on the settings in your Universal Analytics property. Happy days. However, as mentioned above, GA4 looks and acts differently to Universal Analytics, so the automatic set up, didn’t always create new properties how we would have liked and while on paper can look good, it has limitations and cannot automatically migrate some goals, such as regex goals.
Top tip: Data retention - GA4’s default data retention is set to two months, so make sure you increase it to the maximum of 14 months.
Learnings and best practices:
While we are still getting completely familiar with GA4, just as our clients are and seemingly so are Google, having made 44 separate updates to the platform in 2023, here are some of our learnings and best practices from our numerous migrations.
- Early communication is key: Clear communication with clients from the outset is crucial. Setting realistic expectations and outlining the benefits of GA4 helps mitigate uncertainties and promotes a smoother transition.
- Continuous education and training: GA4's sophistication requires ongoing education. Luckily our Tracking Manager Laure Hessin, has been on hand to equip our clients for success by providing bespoke training sessions, ensuring everyone was able to harness the full potential of the new analytics platform.
- Adaptability is the name of the game: The digital landscape evolves rapidly, as an account manager learning the importance of adaptability is a core skill. GA4 once again proved why that skill is vital. Staying informed about updates, new features, and industry best practices is essential to providing top-notch service.
Top tip - Analytics 360: One extra item. While Analytics 360 users can continue to use the platform and UA interface as we once knew it. Analytics 360 will also see itself retired, but a year later than UA in the summer of 2024. So, heed these above warnings. If you currently use GA360, you to will have to ride the migration rollercoaster. If you would like some expert advice we can help, with 2 years’ worth of knowledge (blood, sweat and tears).
As a year of GA4 migrations ends, we at Adido have been reflecting on a transformative journey. As a data driven agency the transition to GA4, though planned and prepared for, still felt like a rug being pulled from under your feet and replaced with a brand new, completely different looking rug that happens to operate in a completely different way than your old rug used to (more like the flying rug from Aladdin!)
Anyway, though at times challenging, as any new platform seems to be, GA4 has empowered us and our clients with advanced analytics capabilities. Through ups and downs, the lessons learned have positioned Adido as agile navigators of the ever-evolving digital landscape, ready to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. GA4 is not just a migration; it's a paradigm shift that has reshaped the way we approach data and analytics for a more user-centric and personalised future.