Zehnder Communications, Inc.

Getting Ready for Google Analytics 4: Your Guide to GA4

Web analytics are the backbone of any effective marketing strategy. And without information and metrics to measure performance, it’s almost impossible to make the right investments and digital marketing decisions. That’s why you need to be prepared for the shift to Google Analytics 4.

You depend on Google Analytics to gain insights into your digital marketing efforts, and your decisions are always backed by data. How many people visited your website? How’d they find it? And what did they do while they were there? This need-to-know info is the basis of your marketing strategy. But are you ready for the next generation of Google Analytics?

Read on to learn about the new features, improvements, and challenges coming soon to Google Analytics 4. From event-based data collection to metrics tweaks, we’re here to help guide you through this transition and offer some expert advice along the way.

Google Analytics 4: An Overview

If you’re a Google Analytics Universal user, you need to make the switch to GA4. And soon. While the names may sound similar, Universal and GA4 are fundamentally different collection engines with totally different reporting interfaces. And in order to stay ahead of the curve, you need to be prepared.

By July 2023, all standard Universal Analytics properties will no longer process data. For a data-backed marketer like you, losing out on your data processing capabilities is a no-go. You need to prepare to make the switch, ASAP. And more importantly, you need to understand the changes in order to maintain the same level of analytics.

GA4 uses modeled first-party data to offer a comprehensive view of consumer behavior. From improved machine learning perks to refined reporting, migrating to GA4 early on can help you survive and thrive in the ever-evolving privacy and tech landscape.

What to Expect

As Google begins to sunset Google Analytics Universal and introduce GA4, you need to prepare your team for a few significant changes, a few new perks, and even some challenges.

For starters, GA4’s data retention policies are different. In the past, when you set up a profile in Universal, it started recording info for however long that profile was set up. This provided a historical reference, and stored demographic data. But with GA4, that data is only stored for 14 months (and only 90 days in the case of demographic data). So, if you migrate to GA4 sooner rather than later, you’ll have more historical data and insights to fodder your processing. And if you pair it with a data warehousing solution, which we cover later, you can really make the most of your analytics capabilities.

It’s also important to note that GA4 is based on events instead of sessions and pageviews. All metrics in GA4 are tracked as events, meaning every “hit” or action is considered an event. These enhanced measurement events automatically track data, helping you to measure content interactions without any code changes. Also note that in GA4, data is tracked via data streams, rather than views. This allows you to track both web and app data in the same property.

Additionally, bounce rate is now measured against engagement rate. Engagement rate is the percentage of sessions that were engaged, while bounce rate is the inverse. Now, when a consumer visits your website without triggering any events or navigating to other screens (like when someone glances over your home page content for fewer than 10 seconds and clicks away), GA4 will count this session as a bounce. 

But what exactly counts as a session? According to Google, a session begins when a consumer either opens your app in the foreground or views a page with no other ongoing sessions active. These sessions time out once the user is inactive for 30+ minutes.

Potential Challenges

Though GA4 will usher in a lot of beneficial changes, there are a few potential challenges you and your team need to be aware of.

The primary challenge is the change in reporting methods. With GA4’s new method of data aggregation, you’ll likely need to find new ways to report data. However, GA4 offers standard reports to facilitate data analysis, and this could help make your reporting both functional and custom with the help of the Explore tool. You can find some of the reports you loved in Universal under the Explorations tab, but you might need to do a little more legwork to access them.

Data retention is another potential hurdle to be aware of with the sunsetting of Universal. While with Universal you could essentially look back as far back as you wanted, GA4’s Explorations reporting feature limits your lookback to 14 months (or only 2 if you’ve yet to change your data retention setting). 

However, if you opt for aggregated reports with custom segments, you can still view your older data. So if you want to look further back, you need to ditch GA4’s default reporting in favor of a different data warehousing studio. But how can you make the switch?

Data Warehousing Solutions

If you need both in-depth reporting capabilities and more than 14 months of lookback, data warehousing is your long-term solution. Data warehousing opens the door for companies like yours to expand beyond just Google Analytics, diversifying and amplifying your analytics capabilities.

By compiling data from a variety of sources and inputting it into one database, you can make informed management decisions. And because you have access to the data forever, you can look at overarching trends spanning longer periods of time. Advantages also include more computational power and the ability to add other data sets to the warehouse from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

Ultimately, using a data warehouse in connection with Google Looker Studio brings you powerful marketing insights quicker versus just using Looker Studio alone. When you use a platform like Google BigQuery in connection with Looker Studio, you reap the benefits of scalable analysis. This expands your ability to use and filter the data, helping you access and act on specific insights.

However, you do need to consider the cost of marketing analytics. Low-cost analytics is quickly going away, and these days, good data costs good money. The programs and structures you have now may not work with the new GA4, so you may need to invest in adjustments to dashboards, KPIs, models, and more so everything is compatible. Start the process with an analytics audit and discussion related to how you can expand this power beyond GA4, leveraging it to improve your ads, social presence, and more. 

Investment in these upgrades will keep your powerful marketing insights actionable – but you need to continue with a modern data-driven marketing strategy. And to do so, you need to invest in securing and capturing your data for use today and tomorrow. 

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, need help upgrading, or just want to chat with an expert, we’ve got your back! Smooth out the transition to GA4 with expert guidance. Reach out to the pros at Zehnder to learn more about analytics changes, data warehousing, and how modern solutions can help your business.

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