Why brands must migrate to GA4 now or lose their year-on-year data

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Brands putting off migrating to GA4 risk losing all of their YoY data. Al Rowe shares why this is bad news for advertisers and how it can be dodged.

We started covering GA4 a while back to share our insight on changes to Google’s analytics package Universal Analytics. As you may be aware, Google has announced it will be sunsetting Google Universal Analytics and no longer process any new data coming from Google Universal Analytics properties as of 1st July 2023

It goes further than that though, and you need to take this seriously. Google are also saying that when that sunsetting happens you will continue to have access to your old data for at least 6 months.

What will this mean for you?

6 months is plenty, right? Well, we believe this could be more serious than initially suspected. Another way to interpret this is that by the end of 2023, you may no longer be able to access your current Universal Analytics data! Your current UA properties may simply disappear from your analytics login.

Google states:

“In the coming months, we'll provide a future date for when existing Universal Analytics properties will no longer be available. After this future date, you'll no longer be able to see your Universal Analytics reports in the Analytics interface or access your Universal Analytics data via the API.”

Many businesses rely on Google Analytics (GA) to measure website performance and for most businesses, that luxury is free. The flipside to this is that, ultimately, Google owns all the data and can do as they decide fit. This includes removing this luxury. It is estimated that upwards of half of the entire internet uses Google Analytics - that is an unfathomable amount of data for Google to store, so it is, no surprise they are looking to free up some space.

In addition to this, considering their desire to deprecate 3rd party cookies from the Chrome browser, you can begin to understand their motivation. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is said to be cookieless, so it all makes sense (to them at least).

Where does that leave businesses?

Potentially at risk of losing a lot of data. Ask yourself this question: Do you do Year on Year (YoY) analysis in GA? If you do, then you need to take this even more seriously. Why? Well, if you want to have the capability to do a YoY analysis on the day they stop collecting UA data (July 1st, 2023), that means you need to have data flowing into GA4 on July 1st, 2022. Also, it is not as simple as just installing GA4, you also need to get all your events correctly set up.

Ok, rewind, in case you missed it - What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) started as an app measurement product (previously called an App + Web property), however, with all the changes happening across platforms, Google later positioned it as the successor to Google Universal Analytics and amended this to be more privacy-focused. They have designed this to be future proof and to be used with or without cookies.

GA4 has several advantages over Google Universal Analytics as it uses machine learning to be able to do predictive analytics and allows you to help pull more insightful customer journey analysis across platforms.

When looking around a GA4 account you may notice a few stand out changes:

  • New Code needs to be added in-site or within GTM (Google Tag Manager). If you are an e-commerce client dependent on your current setup, you may need to amend your data layers.
  • Bounce Rate is no longer a metric, this has been replaced with 'Engaged Sessions'. This has been changed to form a deeper understanding of the customer experience.
  • Reporting is different compared to Google Universal Analytics. Some reports are no longer available from the user interface.
  • Segments come with limitations for regular reports and marketing channels are no longer customisable.
  • The user interface is also different and requires users to learn a new navigation alongside Google Analytics 4's new features.
  • If you currently have many views within your Google Universal Analytics property, you may need to have more than one GA4 account to separate the data.

You were saying…

It is not as simple as just installing GA4. Why? Because GA4 is entirely events based. You get several default events and for some, this may be enough but if you like to do YoY goal performance analysis as I do, then that means you need to have equivalent events set up to your UA goals by JULY 1st, 2022!

To add insult to injury, events are unfortunately not retroactive so you can’t set them up next year and expect to see backdated data population.

What do you need to do now?

Install and test GA4 alongside UA first if you haven’t done so already. Then start by looking at the goals you have in UA and create equivalent events for GA4. This includes setting up proper ecommerce capture.

Even better, investigate server-side GA4 collection, this has the benefit that cookies are first-party and is Google’s preferred way to do this. I talk about this in this webinar

But what about my old data in UA?

Well, that is a good question. It sounds like you are going to lose it if you do not back it up. Google’s advice is to export the data you want, and they strongly encourage you to do that between July 1st, 2023, and the potential 6 months before they switch the platform off, if not before. Of course, to make sense of the exported data, you may need to build your own reporting platform.

Another alternative is to export it to BigQuery which is a lot easier for Analytics 360 customers.

Google also state that you can export using their Analytics API – but be warned, the limit is 10,000 calls for any one GA view per day so, if you have a lot of traffic, this will be limiting.

None of these options are quick and require planning and/or time.

One More thing...

There's a sneaky setting you need to be aware of in the admin panel for Data Settings -> Data Collection and Retention:

By default your user event data will only be stored for 2 months. There is an option to change this to 14 months, but you will manually need to opt for this. I am guessing this is to do with user privacy issues.


How can Clickthrough Marketing help?

For our existing clients, we will be in touch over the coming weeks to discuss setting up the accounts and how we can help facilitate this. For anyone else, we can help on a short-term project basis.

Watch my past webinars, to find out more about GA4;

Book a 15 minute call with me to find out more about what missing these migration deadlines will mean for your conversion rates.

Book a conversation

Photo by Myriam Jessier on Unsplash

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