Countdown to GA4: 100 days to make the switch

Like it or not, the countdown to GA4 is winding down. Here's what you need to know.

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As the sun begins to set on Google Analytics Universal Analytics (UA), businesses are (or should be) gearing up for the transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

With just 100 days left until UA is officially retired, it’s crucial for organizations of all sizes to understand the benefits and challenges of migrating to GA4, as well as the essential steps to ensure a smooth transition.

A Q&A from Steve Ganem, Director of Product for Google Analytics, helps us gain invaluable insights into the key features, challenges, and advantages of adopting GA4.

What are the biggest misconceptions about GA4?

“It’s a new product that is not mature enough to use.”  

Despite announcing the migration a little over a year ago, GA4 has been in use by advertisers since 2020, while the idea of web and app analytics has been around since 2019.

With GA4, businesses can access valuable insights to help them make informed and strategic decisions for their operations.

“It’s overly complex and doesn’t provide the same reporting as Universal Analytics” 

GA4 has a learning curve, but it’s essential to move beyond the traditional session-based mindset. To address the complexity of the current digital landscape, we developed GA4, incorporating features like a novel event structure and redesigned user journeys.

Although these concepts might not be immediately clear or easy to grasp, businesses that overcome the learning curve will discover that GA4 is designed to efficiently navigate this evolving digital world and anticipate future changes.

“It’s not designed for small businesses.” 

GA4 was developed to cater to businesses of all sizes, not just small or large enterprises. The aim was to establish a platform that offers comprehensive reporting capabilities and extensive customization options smoothly.

This seamless experience is evident in features such as the personalized homepage, which presents the most pertinent reports to customers, and predictive audiences, which help identify users with a higher likelihood of making a purchase. GA4 effectively takes on much of the analytical workload, delivering crucial insights directly to businesses.

Should I wait for Jumpstart?

The short answer is no. 

For a more detailed response, manual migration remains the suggested method for all businesses. This approach allows for creating a customized property and ensures that everything aligns with your preferred configuration.

This is particularly crucial for advertisers, as their conversion bidding might be linked to Universal Analytics, and it is essential to guarantee a proper transfer to GA4.

While Jumpstart serves as a helpful tool for businesses with limited resources, it only establishes a basic property, making manual migration the preferred option. Furthermore, Jumpstart is being introduced progressively, and the earlier businesses transition, the sooner they can accumulate historical data for year-over-year comparisons.

What are the challenges to migrating and how is Google addressing those?

GA4 was developed for a new era of measurement, which entails new product features and a different measurement approach compared to Universal Analytics. While this doesn’t make it inherently harder, Google recognizes that change can be challenging, and the property’s distinct appearance and functionality compared to Universal Analytics may pose difficulties during migration.

The Setup Assistant. Each tool within the Setup Assistant has been purposefully designed to tackle specific challenges in the migration process, such as property creation, tagging, goal migration, conversion swapping, and more. During preliminary user testing, these aspects were identified by Google as potential challenges and areas where businesses might face difficulties while setting up a GA4 property for the first time.

Search Engine Land posted a guide late last year to give an in-depth look at the Setup Guide. Check it out here.

Additionally, this tutorial has been helpful for many businesses making the transition.  

What are the key features in GA4 that businesses should know?

“One of the reasons we’re so excited about GA4 is all of the new features that not only allow for durability in this evolving privacy landscape, but also that bring to life a new way of measurement that has evolved with how the web and app experiences are evolving,” Ganem said.

That said, here are a few that are worth highlighting: 

  1. Built with Google’s AI at its core: Google’s advanced machine learning helps businesses predict future consumer behavior, allowing marketers to get insights about future consumer behavior and activate on those insights. Additionally, marketers can tap into behavioral modeling, conversion modeling and data-driven attribution to get a complete and accurate view of their campaign performance, even as cookies go away. 
  2. Privacy by default GA4 was designed for now and the future, where privacy is paramount. People’s expectations for privacy have changed and, as a result, so has the way we measure. Built with solutions like modeling, consent mode and data driven attribution baked in, it’s automatically set up to help businesses measure in a privacy-centric way, while still getting the insights they need. 
  3. Web + app: By design, GA4 was built for both web and app – something that previous versions of Google Analytics dealt with separately. People move between web and apps seamlessly and measurement should reflect that. 
  4. Customizable reporting: GA4 enables many different levels of reporting, both detailed and at the overview level – giving businesses either a quick look at a particular topic, while also giving them the opportunity to drill down into additional data. With Customized Overview Reports, you can quickly get a summary of your most important reports. Universal Analytics had a large reporting collection that many businesses found overwhelming – mainly because it was trying to be everything for everyone. That is why in GA4 we prioritized a smaller, curated baseline set of reports and a robust custom reporting tool, allowing businesses to create reports relevant for their business exclusively.
  5. Advertiser workspace: There are currently four advertising reports to provide a quick snapshot and enable you to drill down into performance metrics, attribution models and conversion paths to understand the impact of your advertising campaigns on the business.
  6. Robust API: GA4 supports a large number of APIs, enabling an even more customized measurement foundation. In GA4 we aim to keep the API up to speed with the features of the product so developers can always take advantage of the latest in GA4 – a notable difference from Universal Analytics, where the API often lacked functionality.

Why advertisers will lose out if they don’t move 

Bottom line: for advertisers, ROI is on the line. 

Once Universal Analytics property stops processing data on July 1st, 2023, conversions and audiences will stop flowing new data from that property into Google Ads. This could significantly affect the performance of their ad campaigns. It’s critical that advertisers make the switch to GA4, so that they are in a much more stable and durable position.

What happens to Universal Analytics properties after July 1st?

Universal Analytics properties will stop reporting new data July 1st. 

To be a bit more specific, they will stop processing data, meaning your standard UA property will no longer operate the way it does today. That said, businesses shouldn’t be surprised when they can still log into their accounts after July 1st – it will take time to completely sunset the product for all businesses. 

Historical data will be available for six months to aid with period-over-period comparisons, giving businesses a chance to export their historical data even after the sunset. 

Why is it so important to make the move now?

Now is the time. 

By making the move you will: 

  1. Get comfortable with GA4. GA4 is a new platform and has new tools and capabilities. They will take time to adjust to and the earlier businesses get their properties setup, the sooner they’ll get accustomed to the new platform. 
  2. Build historical data. Building historical, comparative data is important to a successful analytics property – of any kind. 
  3. Side by side. Being able to use a GA4 property in parallel to an existing UA property will give businesses the ability to see what’s different, what’s the same and what they have in UA that they need to have in GA4. This side by side time is essential, especially for businesses who have put a lot of time and effort into their existing UA properties to date.

Dig deeper. Still confused? Check out more resources:

Why we care. Plain and simple, UA is going away. But according to ChatGPT, here is why GA4 could be better for advertisers.

  1. Improved insights: GA4 offers better data analysis and insights, allowing advertisers to make more informed decisions and optimize their campaigns effectively.
  2. Unified measurement: GA4 combines data from websites and mobile apps, enabling advertisers to track user behavior across multiple platforms and devices, providing a more comprehensive understanding of their audience.
  3. Enhanced audience targeting: With advanced audience segmentation tools, GA4 allows advertisers to create more personalized and targeted campaigns, leading to improved ad performance and higher ROI.
  4. Machine learning integration: GA4 leverages machine learning algorithms to provide automated insights, recommendations, and predictions, helping advertisers to identify trends and opportunities more efficiently.
  5. Future-proofing: GA4 is designed to adapt to future changes in user behavior, technology, and privacy regulations, ensuring that advertisers stay ahead of the curve and maintain a competitive edge.
  6. Privacy compliance: GA4 is built with a strong focus on user privacy and compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, which is essential for responsible advertising practices.
  7. Better integration with Google Ads: GA4’s tighter integration with Google Ads simplifies the data import/export process between the platforms, allowing for better analysis and optimization of campaigns.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.


About the author

Nicole Farley
Contributor
Nicole Farley is the founder of Web Sprout, an inbound marketing agency. She formerly was PPC Editor for Search Engine Land (from 2022-2023), covering paid search, paid social, Google Analytics and more. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

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