The world of Google Analytics is about to enter a new era.
The free version you’re currently using is on the edge of being replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4), formerly known as App+Web. It’s important to grasp the magnitude of this shift, because it’s the biggest transformation ever made to the platform.
Rest assured: for the time being, the move to GA4 is strongly recommended, but not required. But once you make the shift, there’s no going back. As a result, marketing and e-commerce teams that rely on data from Google Analytics on a daily basis to measure their business performance need to be sure they have a sound transition plan in place before flipping the switch.
For users of the paid 360 version, know that a paid version of GA4 is also coming – though details on this version won’t be forthcoming before 2021. For everyone else, in other words the vast majority of Google Analytics users, you’ll want to start preparing for the adoption of a new measurement paradigm immediately.
The first thing you should know about GA4 is that Google is now going to be collecting web and mobile data in a new way, as well as changing the structure of the platform’s interface and several of its functionalities. Thanks to a measurement methodology that’s less dependent on cookies, GA4 will be better adapted to help marketers confront the cookie apocalypse, expected in 2022.
Essentially, without going into too much detail, Russel Ketchum, Group Product Manager at Google Analytics, revealed during a recent interview with Search Engine Land that Google plans to turn to machine learning to adapt to measuring data without recourse to cookies. He also highlighted that it will be necessary to develop alternative measurement methods in a world without cookies and, in the case of Apple, without the advertising identifier (IDFA).
Consequently, the move to GA4 represents an unavoidable imperative for digital marketers and e-commerce business analysts. Because the current version of Google Analytics wasn’t made for this new reality already looming on the horizon, we will all have to start transitioning as soon as possible in order to minimize the hit to your business operations that these big changes could represent, particularly when it comes to the precise measurement of the performance of your online marketing activities.
Another critical fact: once you’re on GA4, you will be starting your data collection from square one. There will be no way to transfer your data from the current version into the new one. That’s why it’s important to talk about a “transition” rather than a “migration.”
For the moment, GA4 is still in beta, but it will very soon become the standard, and the focal point of analytics investments and innovation at Google. In this context, the current version will very likely become the “grandfathered” version of the platform, receiving little in the way of support and updates in the long-term. At least that’s what Vidhya Srinivasan, Vice President, Measurement, Analytics and Buying Platforms at Google, suggests in an official press release:
“The new Google Analytics is now the default experience for new properties and is where we’re investing in future improvements.”
That said, GA4 is positioned to accelerate the evolutionary shift of marketing analytics towards the cloud and the world of megadata. Case in point, users who switch over to the new version will be able to export all the raw data from Google Analytics 4 into Google Cloud’s BigQuery data warehouse, free of charge. This functionality was previously only available to users with a paid Analytics 360 license.
Access to the granular data in Google’s warehouse = $150,000 USD
Access to the granular data in Google’s warehouse = $0
This is a golden opportunity. The massive export of data into BigQuery opens up a whole new world of data for marketing and e-commerce, and gives you the ability to merge your CRM data with data from your website and/or mobile app. This was previously impossible for all but companies with huge analytics budgets, but will now be available to small- and medium-sized companies.
For anyone who’s been compiling marketing and e-commerce data in Google Analytics for years, this announcement of an imminent and inevitable transition might be alarming. The answers to questions like, “What will happen to our data?” or “How will we be able to reconcile the data from the old version with the data from the new version?” will almost certainly have far-reaching implications.
Still, you have no choice but to answer them, and fast.
Your team will have to evaluate the situation and identify a transition plan that ensures good continuity of data measurement, while simultaneously allowing for the evolution of your analytics practice towards the new logic that will inform the operations of the GA4 platform.
Because you have no choice but to make this change, you’ll have to lay the groundwork, get the right tools and, to the extent possible, get the jump on the competition. The sooner your company is ready, the sooner it will be ready to reap the benefits by exploiting the edge GA4 can give you.
Considering the fact that the platform will be entirely revised by Google, you will also need to plan time for your teams to adapt. The risk of waiting until the very last minute to make the transition is that you will be launching the company into a project to preserve data from the old Google Analytics, while simultaneously supporting staff learning the new GA4. This sort of situation could seriously hinder your operations, particularly processes related to monitoring the performance of your organization’s digital marketing and e-commerce efforts.
At the other end of the spectrum, a transition that’s planned in advance and follows a structured plan will allow you to rapidly start rebuilding your data. Then when the inevitable happens and the current version of Google Analytics is retired, you will already have one to two years of data accumulated in GA4. This will allow you to easily establish comparisons without having to juggle between two platforms due to a lack of foresight.
It’s important to keep the three Ps in mind: people, process and platform.
Managing people: When organizing your transition plan, make sure that the people affected are well-supported and that they feel ready to embark on this period of change. Ensure, too, that your internal analytics experts fully understand the new platform and that their training plan is sound.
Managing the process: As with any IT or data management project, you will need to build a clear map to guide you from your current situation to your future situation, employing a solid understanding of the technical and logistical details required for the transition. Using this map, you can develop more efficient plans and processes.
Managing the platform: Finally, you should plan to do a technical audit of your current Google Analytics implementation in order to identify all the data points that will be affected by the transition to GA4. There are numerous advantages and benefits to switching over to the new version; these will be covered in detail in future posts. However, in the short term, focus on the data and the functionalities that, in the current version, are the most important for your company. What data do you risk losing? What will you keep and what will you gain from the transition? How do you plan to manage it all?
Where to begin?
The key: keep yourself well-informed about Google Analytics 4.
If, however, you need a hand defining and deploying an effective transition plan to manage the appearance of this new platform on the scene, we can provide that support. Don’t hesitate to call upon our specialized analytics and data science team, they’re always ready to lend a hand! 😉