Key Post Highlights
> Making the shift to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) now can help you in the long run.
> It’s time to record important insights from your Google Universal Analytics Reports.
> Learning new GA4 vocabulary can help you best understand your users.
Let me start by telling you what this blog post is not.
This blog post is not a comparison between Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
This blog post is not about how to save historic data or even how to migrate to GA4.
This blog post is not a pro/con post nor a step-by-step guide.
In the interest of not reinventing the wheel, this post is actually about bringing in anyone who is still on the fence (or doing what I love to do, “silent protesting”) into the GA4 train station. But if you are interested in some of the topics I’m not planning to cover here, check out the resources at the bottom of the post (especially if you have hesitation about this shift):
To help get you on board, here are 3 steps you can take to make the shift to G4 with clarity and confidence.
1. Understand What Changes Are Coming
One way you can prepare for the shift is to take time and learn what major changes are coming your way. Nevermind, I’ll just tell you.
Google has decided that they’re going to simplify how they look at user behavior to be more about engaged users or not engaged users — which is actually pretty straightforward.
All of that stuff like bounce rates or hard-to-interpret exit rates will no longer be a metric in GA4. It is simply either the user was engaged or they were not. This new metric is based on the same factors as before, only they collapsed the factors into one label: engagement. You don’t have to interpret whether or not they’re engaged. Google can tell you.
Every meaningful action is an event and only events can be goals
If you’re tracking events and goals within Universal Analytics, hopefully, you are also using Google Tag Manager. You will need to utilize Google Tag Manager to “migrate” those current settings into GA4. This will enable you to keep your current settings. Once you turn on GA4 and check out events you simply hit a toggle to indicate that this is an event and a goal.
No Google tag manager? No biggie, you can just add them manually in GA4.
2. Record the Most Meaningful Insights from Current Reports
Setting up GA4 doesn’t doesn’t mean that you are actually porting over historical data. After July 1, 2023, you will still be able to look at Universal Analytics data for at least another 6 months, but it isn’t clear what will happen to data after that timeframe. I know that your data is important to you, so I strongly recommend that you figure out what parts of your Universal Analytics data are most critical.
To me, this is less about exporting raw data and more about documenting the insights that you’ve gleaned over the years. So, ask yourself:
- What are the demographics that usually perform the best?
- What devices does your audience use that you need to optimize content for?
- What did the behavior flow tell you about the best opportunities on your site to make improvements and keep people from exiting the site immediately after visiting a page?
- What happens in the business that is seasonal so you can expect either spikes or dips (like back-to-school, for example)?
Spend the time between now and July 1 trying to figure out what insights are the most meaningful for you. For me, my favorite insights are opportunities to improve behavior flow. For you, it might be something else entirely.
You also want to know what your normal trends are in terms of your average rate of growth, quarter over quarter, month over month, and even year over year. That way, if you see a big difference in users on the site after the switch to GA4, you can know whether or not that is a qualified thing or something seasonal.
3. Make Some Changes to Your Vocabulary
You know when you’re having a conversation with someone, and you’re basically saying the same thing but you’re using different words? Yeah, the shift GA4 is going to be something like that.
You’re going to have to get accustomed to some new vocab and build it into your reporting language:
- Goals are now conversions.
- User behavior is now engagement.
- All HIT types are now classified as events.
- Engaged sessions are the number of sessions that last 10 seconds or longer and/or had one or more conversions in events.
- Engagement rate is the percentage of engaged sessions. Farewell, bounce rate — hello, non-engaged sessions.
Just Turn It On
If you hear nothing else, please listen to this: It’s not changing. Whether you like, love it, hate it, or write a thousand think pieces about it, Google is still moving forward with the planned Google Universal Analytics cutoff date of July 1, 2023.
One of the best ways you can help your team is to configure, configure, configure. None of the custom reports and dashboards in Google Universal Analytics will be portable. They will have to be rebuilt in GA4. The longer you drag your feet, the less time you will have to get ready and go in feeling confident and prepared. Being sure to make the switch ahead of the July cutoff will help set you up for success.