Embracing the Future of Website Analytics: Our Migration to Google Analytics 4

GA4 Migration

At Improve & Grow, we rely on Google Analytics to report key performance metrics for website traffic, user engagement, and conversions. We use Google Analytics to answer key questions such as “How much traffic did your website receive this month?”, “Which channels drove the most traffic?” and “How does that compare to last year?”. We also use Google Analytics to answer questions like “How many pages did your website users visit?”, “How long do your website users tend to stay on the website?” and “How many of your website visitors chose to reach out to you by filling out a form or calling you?”.

Recently, Google has stepped up its game by launching Google Analytics 4 (GA4), an innovative and refined upgrade to its widely-used Universal Analytics platform. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what GA4 is, how it improves upon Universal Analytics and the measures we’ve taken to help our clients upgrade to the new platform. We also cover how we’ve dealt with some differences to provide seamless website and campaign performance reporting for our clients.

What is GA4?

GA4 is the upgraded version of Google Analytics that was made available to the public in October 2020. It’s not just a simple update; it represents a complete paradigm shift in data collection, analysis, and reporting. GA4 leverages artificial intelligence to provide predictive insights and more comprehensive reporting on user behavior across various platforms and devices.

Key Advantages of GA4 over Universal Analytics

  1. User-centric Measurement: Unlike Universal Analytics which focuses more on sessions, GA4 takes a user-centric approach, providing a more holistic view of user interaction across various touchpoints.
  2. Cross-platform Tracking: GA4 tracks user interactions across your website and mobile app simultaneously, if applicable, providing a fuller picture of user behavior.
  3. Event-based Tracking: GA4 operates on an event-based model, enabling us to track and measure specific user interactions on your site or app, such as page views, button clicks, form submissions, and more.
  4. Advanced Reporting: GA4 uses AI to deliver enhanced reporting options, providing valuable insights and predictive analytics to inform your marketing strategy.

To learn more about GA4, click here for an in-depth article from Optimize Smart.

Our Journey with Testing & Implementing GA4

With Universal Analytics being phased out by Google in July 2023, we understood the importance of staying current with analytics technology. Consequently, we started testing GA4 as soon as it was publicly available. We began implementing tracking scripts on our client websites in June 2022 while still tracking and reporting via Universal Analytics in parallel so we could ensure that all critical data were being reported completely and accurately before the official sunset of Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023.

We have installed and rigorously tested the tracking code for each site, ensuring effective tracking of all conversions including form submissions and phone calls and eCommerce transactions, registrations, bookings, and other key online transactions, where applicable. Third-party systems have been configured and tested where relevant, ensuring no data is missed. We encountered some issues along the way (see next section) but are happy to report that all our clients have active properties on GA4 that accurately report traffic and conversions for their websites on or before June 30, 2023.

How We’ve Dealt with Key Differences between UA & GA4

Lack of Historical Data

One of our first learnings was that while key settings from current Universal Analytics properties could be easily migrated, the historical data from those accounts would NOT be migrated to GA4 properties. In other words, the new GA4 properties would contain no legacy data from the legacy Universal Analytics properties. This presented a problem for us, as many of our clients have highly seasonal businesses and we therefore rely heavily on year-over-year analysis to identify trends in traffic, engagement, and conversions.

Given the lack of historical data, we began implementing GA4 tracking scripts on each of our client’s websites in June 2022 so we could build a full one-year history of traffic and conversions. However, for the reasons outlined below, this approach proved ineffective in some situations. As such we have implemented a reporting tool that can unify the history from Universal Analytics with the new data gathered by GA4 so that our clients can have seamless reporting. More on that in the “Updated Monthly Reporting” section below.

Third-Party Application Compatability Issues

While configuring conversion tracking on the new GA4 properties for each client, we learned that many third-party platforms our clients utilize for eCommerce, tour bookings, event registrations, or other conversion events were not ready for the GA4 transition. While a few applications related GA4 compatible solutions early in 2022, many took most of 2022 and early 2023 to work out compatibility solutions. We actively monitored each third-party application website for the release of GA4 compatibility and began testing as soon as their solutions were available. While in a few cases, it came down to the literal last hour, we are happy to report that all of the third-party platforms our clients work with are now compatible with GA4 and have been fully configured to track conversions on or before the official cutover to GA4 reporting on July 1, 2023.

Differences in Event Counting Methods

In addition to third-party compatibility issues, we discovered a significant difference in how Google counts key events, such as page views. By default, every pageview is logged as an event, meaning that if a page we use for conversion tracking, such as a thank you or order confirmation page, is loaded more than once in a session, a single conversion could be recorded as multiple events. Google apparently realized the issue with this and rolled out a solution in April 2023 that enabled an option to count conversion events once per session, more closely approximating the expected behavior for conversion events. We have implemented that setting in all applicable cases, enabling us to have an accurate method for counting form conversion events as of May 2023, in plenty of time for the official cutover to GA4 reporting on July 1, 2023.

Updated Reporting

We provide each of our clients with a monthly report showing their key performance metrics from Google Analytics for the month compared to the prior month and the prior year. In preparation for the official cutover to GA4 reporting on July 1, 2023, we have updated our monthly reporting templates to use GA4 data exclusively beginning July 1, 2023, while reporting on Universal Analytics data up to June 30, 2023. The reports have been configured to combine this data seamlessly, allowing for year-on-year comparisons, despite the lack of historical data in GA4.

Conclusion

As your marketing partner, we’re excited about the advanced features GA4 offers and are eager to utilize them to drive your digital success. With the migration complete, we are shifting our focus to helping our team and clients leverage the power of GA4 for their websites. We are already experiencing the benefits of more flexible reporting, improved attribution, and advancing customization.

We appreciate your trust in us during this transition and look forward to exploring this new frontier of analytics together. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will there be any data loss during this upgrade?

No. While historical data is not carried over to GA4, we have taken steps to ensure that key historical data from Universal Analytics is preserved and there will be no loss of information during the transition.

Will the reports look different from what I’m used to?

While our monthly reporting templates have been updated to incorporate GA4 reporting, we’ve worked to maintain their intuitiveness and readability. We believe you’ll find these new reports even more insightful and useful for decision-making.

Can I still access my old Universal Analytics data?

Your Universal Analytics data will remain accessible for at least 6 months. However, from July 1, 2023, no new data will be collected in Universal Analytics properties. All new data will be collected and reported through GA4.

How will this change affect my ongoing campaigns?

This upgrade aims to enhance your campaigns’ effectiveness. GA4’s AI-powered insights will better understand user behavior, aiding in more accurate and effective marketing decisions. Rest assured, the transition to GA4 will not disrupt your ongoing campaigns. Instead, it will equip us with more tools to optimize them.

What if I have questions or need help understanding the new reports?

We’re here to help! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need assistance understanding the new GA4 reports. We’re committed to ensuring you’re comfortable and can make the most of these enhancements.

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