Marketers leveraging Google Analytics will soon be forced to switch to an entirely new system to measure web traffic, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Google’s next-generation measurement solution will replace Google’s current system called Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023.
Since Google Analytics is widely used to analyze web traffic and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, this change will affect most websites in the United States, and in turn, the marketing and web teams that manage them. Marketers can currently make side-by-side comparisons of data between the two analytics systems before Universal Analytics sunsets. This is why it’s important that marketers begin their migrations now – so they won’t be left in the dark once the final switch is made.
As marketers prepare to use the new Google Analytics 4, here are some considerations and differences between the old and new version of Google Analytics that they should keep in mind.
The Impact on Marketers
The new GA4 is a result of Google’s desire to rid the internet of the third-party cookie. Marketers must move over to GA4 because without third-party cookies, the old Google Analytics will simply no longer function.
With the introduction of GA4, Google is also rolling out Google Signals. Signals is a standalone Google product, integrated with Google Analytics 4, that enables cross-device tracking and remarketing. It can also be used for audience targeting, funnel analysis, cross-device remarketing, and help allocate ad spend budgets. In a nutshell, Google Signals allows marketers to understand how users interact with a given website across their various multiple devices and sessions. The main difference between Google Signals and the current cookie-based tracking in Google Analytics is that Signals uses aggregate data, meaning personal user data is anonymized, making the product GDPR and other privacy-law compliant.
While initially, the shift may be a heavy lift for marketers, the long-term value of the switch will prove valuable over time thanks to new privacy features and other customization. For example, how data is tracked, reported, and visualized in the platform will change, but GA4 will also allow for more customizations and flexibility to build the specific reports that marketers want. One way to help marketers ease this transition is to start early and run both Universal Analytics and GA4 at the same time. This will allow marketers to easily compare their data one-to-one by seeing how these changes will affect them and what will appear differently.
Additionally, new features will be added to GA4 like the ability to track sessions to events, also known as event-based tracking. Event-based tracking better tracks the overall experience of individual users, meaning that separate accounts for each user’s visit and return visits are no longer needed. Without third-party cookies, marketers will not be able to tell if a user continues their session later on, which is why Google is making the switch to tracking sessions as events rather than individual visits.
The Privacy Implications
One of the primary reasons for this massive shift to GA4 is that Google is aiming to ensure that their device-tracking and remarketing products are GDPR-compliant and are able to adapt to new privacy laws like CCPA and others moving forward.
Prior to this update, data received from users in the European Union (EU) was transferred to servers in the United States to be processed. That data transferring has been the basis of GDPR complaints, so this update helps to address these concerns by only processing EU user data in the EU, thereby removing the compliance risk of international transfers.
One important thing for marketers to keep in mind when activating GA4 and Google Signals is that by doing so, you sign an agreement with Google to inform users about their data being collected with the proper privacy disclosures. Marketers need to establish or update their privacy policies, where Google Signals, Google Analytics, or any other relevant Google Analytics advertising features are outlined and it explains to web visitors that the feature collects and processes personal data, even if it’s anonymized.
Despite the potential difficulty of switching for marketers, these new privacy controls from Google are a big step forward in reducing compliance risk with the use of GA4 in different countries around the world. By giving more control to organizations to customize the platform and manage their own data, it allows companies to decide which strategies best align with their privacy principles.
Preparing for the Change
Any new system change to standard business operation is never easy. With this in mind, it’s crucial to have at least one team member lead efforts to switch from Universal Analytics to GA4. By having one expert to lean on for all things Google Analytics, the adoption of the new GA4 can run much more smoothly.
Marketers that are leading the switch should begin by understanding what data they are already extracting from Universal Analytics, so they can ensure nothing gets lost in the migration to GA4. This underscored why it’s so important for marketers to get started now on their migrations so that when July 2023 rolls around, they aren’t left in the dark with the new tools and user interface of GA4. All in all, the key to having success with the GA4 switch is simple: get the tool, practice using it, begin getting your teams trained on it, and figure out how to apply the new tools to your business. The quicker everyone jumps in, the better time you’ll have adjusting to the new version of Google Analytics.
The author, David Finkelstein is CEO of BDEX.