Google Analytics 4 as a golden opportunity

Having a date set publicly by Google for the end of life of Universal Analytics should see a burst of activity, writes Julien LeNestour, customer experience & analytics director at Havas Media Australia.

As most of us know, Google recently announced that the current version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) will stop collecting data in little more than 15 months on July 1st 2023. With Google Analytics 4 (GA4) released more than 3 years ago and becoming more robust with each passing month, we’re now all officially on notice from Google that GA4 is the new standard we can no longer delay adopting.

July 1st 2023 for the end of life of UA is sooner than many of us anticipated. With no possibility to transfer data between UA and GA4, July 1st this year becomes the next deadline to enable year-on-year comparisons within GA4 next year. If that deadline is not reachable, there is still a full year ahead to get ready, and you will be able to use the data in Universal Analytics. My recommendation, though, is to finalise any plans for GA4 without delay.

Across industries, adoption of GA4 has been slower than anticipated by Google. Partly because it’s a very different product to deploy and to use day-to-day. Partly because the recommended “dual-tagging” approach, where GA4 is deployed alongside UA, might have failed to create enough urgency.

Having a date set publicly by Google for the end of life of Universal Analytics should see a burst of activity though, and for good reason. But we should all be very careful not to let the new sense of urgency hide the golden (and almost one-time) opportunity that GA4 is to strongly improve your digital analytics landscape.

All current deployments of Universal Analytics are at least a few years old, with most nearing a decade in existence. This means almost all of them are tracking data that might no longer be required or accurate, and most are not tracking all the new data points that would provide tremendous business value but have sat on the backlog.

The situation is similar with Tag Managers, where it isn’t rare to see implementations with many obsolete tags, or at the opposite end, with a handful of tags collecting very little data.

Almost everyone is in that situation because auditing and restructuring GA/GTM setups delivers a lot of benefits over the mid to long term, but efforts are all upfront. We all know those projects tend to be postponed indefinitely while we keep adding to the pile.

Implementing GA4 means we have no choice but to spend time and effort on analytics. The choice is in how we do it, and broadly speaking, I am seeing two different strategies.

Strategy 1 – Replicate: this means deploying GA4 by duplicating the existing UA setup. This saves the effort needed to review and adapt the current UA deployment but means a lot of time and effort porting over some tags and data that are no longer relevant. Few additional data points are also added. It’s an effective approach to deploy quickly but the end result is the same data, with the same quality.

Strategy 2 – Evolve: this means first assessing which parts of the current UA implementation are no longer relevant. Then spending the time necessary to define the new data points needed. Deploying GA4 then combines partially replicating the relevant subset of the UA implementation and setting up new data points. The end result is a slimmer implementation, easier to maintain and to enrich, and already delivering improved insights.

There are many legitimate reasons to adopt Strategy 1, but my general recommendation is to seriously evaluate the feasibility of strategy 2.

Julien LeNestour

Julien LeNestour, customer experience & analytics director at Havas Media Australia


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