The upcoming transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been anticipated with great anticipation. With few exceptions, all standard UA properties will stop processing data on July 1, 2023. In turn, multi-location brands using Google Analytics solutions need a plan today to manage upcoming changes in reporting.
In this guide, we examine the benefits and challenges of moving to GA4 for brands with multiple locations, key considerations to consider when planning, and steps you can take now to transform your organization’s data protection. First, let’s look at what’s changing and why Google switched from UA to GA4.
Key differences between Google UA and GA4
Brand marketers need to be aware of this shift and how it impacts reporting across the user journey. Although UA and GA4 share the same purpose, there are some key differences:
UA tracks website user behavior using cookies and client IDs, while GA4 uses event-based tracking to measure page views, clicks, scrolls and downloads.
While UA relies on credentials to track users across devices and sessions, GA4’s cross-device tracking feature is enabled by default and is not based on a user ID.
GA4 introduces data modeling through machine learning techniques that create custom dimensions and metrics.
GA4 aims to facilitate analysis rather than just reporting, providing easy-to-use charts and customizable reports such as funnels, cohort analysis, and segmentation.
While UA can coexist with GA4 and integrate with Google Tag Manager, the different tracking codes and data model structures used in GA4 require a different implementation approach.
Overall, GA4 strives to offer a more user- and privacy-centric analytics approach than UA, leveraging machine learning capabilities and making it easier to perform analytics within the platform.
Benefits of Google Analytics 4 for cross-site brands
Despite the challenges of such a major reporting shift, GA4 offers several benefits for large organizations and multi-site companies.
Cross-device tracking in GA4 allows organizations to monitor user interactions across devices and stitch together sessions across browsers and devices for comprehensive insights into customer behavior. This is particularly beneficial for e-commerce businesses operating across desktop and mobile channels, improving their understanding of customer actions.
This is made possible by the user ID function. You can find out how to set this up here.
Custom reports and explorations
Effectively managing scope mix is a common hurdle in UA’s custom reporting, where data is categorized into four scopes: User, Session, Hit, and Product. Attempting to merge areas to create complicated or comprehensive reports often results in report errors. When using the Google Analytics API, users can inadvertently combine metrics and dimensions from different scopes (e.g. Pages and Sessions), resulting in potentially misleading reporting results.
GA4 allows for up to 150 custom reports with one or two data points and up to two visualizations and a table for each property. Learn how to customize detailed reports here.
Research is another way to go beyond the standard reports and get deeper insights into consumer behavior. While standard reports focus on key business metrics, exploration reports help answer complex questions about your business data, allowing marketers to quickly run ad hoc queries, create segments and audiences, use filters and refactoring, and more. Learn how to get deeper insights with Explorations.
Responsiveness to the needs of marketers
This was one of the key benefits highlighted in a case study of how Google’s media team handled their GA4 upgrade. Bob Arnold, Global Digital Media Innovation Lead at Google, explained, “Supporting the work of many teams means measurement should address the unique needs of each team. For example, the reports and insights that the website and app design teams need are completely different than those that the campaign optimization team access.”
Improved data protection compliance
Privacy controls, including cookie-less measurement and behavior and conversion modeling, are designed to ensure brands around the world comply with increasingly stringent privacy laws. The European Union’s GDPR poses significant challenges for global brands.
GA4 gives consumers greater control over their privacy by allowing them to set data retention between two and 14 months, opt out of ad personalization, opt out of data collection through Google signals, and more.
Improved event tracking
GA4 enables companies to gain more insight into specific user interactions on your website or app with automatically collected and individually enhanced measurement events. Businesses can track up to 300 events or streams on a property and up to 30 conversions at a time.
Advanced and custom events can help your brand team better understand what triggers conversion events, what issues customers are having at different points in their journey through your web properties, how your systems are behaving and functioning, and more.
The [GA4] The Event Information page is a good starting point for learning more about advanced event tracking and leads to additional resources about event categories and what you can create and track.
Google leverages machine learning heavily in GA4, allowing users to view predictive metrics around likelihood of purchase or churn and revenue generation. Brands with multiple locations and an e-commerce or online ordering with in-store pickup component can use this to predict e-commerce and in-app purchase behavior.
Probability Metrics is an exploration accessed through the User Lifetime exploration and is available for properties with a minimum level of qualifying activity. For example, to qualify for this feature, you must have at least 1,000 returning users who have triggered the corresponding prediction condition (buy or churn) and at least 1,000 returning users who have not. Learn more about GA4 prediction metrics here.
Key Google Analytics 4 Marketer Alerts
Marketers should consider the following when planning their migration from UA to GA4 or a new GA4 setup.
Google Analytics 4 is not optional if you wish to continue collecting data
On its help page, titled “Universal Analytics is going away,” Google promises: “After July 1, 2023, you can access your previously processed data in your Universal Analytics property for at least six months.” This means you need a plan to export the data as soon as possible.
You cannot compare Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics data
Because GA4 and UA collect data differently, comparing the two datasets will not give you an accurate picture. Annual data may not be available for a period of time until GA4 collects enough data. Therefore, it is advisable to make this adjustment earlier.
Universal Analytics and Google Analytics may collect data at the same time
The new user interface brings with it challenges
Many users have reported significant difficulties navigating the GA4 user interface during this transition period. With improved privacy controls, more flexible and customizable reports, and machine learning integration, popular features and basic metrics aren’t that easy to find.
Multi-site brands should allow for an adjustment period and allocate training time and budget to help team members learn the new GA4 system as it is not a seamless upgrade from one version to another.
Multi-location and franchise brands need to determine how this reporting tool will be integrated into reports distributed to local managers and stakeholders or accessible to them via a dashboard.
The central theses
While the demise of UA has caused some uneasiness and stress for digital marketers, the automation and deeper insights that GA4 brings are a much-needed upgrade to the web and app analytics platform for multi-location brands. Data-driven attribution, advanced funnel reporting, improved tracking, and better insights into the entire customer journey are just some of the benefits of GA4.
The migration process is complex. Therefore, it’s important that your technology and marketing teams work closely together to ensure you’re gaining the right insights into user behavior.