Shift to GA4 means evolving your tracking and reporting strategy

Shift to GA4 means evolving your tracking and reporting strategy
By Kristi Boesen
Jan 11, 2023
4 MIN. READ
Early last year, Google announced the upcoming retirement of their longstanding Universal Analytics product—meaning any current Google Analytics clients will need to transition to their newest product, GA4, by July 1, 2023, for standard properties or July 1, 2024, for 360 properties. First introduced as a unified app and web reporting product in 2019 and elevated shortly thereafter to the default product for all new tracking, GA4 as the future of Google Analytics is finally here.

The move to GA4 is a paradigm shift in how data is collected and reported—presenting a unique opportunity to rethink and evolve how you’re tracking and reporting on user behavior across web and mobile app properties. However, planning and implementing the new tagging strategy required to leverage GA4 will necessitate resource and time investments, which some brands may not have the bandwidth to take on.

With this shift, the treatment of historical and legacy data poses some challenges too, as companies will need to let go of or find a way to archive many years of data from their Universal Analytics reporting properties. As with any new product, there’s a learning curve that comes with viewing the data in a different way and getting used to a new look and feel in your reports. To ensure the transition to GA4 is as seamless as possible and fully optimized for your unique needs, leveraging a strategic partner can take your insights even further.

Measurement strategy and tracking plans

The move to GA4 means a shift to an event-parameter based model for data collection. This change feels most tangible when analyzing user behavior in events reporting. With GA4, events track user actions along with any number of parameters to capture details about each action, which is a significant shift away from the Category-Action-Label hierarchy of Universal Analytics events. While this new model provides more flexibility in how we measure behavior, it can also present a challenge for marketers as there isn’t a clear 1:1 alignment with how event tracking is implemented for GA4 compared to Universal Analytics.

Leveraging a seasoned partner from the onset of your planning and transition is critical. A partner with deep analytics expertise will work with you from the start to review current measurement objectives and refine your tracking plan. This ensures you are continuing to (or in some cases starting to) track the behaviors most critical to your business when you transition. Then, once the plan is in place, your partner can be a guide for establishing GA4 events and parameters that align with your previous Universal Analytics tracking. The right partner will not only streamline and elevate the migration process but will simultaneously use this change as an opportunity to identify ways to leverage new features and tracking enhancements provided by GA4 to further your understanding of user behavior—optimizing your results.

Optimizing your implementation

One or more new reporting properties and data streams will need to be created to collect GA4 data as you make the move. GA4 properties and data streams have a host of advanced settings to fine tune data collection, from data filters to cross-domain tracking to linking data with other Google products you may be using.

Once GA4 properties are configured, you’ll need to establish new tags to collect and send data to your GA4 reports. Depending on the bandwidth and previous use of Universal Analytics, this can quickly become overwhelming for teams who are not familiar with this level of detail and complexity of configurations.

Done right, GA4 data enables you to create fully personalized, fine-tuned dashboards that optimize your insights. But it isn’t easy. This is where you can rely on a partner to support you throughout implementation—from configuring GA4 properties to working within Google Tag Manager to create and publish new tags to support your GA4 tracking plan.

Reporting migration and deliverables

In addition to a new model for data collection, GA4 comes with a whole new look and feel for reports and methods for accessing data. Default reports provide similar types of information compared to Universal Analytics—how users arrive, what content they view, what behaviors they display, etc. However, the interface is organized differently and provides access to data through standard reports as well as GA4’s Explore feature.

Standard reports in GA4 provide a summary view of data and are customizable, offering a widget-based approach for analysts to arrange key data dimensions and metrics in different ways. GA4’s Explore feature allows you to drill into data with deeper levels of granularity and introduces new ways to explore data through pathing and funnel visualizations or cohort and segment analyses.

Your partner can help you dive deeper with each of these reporting approaches, working with you to understand your learning objectives and helping you identify the optimal reporting tools and deliverables to discover and communicate insights from your GA4 data.

Leveraging insights to fuel connections

While GA4 has been Google’s standard web and reporting product since 2020, the sunsetting of the Universal Analytics product will come with a massive wave of transitioning Google clients. Realistically, many companies will not transition until they must. But don’t let this opportunity for optimization pass you by. Relying on a partner with expertise in measurement strategy and planning, tracking implementation, and reporting deliverables can enable a truly elevated reporting experience—leading to a greater understanding of your consumer and measurable gains across your business.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Kristi Boesen, Senior Analyst, Digital Analytics

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