The term “dark ages” is often erroneously believed to signify a lack of intellectualism in the early middle ages of history. But modern scholars (if they use the term at all) will use it to highlight our relative lack of historical record from the era, before the copying of texts became popular in the 12th century. There’s a parallel here between what may happen in the world of digital analytics from July 1st this year, as Google stops data collection for older Google Analytics properties (“Universal Analytics” or UA) and switches over to GA4 as the sole measurement standard from the 1st of July this year. (GA360 customers will have an additional 12 months of data collection for UA.)
Research we’ve conducted at Anything is Possible suggests that as many as one third of brands have not yet set up a GA4 property. This means they will be completely in the dark about how users are finding and interacting with their digital properties. Even if these brands were to set up a GA4 property today, comparing trends with the previous year is going to be a significant pain-point until at least April 2024.
How did we get here?
Migrating to GA4 comes with huge upsides, as it enables marketers to access GA’s powerful new features, including improved cross-device tracking, access to powerful algorithmic attribution models, and simplified event tracking. So why have some marketers have been reluctant to embrace the new measurement standard?
It’s true that GA4 does come with a steeper than usual learning curve, far greater than the changes seen with the introduction of Universal Analytics over 10 years ago, both in terms of data collection and the reporting structure. Google has been generous with the amount of time allowed to brands to make the switch (the discontinuation of UA will occur nearly three years after the launch of GA4), which may have also led to a lack of urgency.
But the biggest problem with Google Analytics has always been the cost: it’s free.
In theory, this gives every marketer, whether they are working for a FTSE 100 business or on their own independent web store, access to the most powerful marketing analysis solution to ever exist.
In practice, it has meant the devaluation of web analytics as a discipline. Many marketers see that Google Analytics has no cost, and subsequently assume that digital analytics itself has no value.
This has meant that at a time when marketers’ budgets have been squeezed, re-platforming their web analytics has been easy to de-prioritise. On a balance sheet this may have looked like a sound decision, as budgets can be redirected towards activities that will directly drive business growth. But without a solid data infrastructure in place, with web analytics at the core, marketers will always be making guesses about the best way to drive business growth. And they may find themselves overtaken by competitors who are making evidence-driven decisions supported by quality data.
How can we avoid an era of ignorance?
For any marketers who have yet to initiate a project to migrate to GA4: the best time to do it was right away. The second best time is right now.
You have four months to ensure a (mostly) seamless transition away from Universal Analytics. So make it a priority: engage a web analytics specialist if you don’t have one on your team already.
You will have some additional challenges to problem-solve. For example, building a full year’s data set by combining data from UA and GA4 in a database such as Google BigQuery to ensure reporting continuity. A Google Analytics specialist can help you work through these challenges and avoid a lot of heartache.
Most importantly, don’t do nothing and risk being left behind by competitors who have invested in their insights.
If you’ve left your GA4 migration later than you’d like and need a helping hand, get in touch with our data & analytics experts at Anything is Possible.
While it’s now urgent for marketers to take steps to migrate to GA4 if they haven’t already done so, some caution should be taken when using Google’s “auto-migration” feature, as helpfully described by Krista Seiden in Search Engine Land. Shortcuts in digital analytics will invariably lead to more pain down the road. So we recommend taking the time to plan and execute a GA4 migration with an experienced analyst rather than shortcutting with the automated solution.