The day most analytics professionals have been fearing has finally come. Last week, Google announced a sunset date for Universal Analytics. On July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics will stop processing new hits (unless you’re a Universal Analytics 360 client, in which case you have until October 1, 2023). Although you still have over a year to implement Google Analytics 4 tracking, if you haven’t started this process yet, then the time is now.
I hate to be dramatic – there are certainly benefits to GA4, including more privacy protection, cross-platform tracking between websites and mobile applications, data-driven attribution, and insights based on machine learning. But the vast differences in measurement protocol resulting in a need to re-implement your Google Analytics tracking to fit GA4 is an intimidating prospect. We’ve had the most success helping clients through this process by taking it in baby steps, so we thought we’d share the general process we’ve taken in the hopes it helps you through this dark time.
- Add the base GA4 tracking to your website. If you’re using GTM, then this process is fairly straightforward. Once added, you can begin to observe the data being brought in and identify gaps in measurement.
- Develop a tracking plan based on your current (or future) website functionality and design, along with the measurement gaps identified in step 1. If you’re in the midst of redesigning your website, then you might want to wait until you have an idea of what the new design and functionality will be before starting this step. Otherwise, document a tracking plan outlining the custom events you want to track in Google Analytics (or currently have tracked in Google Analytics). This step should include things that standard pageview tracking won’t track, like button clicks, form fills, scrolling and ecommerce activity for example. We like to utilize a document with screenshots of the website (or designs) and align it to a detailed document (typically in Excel) that outlines the values we’d like to bring in to GA. Keep in mind that GA4 doesn’t follow the traditional category-action-label structure that Universal Analytics follows, so take your time to establish an event structure that works for your teams.
- Align with your developers on the tracking plan. Make note of areas where you may need developer help to add dataLayer or other elements (like ecommerce) to the code. They’ll appreciate the heads up and the extra time to implement these items.
- Begin adding and testing GA4 custom events. Beginning this process before your development team (or concurrently) will allow you to seek their help if you run into issues or areas where you didn’t originally anticipate needing their help.
- Compare GA4 to Universal Analytics data. Do this step with the expectation that your data will not be a perfect match in most circumstances.
- Migrate any reporting based on Universal Analytics to GA4.
- Celebrate! (And repeat.) Because we all know an analyst’s work is never done.