Two years of GA4

This month marks two years since GA4 became the default when setting up a new Google Analytics property. Whilst there have been early adopters – ourselves included – keen to get to grips with a new interface and data collection model, it was the further announcement in March this year, that Universal Analytics would be sunsetting on July 1st, 2023, that kicked things into gear for many. 

In the same period, however, we’ve seen a sea change in the development and support of wider tech stacks with the sales and marketing teams we work with. The focus has been on warehousing and transforming data from multiple sources and using BI tools to decrease time to insights and create new measurements. It’s understandable that some of the differences and nuances between versions may be tricky to engage with, given the propensity has been to select key dimensions and metrics then visualise and join with other data sets outside of Google Analytics. Making sure all event tracking and configuration settings are in a state to move you neatly away from Universal Analytics is a promising start, but it’s highly unlikely to be a done deal in this wider framework. 

Consider data warehousing and wider reporting 

Storing Universal Analytics data before losing access at some point after 2023 is something to be considered. Are you already connecting data to a warehouse solution and if so, what dimensions and metrics do your teams need access to and where is it being accessed and analysed?  

GA4 itself will only keep data for use in explorations that are used for custom report creation for 2 months by default – this can be increased to 14 months however with a setting change that is important not to miss. Custom reports will be crucial in the new interface for some to surface and segment results in a way that makes them more understandable than the default offering.  

Even so, for those wanting access to a longer tail of data than 14 months, thinking about warehousing and transformation will be important. Fortunately, GA4 comes with a free connector to BigQuery, Google’s Cloud Data Warehouse, but joining that data onto historic Universal Analytics data if necessary and combining with other data demands expert attention. 

Tagging is still vital – centralise it. 

GA4 is rolling out new parameters to support this level of data – such as ‘marketing_tactic’ and ‘creative_format’ – meaning added complexity to tagged URL creation. 

Inbound URL tagging is often front of mind for those who do dip into Google Analytics. GA4 doesn’t change that; in fact, the opportunity to capture actionable insight around customer motivators and actions relies on a rigorous approach to the hygiene of campaign naming and tagging conventions. Proper protocol here aligns off-site ad delivery information with other data sources, including Analytics, and also provides detailed data on the nuances of different strands of messaging.  

Ultimately this relies on the briefing stage, but also working with agencies and partners who are committed to reporting on direct and indirect outcomes and wider performance data – rather than just being led by individual platforms.  

Call tracking also benefits from well-structured and consistent URL tagging. It’s often the ‘medium’ parameter in the inbound URL that tells the call tracking platform which channels to assign a users’ visits to on their path to completing a call action. 

All of the above can be facilitated and simplified with tagging tools for appending utm codes for analytics (and other parameters for tracking platforms where needed) to click through URLs or building campaign naming generators, especially important if activity being run is a mix of internal and partner agency output. Those are simple to build, including the storage and automated maintenance of regular selections for various fields – e.g. always having the same consistent name for a specific product as the campaign field. Set up is usually a matter of hours.  

GA4 offers marketers a swathe of new opportunities to unearth insight based on additional data points. Getting your data collection set up right and analysing web or app engagement data in context of wider business outcomes and performance can really make a difference.