State of Google Analytics in 2023 (Told by Analytics Specialists)
GA4…it’s coming. Ignoring the inevitable will hold your team back now and in the future. It’s time to gain an understanding of the new GA4 and prepare your data.
As analytics experts with decades of experience–seriously, we remember when the original Google Analytics (GA) was released–we’ve helped numerous clients preserve their historical data from Universal Analytics (UA), prepare for migration, and successfully transition to GA4.
On July 1, 2023, standard UA properties will stop processing new data and all GA users will be forced to use GA4 for collecting and analyzing data moving forward. In honor of the upcoming date, we wanted to take a look back and forward with an overview of the current state of Google Analytics.
The History of Google Analytics
Google Analytics (GA) has maintained a broad, global user base of marketers, business owners, and data analysts for decades. The usage is so widespread that Google has been under the microscope for monopolizing digital advertising technologies. In fact, the company was sued by the U.S. Justice Department in January 2023. Regardless of the politics, understanding GA and how to leverage its full functionality, including complex technical aspects, can easily make the difference between marketing failure and success.
The tool has evolved drastically from its early days. In 2006, the integration with AdWords opened up an entirely new world of online advertising (and profits for Google). Over the next several years, Google Analytics saw vast enhancements for things like advanced segmentation, goal tracking, funnel visualization, real-time analytics, asynchronous tracking, and much more.
Now, Google is arguably presenting their largest disruption to GA in history with GA4.
“Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions, and more observable data from cookies. GA4 operates across platforms, does not rely exclusively on cookies, and uses event-based data to deliver user-centric measurement.” Russell Ketchum, Director of Product Management, Google Analytics
In attempts to better understand the customer journey and user behavior, GA4 enables enhanced event-based data from both websites and apps. Machine learning and predictive capabilities are part of Google’s AI evolution and will help businesses stay competitive in the ever-changing online ecosystem.
“GA4 is designed for the future of measurement.”
Transitioning to GA4
If you’ve been dreading the move to GA4, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve been trying to ignore the elephant in the room–continuing about your normal GA process in the Universal Analytics platform you’ve come to understand in depth over years of daily use. Learn and migrate to a new tool? Why should you?! If it ain't broke, don’t fix it, right?
Well, the elephant has grown too big to ignore. Whether you like it or not, GA4 will become your analytics reality on July 1. On 7/1/2023, Universal Analytics will officially stop processing new data. And it will benefit teams to get as much data tracking in GA4 now to allow for comparative views.
Ideally, companies would have set up GA4 in July 2022 to have year-over-year comparisons immediately available. If you haven’t set up GA4 yet and your time machine is in the shop, we have a solution for you to help maintain your historical data and connect the dots of any missing metrics in GA4. More on that to come.
And even after July 1, 2023, your data will be accessible in UA for one additional year.
Along with data availability concerns, there are a number of changes to be aware of for transitioning to GA4. Significant updates to the interface might have your head spinning after signing in for the first time. You will likely be wondering what numbers you’re looking at or where your data went. Just like everything in life, not all change is bad.
Part of this mandate’s intention is to support the evolution of the Google Marketing Platform (GMP), which recently welcomed Optimize, developers of Crazy Egg at Hot Jar, under its umbrella of tools. This extends the capabilities of Google Analytics for all users.
With GA4, you can view more granular data about user behavior and on-page metrics. Google is referring to these as Enhancement Measurements. Marketers can now track metrics like user scroll behavior, outbound clicks, video engagement, file downloads, and more granular event options.
A/B testing and related tracking through GA4 is more efficient than it was in Universal Analytics. By understanding customer behavior at a higher level, you can more easily build targeted audiences and deliver unique experiences.
Now that you’re starting to see some silver lining, let’s talk about how to get your data from UA to GA4, and why it’s important to preserve historical metrics.
Maintaining Historical Data
In addition to learning to use a new analytics tool with a different interface, another challenge will be data export, storage, and transfer to GA4. Especially if you have decades of data living in Universal Analytics.
You might be asking: Do I really need to keep all that old data? The short answer is: Yes, you do. Read on for the longer answer.
The importance of maintaining historical data cannot be overstated. Because the metrics in GA4 are presented differently than UA, and in some cases differ entirely, your historical data will be the only barometer available to create a performance baseline. This data is also the only way to see past trends to make accurate projections and plan for seasonal impacts.
Not to mention: if you don’t export your data, it will be inaccessible after July 1, 2024. Meaning you will literally never see it again after that date. The benefits of not waiting until a year from now to export your data largely center around using this data to gain a better understanding of how you should track in GA4 most efficiently moving forward.
At the most basic level, you can export your data into a Google Sheet and put it in your Google Drive for safekeeping until you’re ready to face the challenge head-on. A word of caution: how you export your data matters. Especially if you have multiple accounts, properties, and views. Following the export, data should be cleaned to eliminate incorrect or incomplete data.
Get our Step-by-Step Guide for exporting and transforming your data safely and efficiently from Universal Analytics and storing it securely.
After exporting from UA, connecting to other data sources will be critical for accurate and effective data visualization. By blending insights from multiple sources, teams can better tell the customer story and identify what’s working and what’s holding them back.
Google Analytics Tools for 2023
As Google continues to evolve GMP and improve upon services like Google Looker Studio and BigQuery, teams can begin to reduce their marketing tech stacks and focus most of their efforts on one platform. With that being said, there are also third-party tools that continue to outperform Google in certain areas that can be used in tandem with GA4.
It’s also worth mentioning that Google Sheets will continue to be an integral part of the Google Analytics and GA4 platform for data export, visualization, reporting, and more.
Google Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio)
Looker Studio, formerly known as Google Data Studio, is a powerful data visualization and reporting tool. It allows users to create interactive, customizable reports and dashboards and can connect to various data sources including Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google Sheets, BigQuery, SQL databases, and more. These integrations enable seamless data extraction and transfer, and allow for real-time updates to reports and dashboards.
The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to design and build visually appealing dashboards with charts, graphics, tables, maps, and other tools to present data. Teams can expand transparency and access to data across an organization with Looker Studio via Google Drive sharing settings, giving more leaders the ability to make data-driven decisions and collaborate with other departments.
If you’re already familiar with the legacy tool, Google Data Studio (GDS), Looker should be pretty easy to adopt, but there are some new features and things to be aware of. New functionality users can enjoy in Looker not present in the GDS include more flexible data modeling features and expanded SQL database support.
If you already have a dashboard set up in Looker, it’s important to connect GA4 as your main data source. Most companies are currently pulling data from Universal Analytics, and if they don’t change that before July 1, 2023, data will stop entering Looker Studio altogether.
Effective data visualization will be critical for successfully navigating the changes in the GA4 reporting interface. Learning a new interface takes time and energy; most people just want to see their core metrics presented in a simplified manner and don’t want to click a bunch of buttons to get there.
Looker Studio Dashboards will enable teams to limit the impact of GA4 interface changes because their data visualization won’t really change much. Numbers might vary slightly from UA to GA4 based on measurement differences, but otherwise you can expect limited disruptions to Looker dashboards.\
Google BigQuery is a serverless data warehouse with a built-in query engine. And the query engine is fast–like really fast–even with large volumes of data. BigQuery is capable of running SQL queries on terabytes of data in seconds, and petabytes of data in minutes.
But wait. That’s not all! You can enjoy that rapid querying speed without managing infrastructure needs or building indexes. This makes the tool extremely scalable.
BigQuery will be immensely helpful for teams migrating to GA4 because of its integration with the Google Cloud Platform. If you don’t have another data storage solution in place, you can easily configure an enterprise-ready cloud-native data warehouse with BigQuery and have your data imported safely in just a few hours.
Another data visualization tool, Analytics Canvas is a comprehensive third-party solution for managing data. It’s already a popular solution for backing up data from Universal Analytics and building reporting for GA4 using BigQuery APIs.
With industry-leading GA connectors, including connectors for Universal Analytics and GA4, this tool can be used to create queries, access large volumes of data from various sources, transform data and prepare it for analysis. These connectors make Analytics Canvas a viable option for streamlining your GA4 migration and UA data export.
Manage Your GA4 Migration with an Analytics Expert
Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone who could hold your hand through the entire GA4 migration process and do all the hard things for you? There is. It’s us!
Overlap has a team of analytics experts who have helped Clients through the process of exporting and transforming their historical data for secure preservation as part of a successful GA4 transition. We will ensure you understand and feel comfortable navigating GA4 following your migration and create new custom reports and dashboards from multiple data sources.
Our analytics team can consult on the best tools for your needs and help integrate them for a comprehensive view of your organization’s data. We can work with you to select the right solutions for your budget and protect you from surprising fees.