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GA4: 5 Things You Need To Do

Article by
Kari O'Neill
Vice President, Strategy
Young & Laramore
Henrik Persson
Digital Strategist
Young & Laramore
Mary Moore
Director of Media Investment & Analytics
Echopoint Media
Placeholder Image? Ga4 5 things you need to do

Are you ready for GA4?

Hopefully, you and your digital team are aware that a new version of Google Analytics, called Google Analytics 4 (“GA4”) will soon become the new reporting standard for all website and mobile app data reporting. The previous version of Google Analytics, called Universal Analytics (“UA”), will stop tracking data on July 1, 2023.

Hopefully, your digital team has noticed that Google has automatically created GA4 properties for your website or app in February. Or you may have opted out of that from Google. If they’re not sure, they should look to see if the property has “-GA4” at the end.

Either way, GA4 is coming. Unless your team is ready for it, you’ll lose precious data for your business.

What is going to change?

The biggest changes between GA4 and UA will be:

  1. GA4 tracks event-based data instead of session-based
  2. GA4 calculates and stores certain metrics differently due to the focus on event-based data
  3. GA4's ability to pull in website and app data together in one place

Overall, GA4 is going to help your team track individual user activity based on events/actions (like button clicks, form fills, purchases) each user takes. Ideally, this will allow businesses to build and more accurately track customer journeys.

But, with data being captured differently, direct comparison of KPIs between UA and GA4 is not recommended without adjustment (more on that, below).

What do companies need to do to prepare?

There are 5 main actions to take:

  1. Set up your GA4 account(s) for all important web properties
  2. Set up a Google BigQuery account to enable detailed conversion analysis
  3. Update GA4’s data retention policy
  4. Back up historical UA data
  5. Begin monitoring metric differences between UA and GA4

Set up GA4 account(s) for all important web properties

Importantly, ensure that all events are set up properly to compare metrics moving forward since GA4 is capturing event-based data. Y&L recommends this setup no later than April 2023.

Set up a Google BigQuery account to enable detailed conversion analysis

On the back-end, GA4 data is structured differently than UA data. If your team is looking to conduct detailed conversion/event analysis, they will need to pull this data from Google BigQuery – Google’s Cloud storage platform. Using Google BigQuery allows you to use raw, 100% non-estimated data, and pull in as many of metrics/dimensions as you’d like (unlike Data Studio that limits you on metrics and dimension combinations).

Update GA4 Data Retention Policy

In GA4, user-level data is stored 2 months as a default. The good news is that GA4 lets you change the timeframe to 14 months. To do this, go into Admin > Data Settings > Data Retention and then select 14 months.

Back up historical UA data

UA data will be available for 6 months once UA stops actively tracking on July 1, 2023. If your team plans to do YoY analysis, we recommend, at a minimum, downloading .csv files or storing in Google BigQuery historical UA data as far back as you’ll be conducting analysis or referencing historical benchmarks.

Begin monitoring metric differences between UA and GA4

Y&L recommends having 3 months of data running UA and GA4 simultaneously in order to quantify the difference in UA KPI measurements and comparable GA4 measurements. This can then be applied for any year-over-year, quarter-over-quarter or month-over-month metrics.

For instance, if UA reports 10,000 new users in April-June 2023, while GA4 reports 10,600 new users, then UA metrics should be multiplied by 1.06 when being compared to GA4.

While it may take some time to adjust to GA4, overall, GA4 is designed to provide more robust measurement across multiple platforms and devices. It is built to help future-proof your data once cookie tracking is no longer active. By implementing it now and running in tandem with UA, you will be well prepared to make the most of user-journey data across your website and apps.

The Google Analytics logo is a registered trademark of Google.

Kari O'Neill, Vice President, Strategy at Y&L

Kari spent her early career helping brands like Crest and Oral B understand how visual and verbal communication affects decision-making. Now at Y&L, Kari distills actionable insights and consumer motivations to formulate sound brand strategies for all brands across Y&L's client roster.

Henrik Persson, Digital Strategist at Y&L

Driven by curiosity about why and how people use technology, Henrik has worked with agencies in the US and Europe for clients including White Castle, Panda Express, and Anheuser-Busch. Now at Y&L, he helps clients like Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, Hillman, and ClusterTruck uncover and embrace their audiences’ digital habits.

Mary Moore, Director of Media Investment & Analytics at EPM

After starting her career as a radio announcer, Mary joined the agency world and honed her ability to put messages in the right place in front of the right audience at the right time. Now she’s spent 25 years focused on making every dollar stretch as far as possible for clients like Dairy Queen, Steak ‘n Shake, Indiana University, and Roche.