The new Google Analytics 4 – The perfect transition through parallel operation of GA and GA4
on 23.10.2020 by Thomas Symann, Claes Holmqvist, Eric Böhme
With Google Analytics 4 (GA4) (formerly App+Web property), Google is launching a completely new tracking tool. This is the first time in the history of Google Analytics that a hard cut is made in the data, because historical data cannot be transferred to GA4. The data model has also been revised. After 15 years of GA with only incremental updates everything is new. But what does this mean for your company? And how can such an upgrade be carried out when Google Analytics is already deeply integrated into the company structures?
In this article, FELD M takes a closer look at the strategic advantages of setting up a new GA4 Property and collecting data in parallel to the previous full implementation with GA Universal Analytics.
From a technical point of view, the new GA4 can hardly be compared to the old GA Universal Analytics (GA UA): the basic concept has been completely reworked by Google. The biggest challenge for companies is probably that the data cannot be historically transferred by the new data schema. So with GA4 you start collecting data again from zero. This makes such simple requirements as year-over-year comparisons difficult.
Even the transition itself can be complicated lengthy if the old Google Analytics is deeply integrated into the company structures. If external systems are connected through BigQuery, CSV exports and imports or the Reporting API are attached, the switch to GA4 requires a lot of technical effort.
The dual strategy
Both Google and FELD M recommend a dual strategy for most of our customers. Both systems are used simultaneously. This setup can realistically last for 2-3 years or even longer.
Furthermore, the current state of GA4 is not sufficient for all companies. Some familiar features from GA UA may still be missing. For example, eCommerce reports have only recently been introduced in GA4.
The dual strategy helps companies to get the best of both worlds: the familiar reports from GA UA and the new features of GA4.
The 3 advantages of a dual strategy are:
- Connections to external systems can be adequately planned and cleanly transferred
- A data history can be built up in GA4, allowing comparisons with past periods (e.g. YoY comparison)
- Google has time to publish more features for GA4, because there is still a lot of room for improvement
1. Connection of external systems
The different possibilities to export and import data from GA offer excellent approaches to integrate external systems. Be it attribution reporting in tableau, Datastudio dashboards based on BigQuery or cost uploads for marketing campaigns.
With the new GA4 the connections to external systems have to be adapted.
Although GA4 has an integrated export to BigQuery (and this time for free), the data schema has changed. Even the familiar Reporting API no longer works. The new GA4 Data API is currently still in closed beta status.
Having both systems running simultaneously for a longer period of time helps to adapt external systems, saves developer resources and keeps the core business operating.
2. Data history
Not being able to use historical data that has been recorded for a long time poses a challenge for a data-driven company. Annual comparisons are no longer possible. Long-term trend analyses are hardly feasible. However, hard breaks in the data occur from time to time, not only when changing tools. For example, a website relaunch can also cause a major break in the data, which means that long-term comparisons are no longer meaningful.
To prevent this, the dual strategy helps by capturing at least basic information already in GA4. It is best to do this as early as possible so that as much data as possible can be historically recorded.
3. Further features and releases of GA4
Just recently, GA4 has already been classified as “production-ready” by Google. This means that a certain guaranteed availability is given. Companies can already switch over without worries.
Nevertheless, Google continues to focus its developer resources on GA4. More features and improvements can therefore be expected in the coming months. In GA UA, however, no significant updates are expected in the meantime.
What should companies do now?
Web Analysts should start using GA4 now. Ideally, the GA4 tracker can already be built into their own website (or sub-section) to collect data for their reports. GA Universal Analytics will remain the same. The focus must now be on GA4.
How can FELD M support?
As an agency specialized in analytics, we are experts in using Google Analytics (and other web analytics tools). Through our daily business with our customers and the analytics scene, we are always up to date on what’s new at GA4. In a long-term dual strategy, i.e. the transition from GA Universal Analytics to GA4, we can help to develop the new connections, design improved tracking and gain more insights from the data.
You can find out more about our Digital Analytics Services here: https://www.feld-m.de/service/digital-analytics/