Google Analytics 4: The Road to Sunrise
On 16th March 2022, Google announced that on 1st July 2023, it would be shutting down (“sunsetting”) the current iteration of Universal Analytics (referred to by most people simply as “Google Analytics”).
What this change means is that existing Google Analytics users (e.g most organisations that use Google Analytics to track website behaviour on their website) will need to switch to its newest and most advanced product, known as “GA4”. This announcement marks one of the biggest developments in web analytics in recent years. No charity will be unaffected by this change.
In this short blog post, we’ll take a look at their announcement and discuss what this means for your nonprofit.
What’s changing and when?
Since its release in October 2020, Google has been steadily pushing its users to make the switch to GA4. Up until now, we’ve seen the carrot, in the form of regular new feature releases including new reports, metrics, and advanced attribution models. Now, we are finally seeing the stick, there is a hard end date to Universal Analytics as a reporting tool.
Here’s a quick summary of what we know so far:
- Universal Analytics properties will stop collecting data on 1st July 2023.
- After this date, you'll be able to access previously collected data for “at least” six months. At some stage after this, we understand you will lose access to this data.
The impact on your nonprofit
Google has given us roughly 15 months warning before Universal Analytics is “sunsetted”. At first glance, this may seem like a generous amount of time - but in the loudest voice, we can possibly muster: this impacts your nonprofit now, and you need to act as soon as possible.
Why the urgency? Well: perhaps you’d like to run year-on-year comparisons in GA4. To do that, you’re going to need to have a fully functioning setup ready by 1st July 2022 (e.g in just over 3 months). Any event tracked beyond 1st July 2022 in Universal Analytics will not be easily or exactly comparable year-on-year on the same date in 2023.
Perhaps you’re also wondering how long it may take to make the switch? In the list of priorities, this one can wait, right? Well, GA4 uses a completely different data model, which means your website tracking needs to be planned and rebuilt from the ground up.
Finally, there’s the impact this change will have on your dashboards and live reporting in tools like Google Data Studio. Lots of our charities are dependent on these dashboards for campaign monitoring. From 1st July 2023, these dashboards will be defunct and will need to be rebuilt from scratch.
And of course, there’s also the upskilling of your teams to ensure they can navigate around Google Analytics 4.
In short, there’s a lot to do.
The analytics team at Torchbox has been guiding our clients towards GA4 for a while - with many now running parallel UA (GA3) and GA4 across their sites. But even many of these setups will still need further work to be a solid alternative.
At this point, you now need to be serious about switching to GA4.
What should I do now?
Starting the move to a brand-new GA4 analytics setup is a perfect opportunity to reexamine current objectives and come up with new, updated answers to the key question for web analytics: what do you want out of this?
Practically everything that could be done with Universal Analytics can be done with GA4, and more, and despite the urgency of this shift, it’s a positive one for web measurement. So this is the perfect time to figure out:
- What did we not like about the previous Analytics setup?
- What did we love, and really want to keep?
- What did we want but not have previously, and is that possible now?
It’s a good idea to get the base GA4 tracking code onto your website as soon as possible - this can be done via Google Tag Manager if you’re using it.
Next, start to revamp your event tracking to measure the key actions that you were before (such as purchases, donations, event sign-ups, and form submissions). Remember that you may need to redesign the dataLayer, which would take more time and development resources.
Follow this up by encouraging your teams to learn about GA4. Torchbox analysts have been running training and weekly drop-in sessions for our own digital marketing team - and we’ll shortly be following this up with more training sessions for our clients.
The road to sunset
For those of us that use Google Analytics regularly, this announcement may initially inspire nervousness bordering on something like mild panic (I know it did for me!). Moving beyond the status quo, relearning a tool we’ve used for a decade, is not easy.
But let’s focus on the positives: with every sunset comes a sunrise. It’s an opportunity to switch to a more flexible, advanced, and privacy-conscious tool, that gives you access to more useful data and more powerful analysis tools.
At Torchbox, we want you to know we’re taking this seriously. From today, we’ll be encouraging all of our clients to focus their efforts on GA4 and will be reducing the amount of UA support that we offer. We’ll also be talking more about the impact of these changes as and when we know them.
If you’d like to talk to us about moving to GA4, please do get in touch.
What are the alternatives?
For most, we think a switch to GA4 is the simplest solution with the most benefit. But we wouldn't rule out those tempted by Matomo, Piwik Pro, AT Internet - or tools like Plausible. What's important is that if you’re looking at alternatives have a solid measurement plan in place before starting that process, so that you can make good decisions about a tool's data collection and reporting features. We're currently working on an 'alternatives to GA4' blog, and plan to share this with you next week.