Google’s Move from Universal Analytics to GA4 

What You Need to Know

On July 1, 2023, Google Analytics will officially sunset its legacy system and stop processing Universal Analytics to prioritize the new GA4 measurement solution. This new iteration has the flexibility to measure many kinds of data, delivering a more robust analytics experience designed for the future. However, GA4 has its changes – how certain KPIs are defined, what standard reports look like, and how and where customers are identified across channels. Rest assured, Listrak is here to support you in this changeover and to help you understand how this will impact your day-to-day campaign performance management. Continue reading this quick-reference guide to help you prepare for the changeover.

What’s Happening?

What is Google Analytics’ New Iteration, GA4? What’s Changing from Universal Analytics?

  • GA4 is Google’s ‘next-generation measurement solution’ that will replace Universal Analytics.
  • GA4 is configured differently than Universal Analytics, notably including:
A different attribution model and is ‘event driven’ instead of ‘session driven’
Data streams for iOS apps, Android apps, and websites that flow together and connect data points
Removal of ‘bounces’ to use ‘engaged sessions’ instead
Fewer pre-built reports, with more ad hoc data capabilities
  • GA4 switches from a focus on ‘last touch’ to ‘first touch of the session where the event happened,’ to shift where revenue and engagement are attributed.

When Will Universal Analytics Go Away?

  • Google Analytics will officially sunset their legacy system and stop processing Universal Analytics properties to prioritize the new GA4 on July 1, 2023.
  • Historical data from Universal Analytics will be accessible (but not updated) through the end of the year (December 31, 2023), and everything will be permanently deleted thereafter.

What If I Have Google Analytics 360?

  • Current Google Analytics accounts with 360 properties will receive a one-time Universal Analytics processing extension ending on July 1, 2024.
  • If you aren’t sure whether this applies to you or not, reach out to your Google representative immediately.

What Do I Need to Do?

Why Should I Migrate to GA4?

  • If you’re using Google Analytics today, Listrak recommends you migrate to GA4 as soon as possible so you’re set up for long-term success; you will not be able to leverage your Universal Analytics integration after July 1, 2023 for new campaign performance.
  • Google has already teased that there will be new reports, data points, and interface optimizations added to GA4 over time – It’s their focus from here on out.
  • Unless you’re using another third-party platform or in-house reporting mechanics, Google Analytics is an ideal place to analyze your overall business and digital marketing results.

What Is Listrak Recommending Clients Do?

  • You should migrate your Google Analytics configuration to GA4 ASAP if you haven’t done so already, ideally by June 1, 2023.
  • Continue to keep your Universal Analytics active, running in parallel with GA4, until it’s no longer available – 
Taking both steps ASAP will allow you to compare metrics and performance differences between the systems before the cutover date
  • You’ll be able to access previously processed data in your Universal Analytics properties through the end of the year, but everything will be permanently deleted on January 1, 2024.
  • Listrak recommends you change your attribution setting to ‘cross channel last click’ instead of ‘cross channel data driven,’ which is the default in GA4.
This can be changed back and forth and will update forwards and historically
To change, go to Admin -> Settings -> Attribution Settings within Google Analytics

Can I Export Data Out of Universal Analytics?

  • Yes, you can and should export as much historical data as you’d like to have before July 1.
  • Listrak recommends creating and exporting custom reports with:
Metrics: Sessions, Transactions, Revenue, Bounces
Dimensions: Source/Medium, Campaign, Ad Content
Time Dimensions: Date, Week of Year, Month of Year, Year
  • Custom reports by Device might also be helpful, based on your needs and goals.
  • Avoid exporting ‘Sampled’ data as much as possible by adjusting the date range in your custom reports until you have a complete data set (as noted by a green check mark).

Should I Keep My Universal Analytics Property Active?

  • Yes, there is no reason to turn off Universal Analytics conversion revenue tracking at this timeAs you set up GA4 in your Google Analytics account, you should keep Universal Analytics running as well.
  • The time before July 1 is critical for comparing results and data sets, as well as exporting data from Universal Analytics.

How Can I Update My Google Analytics Configuration?

  • Consult the Google Analytics Help Center for instructions on migrating your configuration to GA4.
  • Direct links you might find helpful:
Make the Switch to GA4
GA4 Learning Path
GA4 Account Training Guide

Do I Need to Adjust Anything in My Listrak Account?

  • No, all tagging and Google Analytics settings can remain as-is within the Listrak platform.
  • You should ensure all UTM parameters in place are consistent with how you want to continue tagging your campaigns, and that Google Analytics is enabled at the account level for all your Listrak messaging channels.
  • UTM parameters should be used with every campaign sent out of Listrak for a clean reporting experience in Google Analytics.

How Will Listrak Help with Our Migration?

  • Listrak is not able to assist hands-on with onsite JavaScript and Google Tag Manager updates, but will try to answer questions as needed.
  • You can work with Listrak Support for any technical questions or issues you might have, and your Listrak Account Manager can assist with questions related to performance KPIs and reporting.

What Should I Look for Within GA4?

What Should I Review While GA4 And Universal Analytics Are Both Accessible?

  • Now’s the time to prioritize understanding the differences in KPIs between GA4 and Universal Analytics in your Google Analytics account.
  • Listrak recommends building different reports using the various attribution models to see the difference in performance results, as well as unpack the new data points available.
  • It’s an opportune time to re-evaluate digital marketing goals and expectations and ask questions.

What Is the New Definition of a Session in GA4? 

  • UTM parameters changing no longer create a new session, meaning email and SMS campaigns will not earn as much revenue attribution as they have in the past.
‘Welcome Series’ revenue, in particular, will decrease dramatically, even without any changes to your strategy.
  • The clock hitting midnight does not create a new session.
  • User and event data retention will default to 2 months.
Listrak recommends using the maximum value, which is 14 months, instead

What Is Different About GA4’s New Attribution Models?

  • Universal Analytics leveraged attribution based on last click, while GA4’s model is ‘data driven’.
  • One session can have multiple events, including orders.
  • Definition direct from Google

What Is Different About Bounces in GA4?

  • Bounces do not exist in GA4.
  • Instead, an ‘engaged session’ has the following criteria:
10+ seconds on a page, OR
1 completed event, OR
2+ screens/pageviews

What Are the Reporting Changes in GA4?

  • Reporting in GA4 requires customization by the end user and is more developer-centric.
  • While Universal Analytics had 70+ pre-made reports, GA4 has very few.
  • In GA4, you can create various forms of reports with access to all dimensions, metrics, and models with its improved customization functionality.
Make sure you’re pulling exactly what you want in precisely the right way, as not all variables work together or interact appropriately (with no disclaimers).
  • While expressions and filtering in Universal Analytics were ‘OR’ statements that were case insensitive, expressions in GA4 are an exact match and require (?i).* in front and .* at the end of filters to work in the same way; for example:
In Universal Analytics, the campaign regex of “welcome|cart” would include all welcome and cart campaigns regardless of lower or upper case.
In GA4 to accomplish the same it needs to be “(?i).*welcome.*|.*cart.*”

What Are the Biggest Campaign Changes I Can Expect to See In GA4 With New Attribution? 

  • There are five main channels in digital marketing: Paid Media (CPC), Direct, Organic Media (SEO), Owned Channels (Email/SMS/Push), and Social/Affiliate.
  • Since Google makes money in Paid Media, they wouldn’t introduce a new system where revenue attribution to Paid Media decreases.
  • Activity from Direct is a constant pillar, and Organic will shrink compared to Paid.
  • In general, even if split into more specific buckets, Paid Media revenue will increase while Owned Media (Email/SMS/Push) revenue will decrease.

How Should I Interpret These Changes in GA4 Attribution?

  • After you migrate to GA4 and view your new results, you need to understand the following:
Nothing changed about your budget overnight
Nothing changed about your consumers overnight
Nothing changed about your strategies overnight
  • Changes to attribution substantially shift revenue and activity, and Paid Media will appear to have a higher revenue share, to Google’s advantage.
  • It’s important to take a pause and not make any blind, drastic changes.
  • Take your time to continue to compare, test, and iterate – 
When you have a full YOY comparison, you can then start to make intelligent decisions in a new construct
Listrak’s comparative audit of GA4 and Universal Analytics should provide a better understanding of campaign and channel performance
We’ll help you set new goals and expectations for long-term performance, and provide conversion tables to view data as close to an apples-to-apples context

Which Email & SMS Campaigns Will See the Most Impact?

  • Based on the audits completed so far, Welcome Series, Transactional, and Post Purchase campaigns appear to see the most significant revenue delta with the change to GA4.
Clients can expect to see a change anywhere from +10% to -70% revenue, depending on the campaign.
  • Welcome Series in particular will be most impacted by the new session definition, as a user who signs up originally came to the website from a different channel.
Transactional and Post Purchase will likely also see significant impact
Marketing (Broadcast), Abandonment, and Alerts campaign will see less impact

Listrak understands Google’s move to GA4 brings a big change in how you analyze your digital marketing performance and overall business results – We’re here to help set you up for success. Reach out to your Account Manager for more details.

Additional Resources to Help You

This in-depth, hands-on demo webinar explains the differences between GA4 and UA data. Watch our experts pull, clean, and compare the data from both sources to understand the performance differences in a demo account.
With the start of GA4 on July 1, understand the differences between the systems and the significant changes GA4 brings in its attribution, reporting, and channel performance splits. Get best practices for setting up your new GA4 account and securing historical data.
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