{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Planning a Google Analytics 4 Migration

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Planning a Google Analytics 4 Migration

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss the newly-released Google Analytics 4. At a high level, what should marketers be thinking about? How soon should they migrate? Are some companies better suited for it than others? All these questions and more answered in this episode.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

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In this week’s In-Ear Insights we are talking about the brand spanking new—but not really—Google Analytics, and I will say not really because they’ve had it as a differently named product for the last year or so in beta for people to try. It is now available. And it is now the new shiny object in marketing analytics.

So Katie, here’s the thing, people are going to log into the GA account, they’re going to see that banner, they’re gonna go, “Oh, crap, what do we do? Is this important? How do we handle this?” And certainly, from a technical aspect, there are some pretty big changes in how the application works. But how should people be thinking about how to manage the change itself? How do they know whether it’s important to them or not? How do they communicate with their stakeholders?

Katie Robbert: Well, I think you categorized it correctly when you called it a new shiny object. And shiny objects tend to be distractions. That doesn’t mean that shiny objects shouldn’t be paid attention to, but they tend to distract away from what you’re actually doing on a day-to-day basis. In this instance, what we want to discourage people from doing is abandoning their current Google Analytics in favor of Google Analytics 4, which we actually recommend. And what Google recommends is that you run both views in parallel and have both views collecting data because they are set up a little bit differently. But ultimately, the outcomes should be the same, you should be able to get the same data out of both systems. How you go about getting that data is going to look a little different. That’s the difference between Classic and 4.

I think one of the things that we know, just from the work that we do, is that a lot of companies are still struggling with the basics of Google Analytics and having Google Analytics set up in the first place. So to have this new shiny object to distract them from getting the basic setup is, to me, problematic because that means that the basics won’t be set up correctly. They’ll just sort of try to do this new thing over here. But we also know that in technology, while the lifecycle to get things out the door is very rapid, the lifecycle to adopt the new technology actually takes a few years. So I’m not so fussed about the fact that Google Analytics 4 came out. I think people have time, and they should take their time to learn the system.

You asked me a bunch of questions in there, Chris, about change management and letting the executives know, but I feel like we need to start with the PSA of ‘Don’t abandon Google Analytics Classic for Google Analytics 4.’

CP: I think that’s right because version 4 is a very different creature. There are clearly applications where it makes sense to move sooner rather than later. Like if you have a web property and a mobile app, you’re on the list of ‘sooner rather than later’ because the measuring capabilities are much better for people who have both. So that’s an easy prioritization method for prioritizing whether it’s right for you or not. Although the system overall has us thinking about analytics in a different way. We typically think of it in three or four different ways. We think of the hit or the page view, we think of the session, the things that people do in one sitting, we think of the user, and we think of the products. Those are the four units of measurement that we look at in traditional Google Analytics.

In the new version all that is gone to the point where it’s events only. So something happening is what is considered the sole unit of tracking and that’s a very different way of thinking, because instead, the closest analogy I can come up with is, instead of courses of a meal—appetizer, entree, dessert, and drinks, which we would measure and value differently—it’s like moving entirely to ingredients. It doesn’t matter where the ingredient occurs in the menu, it’s in there. So we have to make sense of it. And one of the things I think is going to be very challenging for people in the new version is that a lot of the canned reports and things you could look at, like acquisitions, are gone. They’ve been replaced by what’s called the analysis hub, where you can build your own, and mix and match all these different measures together. It’s a lot more flexible, but in some ways, it’s a lot more daunting. If you’re not already an analytics pro, if you’re a standard business user who logs in like once a month, or you’re a small business owner who logs in once a month just to see what’s going on in the website, you’re gonna log in to the new version and go, “Now what do I do?”

That’s why I was asking about the change management because it’s gonna be a major change of mindset for people, but it’s also going to be a substantial process change for them to have a totally different way of doing things now.

KR: So let’s say in the example you have a business owner who goes in once a month. If this fictional person only goes in once a month to look at their data, why is Google Analytics 4 such a big deal in terms of change? I guess my question to play devil’s advocate is, If people aren’t using Classic, why would they bother to use 4? For a lot of people, it’s just sort of a check the box Yes, it’s hooked up to their website, but then they don’t do anything with it.

CP: For people with existing websites and existing accounts, you’re right, that’s not going to be as nearly as big of a deal. But if you are, say, a new business owner and you’ve just started your own startup, and you go into Google Analytics and sign up for a new account, you get 4 by default. And then when you go to ask for help, people would be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, just set up goals.” And you go in and you look for goals and you’re like, “I can’t find goals, what are you talking about?” So there’s a lot of that disparity between the two.

What I think we’re seeing is, Google has taken what used to be a monolithic application and split it into three pieces. There is Tag Manager, which is now sort of the configuration engine because things like goals don’t even exist in Google Analytics 4 anymore. There’s Google Analytics, which is the app analysis engine that does all the processing.
And then there’s Data Studio, which is rapidly becoming the visualization engine. I think that is splitting up a lot of those roles and pushing the power of one application into three, Google is changing how its architecture works. And for the average user, that’s not something they have been told, that’s not something that they know, to think about the system that way.

It’s on people like us, companies like ours, to advise people like that small business owner who logs in once a month, “Hey, Google Analytics probably isn’t the right place for you to be hanging out in. You should probably be hanging out at Google Data Studio instead.” Because you can get the data there but then make the reports that are canned and tuned for your business for what you need them to be. And that’s where we would like them to go eventually. Like, “Yeah, you do your stuff and Data Studio will manage the analysis engine, will manage the configuration so that you don’t have to,” because, frankly, for most people, it is not the best use of their time.

KR: So while we don’t recommend it, you can technically run the current classic Google Analytics without Tag Manager. Again, we do not recommend that you take that route. It sounds like with Google Analytics 4 you really can’t run without Tag Manager, because Tag Manager in Google Analytics 4 is where you set up your goals. It’s where you set up all of your events, and all of your actions and things that you want to collect data on. Whereas in classic Google Analytics, you set up all your goals in the admin and you can run it without using Tag Manager at all.

When I think about training and education, I think that’s going to be one of the more difficult things because Google Analytics is technical but you can kind of wrap your head around it. When you start to get into Tag Manager it’s a whole different training course through Google Academy, and its containers and variables and regex, and all of those different things feel more technical to Google Analytics, even though they’re roughly the same level of technicality. So I think that’ll be one of the bigger shifts and the things in terms of change management that marketers are going to have to wrap their heads around. Not only do they have to learn Google Analytics, but they also now have to learn and wrap their heads around Tag Manager. Whereas before they could kind of skate by without having to do too much with Tag Manager, knowing that their data was good enough.

In terms of communicating it to the executives, I don’t think it needs to be an overwhelming or overly complicated conversation. It’s, “Hey, Google Analytics, just rolled out this new updated version, I’m going to set up another view that runs in parallel with what we’re currently collecting. So that at some point, when they shut off Google Analytics Classic, we won’t have lost any data because we’re running this other one in parallel. Cool. Okay, thanks, bye, going to go back to do my job now.” Like, it doesn’t need to be a huge thing. And I think that’s sort of the other PSA: It’s not a big deal. Don’t make it into a big deal. Just set up a new view and turn it on, and just let it run in the background and keep doing what you’re doing with classic because, again, that’s going to be around for another few years.

We still know that there’s a lot of companies that aren’t even using any sort of proper tracking system at all. So to suddenly start switching them over to this more advanced thing is just not going to happen overnight.

CP: Yeah, exactly. And Google will definitely be keeping classic around, likely for at least a couple of years, possibly longer than that. I mean, they had the old legacy around for like five years, the old legacy tracking tags and stuff. So it’s not something people need to worry about being an immediate thing.

What I do foresee happening is classical essentially going into maintenance mode. It’ll keep running but you won’t get the new stuff there. So as new features and innovations come up they will likely be put into 4. And if there are things that would be of clear benefit to your company, you may have to make that move when those features are announced. You may, for example, want better cross-device tracking, if you suddenly find out that 60% of your audience’s on mobile devices. Now you gotta go that route. Or if your company comes up with a mobile app, well now you’re sort of having that change pushed on you a little bit faster.

So when we think about the change itself, how does the individual marketer think about what they should be doing? I’m thinking back to our days in the agency world, when we had to be responsible for the training of our own team and helping them communicate changes. And this is a fairly big change to communicate. How do people do that gracefully? Because obviously, when I ran the team, I did it poorly. (Laughs.)

KR: Well, I was gonna say you’re calling it a fairly big change in this big change, and you’re going against what I just said, which is don’t overcomplicate it; don’t overthink it. So that’s number one. Stop overwhelming people with this notion that it’s this huge change that they have to do right now. It’s funny, I think we were saying last week that I felt like it’s kind of like Y2K. Everyone’s getting all hyped up over Y2K and then you wake up on January 1st, and literally, nothing’s changed. I think this is very much the same. It’s not that you don’t need to not pay attention to it, you do. But you don’t need to drop everything to suddenly get skilled up on it.

The Google Analytics certification I just took on Friday, for example. This is post GA 4 being announced. The Google Analytics certification is still all based around classic Google Analytics, they have separate training for GA 4. But if you’re thinking about education, and if you’re thinking about training certifications, classic Google Analytics is still very valid and still very important to get skilled up on, and actually having that foundational knowledge of how the current system works is going to help you then transition into GA 4 eventually. Not overnight, but eventually.

If you’re working on education with your team, there’s already GA 4 training courses available through Google getting the view set up. But again, set it up, let it run in the background and then maybe once a month, you pull up both views, and you look at them side by side to say, “Are they collecting the same type of data? Did I set it up correctly?” Then eventually, you start to do more closer comparisons like week over week, day by day to see if you are getting the right thing. That way you don’t just forget the old one and switch to the new one, you have to do that side by side and keep them running side by side for a while, and I mean at least a good year so that you can say, “I’m confident that this other system is set up correctly to collect the data the same way that the first one was.”

CP: The one thing I would say might be an alternative is that if you feel like your analytics, infrastructure and your processes are not in good condition, this might be a good forcing function to maybe speak about it as though it could be a bigger deal, so that your stakeholders may say, “Yeah, we need to reevaluate our KPIs. We need to reevaluate what we measure, we need to reevaluate the quality of our data and our marketing technology infrastructure. We need to reevaluate the training of our team.” So there’s a potential there, not to cause panic, but to say, “We know we have deficiencies, we know we are behind, we know things are not working as well. This is a good excuse to make it a thing within the company in order to create those people and process changes that will lead to growth.” And you use G4 as the excuse to get people to say, “Yeah, we haven’t looked at our goals in three years. We don’t even know if they work anymore. We just kind of look at the website and hope the numbers keep going up.”

I feel like there’s certainly a good chunk of businesses out there that are in that condition.

KR: I agree with you. I think that is a good excuse to get the train back on the tracks. But the other side of me is saying that if you have to use this as an excuse to get the train back on the tracks, there are probably bigger issues going on. You know, you should be evaluating your goals at least once a year. You should be evaluating your KPIs at least once a year. You should be evaluating your people and your processes at least once a year, probably more often. So if you have to wait for a new version of software to come out as an excuse to get these things working correctly, then perhaps it’s symptomatic of a bigger issue.

But for the sake of this podcast, Chris, you’re right. That is a good reason for people to sort of rally around the cause and say, “You know what, this is a great opportunity for us to rethink what it is that we’re doing. So let’s use this as the catalyst for that.”

CP: Yep. So to wrap up, is Google Analytics 4 the next big thing? It is, from a Google Analytics perspective. Is it an immediate thing? Absolutely not. Is it something that you should have a strategy around and a migration plan? Yes. Should you be taking Google’s free course to get knowledgeable about it? Absolutely. It’s free, you have nothing to lose. And should you be looking at your marketing analytics infrastructure on a regular basis and tuning it up? 100%

If you have questions that we didn’t answer in this episode about this or anything else, go over to our free Slack group at TrustInsights.ai/analyticsformarketers. You can chat with up to 1300 other folks who are interested in marketing analytics and of course, if you have not subscribed to the podcast, go to TrustInsights.ai/tipodcast.

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you soon.
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