{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Is Your Google Analytics 4 Implementation Correct?

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Is Your Google Analytics 4 Implementation Correct?

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss how to tell if a Google Analytics 4 implementation was done correctly, especially by a third party. What signs should you look for that things are set up for optimal performance? What are some warning signs to look for, even for the least-technical marketers? Tune in to find out!

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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Is Your Google Analytics 4 Implementation Correct?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:17

In today’s In-Ear Insights, we’re talking about Google Analytics 4 migration and how to know whether you’ve done it right.

And in particular, if you’ve brought in a third party, how to know if they did it right, so Katie, set the table, what’s the what are the concerns that you have about a lot of these, you know, migration, special status sort of popped out of the woodwork, as you say?

Katie Robbert 0:40

Well, I mean, that’s, that’s, a lot of it is all of a sudden, you know, I’m seeing everyone coming out saying, Well, I can help you.

And I’m a specialist, and I’m a specialist.

And, you know, I, I think that a lot of people can be knowledgeable in Google Analytics, Google Analytics, 4, it’s new, but it’s not new enough that people haven’t been studying it and experimenting with it, playing with it.

But I think that, because it is so new of a system, it’s harder for marketers to say, Yes, this person knows what they’re talking about, or no, this person is just going to take my money and set it up and say, I did what I was supposed to do is not my problem anymore, if it’s not working correctly, and sort of blame it on the website or something else.

So what I wanted to understand from you, Chris, because I know the second, Google announces anything, you jump on it, and start to like, you know, experiment with the new software, the system that data, those kinds of things.

So, you know, you’re the person I always sort of look to you to say, you know, is this BS or not? So what I want to understand is, what are some things that marketers who have hired migration specialists? What can they look forward to understand if Google Analytics 4 was set up correctly? You know, other than it’s collecting some kind of a date data set, you know, is, can I expect a one to one match between my Universal Analytics and Google Analytics? 4? For example, let’s start there.

Christopher Penn 2:17

I would actually say that you have the better answer to this question than I do.

Which, oh, dear, maybe a surprise to you.

But here’s why.

Google Analytics 4 still fundamentally has to perform the functions of you know, Web and Digital analytics, app analytics, things like that.

How you know, that you’ve worked with somebody who knows what they’re doing, is how much process time they spent with you upfront.

To understand your goals, to understand your governance to make recommendations about your governance, understand how you set things up to get the history of what you’ve done in the past.

So look at the existing account, ask questions like, Well, why is this set up this way? Who do you remember who set this up? And all that process and procedure upfront? means you’re going to get a better instance, when you’re done? I would be extremely wary of somebody who says, Okay, we’re gonna go in go to take your Google Analytics 3 migrate all the settings to Google Alex, well, you don’t have to do anything.

And we’ll tell you when it’s done.

Because we both know, there’s a lot of things that are on the people and the process side that informed the platform.

And if you don’t do those things, then you’re going to get Yes, a platform conversion, but you’re not going to be better off, right.

It’s like, you know, if I look at my furnace, my furnace has a control panel, some knobs, dials and buttons.

It’s not a super complicated piece of equipment, right? It’s not like it’s a rocket going to space.

But at the same time, I don’t know what the buttons do.

And so I should probably not just go start tinkering with them without at least trying to read the manual.

On the other hand, if you know when the the H vac guys come in to tune it up, they ask questions like, Are you happy with the water pressure? Are you happy with the water temperature? You know, does your shower get cold unexpectedly when someone flushes the toilet and stuff and then they tune the system based on my needs? And what I say you know, here’s here’s what’s going on.

And that’s the sign of good service of somebody who understands a platform and how it applies to is they ask a lot of questions even though it takes longer upfront.

You know, that to me is another indicator that I’d be a little bit wary is somebody saying oh yeah, I’ll be done and you know, 24 hours like okay, I mean, like Yeah, I can have somebody you know, just change the oil on my car really quickly, but if I if there’s something wrong with my car, I would like somebody with actual expertise to go you know, like your front right tire has no tread on it and you know, I don’t want to change the oil but that’s kind of glaringly obviously wrong.

Katie Robbert 4:59

Yeah, you know, I I think if we take a step back for like a hot second, I think the term migration is also the incorrect term because you’re not.

This was sort of the other piece that was bugging me about all of these migration specialists who suddenly appeared out of nowhere is that you’re not migrating the system.

I feel like it’s the wrong term.

Because to me, that implies that you’re moving everything from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, when Google has said, your data in three, your Universal Analytics and your data in four are separate, they’re different.

And so it’s not a migration, yes, you can copy settings.

But even the settings, the way it’s set up is different.

So you’re really not migrating anything, you really are starting new.

And so you’re exactly right, Chris.

So if someone doesn’t sit down with you and say, let’s talk through how you use this system, let’s talk through why it was set up this way in the first place, the things you want to change how you want to do it differently.

Now, it’s a missed opportunity to get it right.

Because what we know from working with a lot of clients on their Google Analytics is Universal Analytics was maybe set up one way, like five years ago, but the business has evolved, the system has evolved.

So setting up Google Analytics 4 is an opportunity to evolve your data collection system with the needs of the business today, not the needs of the business five years ago, even you know, we went through a revamp of our Google Analytics at the end of last year.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if we went through it again, at the end of this year, having collected a year’s worth of data one way saying, Does this work? Does this not work? Let’s update it.

Again, I’m already seeing room for improvement in our own data.

And it’s only been three months.

Christopher Penn 6:56


And this there is, you know, obviously, some very technical stuff that happens under the hood, like understanding which metrics translate to which which just don’t exist anymore.

There’s also technical technical pieces that don’t translate over.

For example, in GA three, there’s this thing called Custom task that allows you to send data in certain types of data into GA three, it doesn’t exist in GA four, it’s not there.

So yet there are different workarounds.

But those are typically very specialized cases.

And that’s part of that upfront.

Audit and investigation is to say like, okay, there’s these things that are in Tag Manager here.

What are they for? Do you know what they’re for? Do you know why they’re there? Even just over the weekend, I was messing around with my martial arts teachers GA for account.

You know, is he’s a sole proprietor school, I mean, I do his all his stuff, pro bono, because you can’t afford our services.

And but even just basic stuff like that, like things like putting your client ID or your session ID into GA for because not there, by default.

You got to do it different ways.

Now for you know, there also will be things that you have to do your due diligence and ask, okay, like, Yo, what is this thing used for? So we make some customizations to our GFR accounts and our clients GFR accounts based on stuff that we do.

And we’re not actually going to have a an entire toolkit of stuff that is, you know, clients won’t necessarily need it.

But we will need that data in order to be able to you to build and use our services on those accounts.

And so, a big question when you’re going in and looking at these accounts is like, Okay, well, how was the setup? Why was the setup, you know, this these ways, things like storing all of your data, you know, one of the things that we’ve been telling people is you need, if you want to be able to do multi year look backs, at a granular level, you need to do the BigQuery link, you need to copy your data, because Google Analytics has a Maximum storage time in GA for 14 months for event level data, you will still get roll ups, you know, your your roll ups, but you will not be able to drill down into the past 14 months, unless you have the BigQuery integration turned on.

And then you got to export the data from BigQuery and process it offline, because Google is not going to have that in the interface.

So there are there are little technical things.

But if a marketer doesn’t have the technical background to begin with, then looking for them to determine if your migration was good or not, will kind of be an exercise in futility.

Better to say how much process was done up front, right, how much investigation and asking what your needs are.

Because the other thing is, when you look at Tag Manager, for example, and the ways that you can do goals now, which I’ll call conversions.

There are different ways to track those conversions.

Now, there may be better ways than than what has existed in the past simply because you’re now doing everything at the event level, and so on.

that upfront deep dive should be okay.

Well, how exactly you know, what exactly is a conversion to you in this new world? Do you have a mobile app, and then you start getting into who your company is in charge of the mobile app and things like that.

And so you’ll get lots of rat holes to go diving into.

Katie Robbert 10:21

You know, so you just hit upon the, I think the two things that, you know, marketers, even if they don’t have the technical understanding of how Google Analytics 4 works, that they can absolutely sort of look out for as terms of like, red flags, that the person that they’ve hired, maybe, you know, is shortcutting them.

So one is, you know, is there a big query instance set up in order to export your data from Google Analytics, 3, Universal Analytics, and also Google Analytics 4? Because what we know from what Google has told us is that your historic Google Analytics 3, your Universal Analytics data will not be available forever.

And so if you hire someone, and they say, you know, if you ask them like, Well, how do I access my data, and they just say, you can’t, you know, it’s going to be gone, or you know, you can’t export it, then that’s a red flag, you should be able to get your data out and put it into BigQuery.

Christopher Penn 11:23

You I mean, you can, I guess, use BigQuery as a storage mechanism, but you to get your data at GA three, you have to export it from the API and put it someplace else, it doesn’t have to be a big way.

But it’s not something you can do in the interface itself.

Big great linking is only for Universal Analytics, 360 and GA four.

So, you know, the thing that people are asking, which we can’t do presently, is you can’t take your existing data and put it into the new GA, for instance, it just cannot happen.

Katie Robbert 11:52


So that I guess that’s what I was saying.

I wasn’t saying you could just magically put everything together.

But a good specialist or consultant should be able to help you get all of your existing data out of three, put it somewhere, whether it’s big gray, but also for Google Analytics, 4, set up that big query instance, because Chris, to your point, the time limit in terms of which it stores, the data does expire after 14 months in terms of that event level data.

And so those are the kinds of questions you want to be asking is, well, how can I access my data long term? You know, how do I get my historic Universal Analytics data helped me export that out of the system? Because again, as Google said, like, as of right now, it’s only going to be available for six months after that cutoff date.

And so how do you get that up? And then the other thing that, you know, you can ask and look for, in terms of the person that you’re bringing on is about those goals.

So Chris, you had mentioned that now in Google Analytics, 4 goals, which are now called conversions, you know, interchangeably, have to be event based.

And so if the person you bring on to help you set up, this new system isn’t talking to you about your goals, and what they are and what they entail and how you use them.

And how do you convert them from whatever they are destination to event, you know, whatever the setup is, that’s also a red flag.

Christopher Penn 13:24


And if you if you’re curious, over on the Trust Insights YouTube channel, we actually have like a 14 minute video on just how to set up a goal in GA four.

So if that’s something of interest, just head on over the Trust Insights, YouTube channel to go to trust insights.ai/youtube, and it’s in our videos.

The other thing that I’m seeing this very interesting right now, and is more for advanced implementations, at least for the time being, is I’m starting to see people talking about exporting the data from GA three, into a different analytic system.

So in one of the slack groups that were in, you know, some folks are starting to look at the matomo, the free open source software, and import using a data importer to essentially take the data out of GA four and put a GA three and push it into Atomos database, which is really just a MySQL database on the back end.

And that’s very interesting, particularly for people like me, where I’ve got 14 years of Google Analytics data, and I don’t want to lose access to it.

If I can push that into an open source system, then it’s mine forever, right? For as long as I continue to pay for the hosting for my database, if I have my data forever.

And so one of the things, again, to look for in implementation consultants and stuff is to ask, okay, well, how do you handle situations like this? What’s what’s the process? Because, again, even if you don’t understand the technology, like if you don’t know the difference between BigQuery and MySQL, it doesn’t matter.

The the bigger question is, how does a service or an agency whatever address the questions that people are most likely to have? And how thorough are those answers and I know the answers that would be you would consider acceptable answers, like you said, Katie just tells me Nope, can’t do that.

Sorry, is not the best answer.

There, there will be resource constraints.

Like, you know, for example, if I was paying to have my GA three instance, moved to matomo, it would probably cost me 50 grand to do that, because you have to get the converters provision the databases do all the, you know, the translation stuff.

But you know, the, the joke we always say in sales is the answer is never know, the answer is how much are you willing to pay?

Katie Robbert 15:37

Well, and I think that sometimes the answer will be no, to your point, a resource constrained, but the person that you’re working with needs to be able to explain to you why the answer is no, not just, nope, can’t do it.

And so, for example, if they say, Nope, can’t get your data out of Google Analytics 3.

Sorry, you’re screwed.

A quick Google search a quick, you know, internet search can tell you that it is possible.

But Chris, to your point, it’s going to take some work.

And so, again, those are sort of things to like double check on.

What other questions could marketers be asking about Google Analytics? 4? What about things like, Data Studio? You know, is it still a seamless integration between Google analysts, analytics 4 and Data Studio like? So let’s say Chris, I came to you.

And I said, you know, I have all these reports.

In Google Analytics 3, can you just go ahead and replicate them using my new Google Analytics 4 instance? If you if you look at me square in the eye and go, yep, not a problem.

I know you’re lying.

Christopher Penn 16:52

It’s true.

The answer to that question is always It depends.

It depends on what reports you’ve got, what variables they use, and what dimensions What metric, because again, there are 520 dimensions and Universal Analytics dimensions in metrics, right? There are 210 in GA for there’s 300, that Google did not port over, for a variety of reasons.

One, because they move to the event model, some metrics are no longer necessary.

Like for example, things like you know, that if a tree hit scoped variables, and and session scope, variables and stuff is largely moot, because everything is an event now.

So that changes the data model the underlying data model.

But more to the point that, like I said, there are some things that just don’t exist.

And as a result, yes, you can replicate them in Data Studio.

But you might have to do some very fancy footwork behind the scenes to make it happen.

So for example, pathing reports, they used to be these variables called previous page one, previous page two, previous page three, etc.

That will tell you the steps before a conversion in GA three, those are gone.

So if you had a report that was showing people, here’s how the state the pages before conversion happen, you can still do that.

But you have to take you have on the back end outside of Data Studio, you need to write code that will take data out of BigQuery, summarize it, process it group it by page and stuff like that, and then put that into a separate BigQuery table, that then Data Studio can read the summary table and get the same effect, you will still get the same data, but the process to get the data is substantially longer and much less pleasant.

Other reports, you know, very simple ones, like how many visitors do we get this month? Yes, those are straightforward reports to? Well, actually, that’s not true.

The user summarization models change too.

So for example, you will see active users and total users within the GA for metrics and stuff.

And so depending on the use case, and what you’re trying to report on, you may want to use one or other of those metrics.

The same was true for source, medium, source medium, and GA three was a session level variable.

There are now three different sets of source mediums in GA four.

So there’s first a user acquisition source and medium which is what is the source medium that the user was first acquired by regardless of the session? There’s session source medium, which is the source medium for that session.

And then there is source medium, which is the conversion source medium, so the source medium at the time of conversion.

And so depending on what you’ve essentially got there is Google sort of almost baked in first and last touch into the GA for Data API itself, which is what shows a Data Studio.

But the question is, then are you trying to understand how you got the user? Are you trying to understand the last touch before conversion, or you’re trying to understand the impact of marketing say at the session level, like what got somebody to come in that day? So again, like with GA for is analytics, a bit Part of the work with Data Studio is spending time upfront talking to the user asking them, What does this report supposed to do? What is the intent of this report? What decisions does it help you make? If you’re trying to judge marketing effectiveness for traffic, you’re going to use session source media.

If you’re trying to determine, you know, sort of long term user perspective, you’re gonna use first user source, meaning trying to do to do that last touch within the set within that conversion, you’re going to use the conversion source medium.

So you’ve got three different ones.

Again, depending on how fancy you want to get, you can actually and this is something that we’re looking at doing.

Is it building our digital customer journey model using all three of those essentially, you know, to build a really nice multi touch model that the little little faster.

But in Data Studio, what’s the what’s the variable? If you’re doing e commerce, oh, my goodness, good luck to you.

Because Google, like literally last week, just pushed in 22 new variables for ecommerce, we’re like, Why were these not in at launch, like item price like that seems like I should have been in launch.

So you know, pro tip, by the way, if you are, every time you load Data Studio, actually, I say, once a quarter, when you load Data Studio, go to your Manage Data Sources menu, go to any existing data source and hit refresh fields.

And you may be surprised at what new things appear because Data Studio does not automatically do that.

Katie Robbert 21:27

So long story short, universal Landal analytics and Google Analytics 4 are not a one to one in terms of the data that you are, you know, presenting in Data Studio.

So you know, that we now know, another, you know, question that you can ask or another thing to look out for, is if your specialist or consultant is not talking with you about UTM governance.

So, you know, Chris, you just talk through, you know, three different places where source medium, are you so it’s not, you know, just one, you know, slap on the channel grouping, and you’re done.

Channel grouping as of right now doesn’t exist as a setting that you can tweak in Google Analytics 4.

Therefore, you are 1,000% reliant on getting your source medium, your UTM tagging, correct in order to understand where all of these, you know, users and traffic is coming from.

And if your specialist isn’t talking with you about that governance and the proper way to do that, then that’s also a red flag, then that means that they are not aware that you can’t reset the channel groupings.

And even if you could, you still need good UTM governance because resetting the Shanell groupings in the system does not guarantee 100% correct data.

Christopher Penn 22:51

Exactly right.

The other thing, like for example, other things have gone in the opposite direction, one of the things that we’ve had to do in in Data Studio reports in the past is right, a query parameter filter.

Because again, if you got a bunch of, you know, a question mark and a bunch of stuff afterwards, in GA three, that would create different pages for each of those things.

It made things very, very messy.

In GA for Google does that automatically.

So they now have page path page, width, queries, page location.

And so they’ve, they’ve actually got like five different page variables now.

So depending on the one you want to use, you have to have those special filters and edits and undo that kind of governance and GA for anyway, we actually can’t do it.

But the in the data model, they’ve changed how they collect that data to avoid that problem.

So again, it’s one of those things where, if you’re, if you’re trying to do a one to one from a previous Data Studio report to the current one, you got to be careful which of the variables you use, depending on things like your CMS, like we have one client that uses query parameters for their support forums, right.

So they have these whole discussion boards, and they have, you know, post id and whatever.

And in those cases, they would want to report on the query path parameters, because it’s different posts in their forums.

Otherwise, it’ll just be one big blob, and other for other customers.

That’s not the case.

They want to get rid of those things.

So they can get a summary view of just the pages on their website, because they don’t use that in their CMS.

So that’s another case of how well does your implementation specialist know, not GA for but know your business? And how you do things from a technical perspective, like on the Trust Insights website.

We don’t use query path parameters except when we do there are certain times Sure, there are certain times we do so like in some of our newsletters will have a one click poll, you know, just click the answer you want and that will use a query path parameter, all that most of the time we don’t.

So depending on if we had a database to report on on the polls in our newsletters.

We would want to use the page path with query as the as the variable in Data Studio, all the times, we just want the page path in Data Studio.

And so it’s very interesting inside the model how it works.

Another thing that’s kind of funky is, in the old days, you’d have to write a filter for ga 40 to prepend, the domain name.

So it would be slash home would be what would show up in GA three, unless you made this filter addition would say, www trust insights.ai/home.

Now, because the page location that’s already built into GA four, so there’s no need to have that filter in place, because it’s already in the data.

So that, again, falls in the category of how do you use the product successfully, if you’ve got multiple domains, if you gotta if your company has multiple domains, now, knowing how the backend variables work, it’s a lot less work to set up GA for a good reporting on that, then it is, you know, in the previous version, but you’ve got to know the customers business.

Katie Robbert 26:02

So it sounds like really, the bottom line is, if you’re looking to bring on someone to help you set up Google Analytics, 4.

They need to be spending time with you and getting those user stories, the business requirements, the technical requirements, you know, understanding the goals, the KPIs, how do you use this? So anyone who says to you, yeah, sure, I can set up exactly like Google Analytics 3 is set up, just give me you know, a week and $5,000, you’re going to get ripped off because they’re not setting it up, based on what you need today.

And the systems are not one to one.

The other thing that we didn’t cover, we don’t need to get into detail is, you know, if they say, okay, yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and remove your you Universal Analytics, I’m just gonna go ahead and delete that you don’t need that anymore.

Stop what you’re doing.

Like, don’t let them do that you want to keep both systems running up until the point that Google says you can’t, so that you can collect data in both systems to be doing that QA between the two.

Christopher Penn 27:07


And again, one of the things we advise is have a third party system, you know, like the matomo, open source system, or plausible or any of the open source systems.

Just to to to fact check it to make sure that a the implementation is done correctly, and be that you’re getting a mostly apples to apples with what’s actually happened.

If you using a system like a CDN, like CloudFlare, or Akamai, for example.

They will have raw user accounts as well.

And you can see like, is there a dramatic Is there a dramatic unexplainable difference between the two, we use that we happen to use Cloudflare.

And there’s actually a four and a half x difference between what Cloudflare sees and what Google Analytics sees.

And the first time I dug into that, like, wow, that’s a pretty big difference.

And then I started looking at digging in.

And that huge difference is because of bots, garbage traffic, there’s so much garbage traffic bouncing off of Cloudflare that we’re like, we get a much better, much better data quality up front.

So, again, that’s one of those questions that a good implementation specialist is going to ask you say, Okay, do you have a CDN, or reverse proxy server or something? If so, do use it for measurement as well, because and if you don’t have one, you probably should know that this is outside scope of GA four.

But from a data security perspective, I would be very uncomfortable if a company did not have some kind of upfront, you know, DNS level CDN so that your website itself was was secure.

From when people are trying to hack into a new ad, and pharmacy ads all over it.

At the end of the day, the more time somebody spends getting to know it’s like going to the doctor, right? The more time a doctor or nurse spends asking you questions and trying to get a complete picture what’s going on? I’m running some diagnostics, the better diagnosis you’re gonna get.

Can you imagine walk into the doctor’s office? He looks at you for two seconds goes, Okay, well go schedule your surgery for the seventh, like, oh, what’s going on here? That’s just not how that works.

I mean,

Katie Robbert 29:11

if your leg is like hanging on by attendant, and yeah, probably, he can probably just look at you and just know.

But yeah, you’re right.

For the most part, you want someone who’s going to spend some time getting to know you getting to know your business, getting to know your goals.

So that really is the key to understanding if the person that you’re working with is setting things up correctly.

So that’s sort of the first part and then we’ve talked through some of the technical things that you can be looking for, to see if things were set up correctly or not.

And so, you know, good news.

If you’re looking for help, that’s something that Chris and I do and we will be happy to spend time with you.

Learning about your business, understanding your user stories, you know, challenging you on really defining measurable KPIs.

We’re happy to do all of that stuff.

And then Chris will Then tinker with everything and set it up and make it all nice and nice, and you don’t need to worry about it.

Christopher Penn 30:06

The other thing I forgot to mention is look for, asked what the checklist looks like, you know, for the migration, like we have a long ass checklist of stuff.

I’m just reading through it here.

So like, section three of the checklist is called the legal and shit.

Because does the authorizing party have legal right to accept DEP and other binding agreements? If no flag those that you know, the implementation is blocked until it’s done? What is the data retention period required? What agreements govern the company, you know, GDPR, CCPA, CPIP IPL? What is the NAICS code for the industry in the industry, what additional legal constraints you know fit FERPA etc.

So there’s a whole section in our checklist of just the legal stuff that you need to have in place in order to do a migration properly.

Because if somebody goes in and just checks yes to everything, they are signing legal agreements on your behalf with Google, that your legal team may not necessarily want you to be doing.

So even something like that is a procedural thing that that needs to happen.

And that’s again, part of the process.

I think I would leave with this.

Ga three, which has been around in some form, really, since 2005, really was intended and engineered for small to midsize businesses.

Right? It was is it has been sort of the small businesses best friend.

Ga for when you look at the architecture and how its implemented really is a mid sized enterprise product, even if it’s being positioned as for everybody.

The reality is like with my martial arts teacher, it’s not for small business, the complexity of it makes it very difficult for small business to get up and running.

And so the processes and procedures and governance and due diligence you have to do upfront to set up these two systems is different.

You don’t have to do a lot of upfront with my teachers martial arts school, he just needs to know how many people visit a website.

That’s it.

The due diligence that you need to do to make GA for work, well be in compliance stuff is enterprise level.

And so you want to make sure that the the folks that you’re working with whoever you choose, has some experience with that and has an experience walking you through what enterprise level governance looks like.

Katie Robbert 32:26

Alright, well, lots to look for.

You know, make sure you whoever you’re bringing on you are doing your due diligence and checking them out and asking them questions, and then make sure that they are in exchange asking you just as many questions about your business.

Christopher Penn 32:42


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Thanks for tuning in.

I will talk to you soon.

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