“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Jessica Jacobs, global director of partnerships and growth at Incubeta.
Google launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4) back in October 2020 to unify digital web and app analytics. Its push toward the new solution underscores the need for advertisers to implement a data strategy built on first-party data. But now the question is whether brands should prioritize the switch to GA4 before the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA) in July 2023 and what this transition means.
The platform provides numerous benefits including cookieless measurement, built-in predictive audiences, cross-platform customer-journey analysis and direct integration with media-buying platforms. Though marketers might not have to make the leap just yet, the sooner they transition, the more runway they’ll have to test and familiarize themselves with these capabilities.
Where GA4 goes beyond Universal Analytics
GA4 was engineered as a response to legislation such as GDPR and CCPA, making it purpose-built to respect user privacy regardless of region. Some of these new privacy protections include a consent mode in Google tag manager, which stops tracking tags from being fired on opted-out users. Additionally, GA4 hides IP addresses by design, doubling down on Google’s initiatives to protect user data identifiers.
The platform uses built-in machine learning to model the data of opted-out users based on the tracked behavior of opted-in users and historical trends and behavior. Even without tracked audience data, GA4 can infer the behavior of opted-out users.
GA4 also provides marketers with the ability to connect audiences throughout their entire journey, improving on existing GA capabilities and introducing new data-science features like predicted churn and lifetime value across devices as well.
Make the switch while third-party cookies are still available
Although third-party cookies are still around, marketers need to reexamine their strategies now and build a more robust first-party audience approach.
The first thing to consider when transitioning is that GA4 comes with a different data model than UA. That means it will require rethinking what and how data will need to be collected.
By transitioning while cookies are still present, marketers will not only start to build a strong baseline of data; they can also compare results by running Audiences from UA and GA4 simultaneously.
Test and adapt
Once you’ve made the move to GA4, prepare to test constantly. Take advantage of this runway before the sunsetting of UA.
GA4 is a new, still-evolving platform, which can pose a different set of challenges for marketers. GA4 is not a one-to-one swap for UA. Taking time to understand the nuances and configuring the platform to work best for individual needs can yield major dividends down the road.