Having a tough time with the transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? You’re not alone, says Alex Lirtsman, co-founder of the marketing agency Ready Set Rocket and founder and CEO of marketing/BI platform Corral Data. As such, he has seen how big and small companies are handling the switchover.
We sat down with Alex and asked him about that and other things related to GA4. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Q: What do you think of GA4?
A: Bluntly, Google really botched this one. They had plenty of time to get GA4 right. And you know, last minute there was a little bit of a hustle on their end to fix or add things. I think that’s also why they didn’t turn off Universal Analytics when they said that they would because I feel they knew that this got botched. They made the user experience of GA4 way less intuitive than UA was.
My perspective is twofold; one is as a data platform vendor. We have 350 connectors, UA and GA4 are the number one and two connectors on the platform. I would say 80% of our clients are using UA and GA4. So I have a front-row seat to the stress that GA4 has induced. And then, on the other end, I’m also a co-founder of a digital agency, and we’re seeing a very similar stress thing there with our clients.
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Q: What’s causing the stress?
A: Outside of the core fundamentals, it’s a completely different product. The way that we talk about it with marketers is, “Hey, it’s like going from CDs to a streaming service. Where in the past a CD had all the music on it and that’s sort of the equivalent of sessions. Then you went into a streaming service where you could pick the songs that you want and that’s your playlist and that’s sort of events. They both create music, but it’s a completely different approach.”
What marketers want to know is “How do I move my UA data into GA4?”Well, you can’t. You could export your UA data and then you could sort of look at it in Sheets, but you can’t actually import it into GA4. To fill the hole, we use a lot of AI to pull in both your UA and GA4 data into your data warehouse. Then, when you’re doing any comparisons year-over-year, we say this is the cut-off to look at UA versus going to look at GA4 data, but it’s all in the same data warehouse. But if you’re on your own, it’s really export it into Google Sheets or an Excel file and then do your own comparisons
Q: How have people been handling the transition to GA4?
A: You know, I’m shocked at how many companies waited till the last minute to migrate. They are still freaking out about it. We’ve been having conversations with clients for the past year about the switch and obviously, for our customers we could just move people to GA4. That’s a lot of what our team’s been doing over the last year.
On the enterprise side, we get, “We have not dealt with this, how do we deal with this?” The calculation for a lot of brands was, yes, it’s important for us to migrate to GA4 but they didn’t realize what that would mean. So some team made the migration or an agency made the migration and someone at the company is logging in for the first time and they’re like, “What is this? Where’s my old data?”
Q: But UA had to go, right?
A: It had to change. Absolutely. It had to change because we’re in a mobile-first world where we are not dealing with sessions anymore. Everything is event-based. But I also think GA4 is essentially a lot more flexible. It literally allows you to track every single interaction and then you make of it what you want. You’re getting every single part of the user stream, and you’re getting it across devices.
The challenge for marketers is they’ve been used to doing it one way. The UI is not intuitive and a lot of the naming conventions have gone away. So bounce rate, for example, it’s engagement rate. If you’re a marketer and you’re used to doing the same thing for the last decade and now not only are you forced to make the shift, but the naming conventions are completely different, and some of your reports that used to work no longer work because you can’t use the same measurements. There’s a learning curve and just a mindset shift. Google could have made a stronger case about why this is going to be better for you.Q: The other thing that gets lost in all the complaining is you can’t beat the price point.
A: Yes, that is true. But free doesn’t do any good if people stop using it. There are people that are gonna figure it out and they’re gonna use tools data and they’re gonna work with agencies to build out all the reporting for them. There is a category of people who got into UA that just will not use an event-based analytics platform to make decisions. We’re going to lose a chunk of people who really will sort of disengage from being data-driven marketers.
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