This is it, our final week coming to your inbox with tips to help you transition from Google Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
By now, you’ve made a complete switch and everything looks normal and you’re humming along, right? … Right?!
I know, I know. We all do our best work under deadline pressure (or so we tell ourselves) and July 1 is more than a month away. What’s the rush, amirite?
As part of our second full-on training session back in April we invited newsroom leaders to talk about their transition to GA4 and I’ve pulled together some highlights of our conversation. Thanks to Barry Arthur and Aaron Lancaster of WEHCO Media and Michael Denison of Science News for sharing their experiences. Full disclosure: these news organizations use API’s Metrics for News to provide insights into their audience analytics.
WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING
For Denison, audience engagement editor at Science News, the simplicity of GA4 in how it organizes user data is helpful. “GA4 clarifies things a little bit easier when you have to deal with event scope,” he said. With UA, trackable events happened at the user level, session level and the hit level. “With GA4, it breaks it down into there are users and events…that’s actually helpful in streamlining that process,” Denison said.
That simplicity is also useful when building new custom reports, Denison added. “The bout with analytics is always going to be getting to the point where you can talk about these numbers with your newsroom beyond terms of page views up good, page views down bad,” he said. “But I think explorations and building custom reports in GA4 in different ways are going to be helpful.”
Hear that? There’s hope for us yet!
The biggest challenges we’ve heard from the newsrooms who’ve transitioned to GA4: What to do with all of your historical UA data and hitting query limits in Looker (formerly DataStudio). As we noted in last week’s newsletter, Google has solved the latter problem. The historical data issue is one that each newsroom will have to solve for itself. We have some suggestions in our FAQ.
Historical and comparative data is especially tricky for WEHCO, which has nearly a dozen daily newspapers, a handful of weeklies, along with websites, web replica editions and apps for almost all those properties and a separate checkout domain—all of which were tracked in separate UA accounts. In GA4 that is all now in one account, said Arthur, WEHCO’s director of audience technology. This allows a more global look at their newsrooms and readers.
Wrangling that many properties was a big undertaking. If you have similar multiple sites and apps, Arthur has this bit of advice: Make a list of all your properties, domains, and subdomains so you don’t miss anything. In addition, WEHCO took the time to rename many of its segments in UA — essentially rewriting its own internal analytics taxonomy.
What I like about [GA4], you don’t have to deal with event labels and categories and actions for all your custom events. Whatever you want the event to be called you just name it that. In a way, it’s simpler.”
— Aaron Lancaster, data analyst for WEHCO
The issue of historical data, however, will remain a conundrum given that users definitions are changing from UA to GA4: “They don’t marry up exactly so when you’re starting to look at old data and new data and compare apples to apples, it’s hard,” said Arthur. “I think for all of us, we are going to lose about a year. So it’s going to be hard for us to determine growth and change on some of these things. You might have to look differently at your audiences.”
GA4 TRANSITION CHECKLIST
✅ Make a list of all domains, subdomains, apps, etc. that you currently track separately UA to ensure you don’t miss any of your data streams when building your GA4 instance. This is especially important for multi-site news organizations.
✅ Make a list of current UA segments and ask yourself: Do we need all of them? Are there better ways in GA4 to capture these interactions? Are there new ways to look at our audiences? Are there new events and interactions we want to track?
✅ Follow our suggested setup process, which includes tutorials developed by Google News Initiative.
✅ Leave yourself plenty of time to play around and explore with the new reporting functions in GA4 and time to add audiences, or data streams, you may have missed from step one.
✅ Take a deep breath. Exhale.
Feel free to reach out if you have additional tips, suggestions, or questions. We’ll be bringing news leaders together in late July to discuss how the transition to GA4 is going. Stay tuned for registration details.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What will happen to legacy (UA) Google Analytics data?
- You’ll be able to access your data for 6 months to CSV, TSV, TSV for Excel, Google Sheets, and PD. Use the Google Analytics Reporting API to export the data. Google Analytics 360 customers can also export to BigQuery.
- Is there a way to export historical UA data, and if so, what do folks recommend?
- The best way to do this would be with a data warehouse. One example would be BigQuery, which is owned by Google. The challenge is that, unless you have the technical skills to extract and analyze the data from these warehouses, they won’t be of much use to you. It’s probably a good idea to involve your analytics team in this process if you have one.
- If you don’t have a dedicated analytics person/team and you want to make exporting and analyzing historical UA data a priority, it’s probably worth hiring outside help.
- As a “last resort,” you could update as much of your data as possible into CSV files, though this would be unwieldy and probably not very user friendly from an analysis perspective.