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From UA to GA4: Managing your reporting expectations

This is curated content from the best of the best blogs around IMHO, indispersed with a few of my own.

Summary. As a GA4 expert, I can attest that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has introduced a new era of data analysis, delivering fresh insights that necessitate swift adaptation from those accustomed to Universal Analytics (UA). The transition from UA to GA4 has introduced challenges in reporting and necessitated a more customised approach. However, the potential rewards are significant. By harnessing the capabilities of GA4, including its robust data-driven attribution features, businesses have the opportunity to unlock new avenues of growth and improvement. The onus is now on agencies to become adept at GA4, guiding businesses through this pivotal shift and helping them seize the opportunities presented by this new frontier in data analysis.

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While GA4 offers many new reports and insights, those accustomed to using UA reporting for several years must adapt very quickly.

I’ll be blunt. Google Analytics 4 has caused agencies and businesses plenty of headaches in the past year.

The only guarantee over the next few weeks is that it will get worse before it gets better.

The sunsetting of Universal Analytics is tomorrow, July 1 (and may have already passed by the time you are reading this).

Many businesses are in for a shock when they start looking at their GA4 reports as their source of truth if they haven’t already. Spoiler: most haven’t yet!

There’s no doubt that GA4 offers many new reports and insights that UA struggled with (user funnel reporting) or flat out couldn’t provide (hello, data-driven attribution and predictive analytics!).

But those accustomed to using UA reporting for several years must adapt very quickly.

Where did my reports go?

Although you can go deeper into Google Ads campaign metrics once you become comfortable, more custom reporting is required than exploring similar data in UA.

In UA, there is a Google Ads tab in the acquisition reporting section which is easy to access. There’s a bit more of a workaround in GA4, with similar out-of-the-box reports hidden away as an acquisition card.

But to take advantage of advanced GA4 Google Ads reporting, this will be managed in the new Explore section. Not a big deal to get your head around, but for those who aren’t on the platform each day, this could be a struggle to get up to speed with.

For the more advanced PPC marketers and data analysts, we’ve encountered a few issues when linking up certain fields to our Looker Studio dashboards.

Source/medium and ecommerce conversion rate data (among others) are not out-of-the-box metrics that can be synced across unless you’re comfortable creating custom fields.

Thus, many advertisers who aren’t will bypass such metrics.

Scheduled reports are also gone (as of typing), so those businesses that received their daily/weekly/monthly reports straight into their morning inboxes have to find another solution.

The good news here is that Google has released more and more out-of-the-box reporting in the past year, so they have listened to these concerns and are acting.

If you are still struggling with replicating similar reports and dashboards, custom reports aren’t rocket science.

Freelancers or agency PPC pros can leverage that extra skill set of new report creation that in-house marketing teams took for granted for years.

Another bow in their cap and a necessary learning curve if you want to benefit from the new reporting suite that GA4 has to offer.

Where there is disruption, there is opportunity.

Not so fast

Those of us who are in Google Analytics a bit too much and staring at real-time reports for large parts of the day are in for disappointment.

There is a 24-48 hour delay on all other reports without the intervention of BigQuery.

This will be a consequence of the move away from last click to data-driven attribution.

We do see this issue within the Google Ads interface with its delayed conversion reporting.

But for marketing executives who want to see the early impact of their 24-hour flash sale or how the first day of their Black Friday sale is going (oh, how fun that will be when November rolls around), they will have to wait a bit longer.

And even when reports start to pull through, we won’t see complete data because of time lag.

This may be a blessing in disguise for PPC marketers whose clients love a good old next-day, 24-hour report.

Focusing on new features in the new real-time report, such as user snapshots and comparisons, could be an effective distraction tactic.

Alternatively, if the client needs reporting to be more instantaneous, then the solution is leveraging the streaming export within BigQuery.

It will provide next-to-precise, real-time data, which you can populate through Looker Studio dashboards during those key sale periods and events.

Just one big event

As I’m sure you already know, GA4 is all about the event.

We say goodbye to UA’s page hits, ecommerce hits, social interactions hits, etc. and say hello, exclusively, to an event-based world.

Events represent a fundamental data model difference between UA and GA4 properties. With that, we’ll miss a fundamental UA metric in pageviews. Sessions are king here.

The death of the pageview means that other key UA metrics, such as bounce rate, will be calculated differently.

UA bounce rate is when a session only has one page view, while GA4 bounce rate is the inverse of an engagement rate (new metric to GA4).

So year-on-year comparisons are next to pointless, given they are worked out completely differently (which many people won’t know).

These metrics are key to many businesses. To make the most of GA4, focus on similar or alternative metrics that are unique to the platform (e.g., engagement rate).

By aligning these metrics with your objectives and identifying their value, you can shift the goalposts in your favor.

This approach allows you to leverage the power of GA4 to your advantage rather than letting it become a stumbling block.

Drive that data

Data-driven attribution is the new default attribution model within GA4.

This will cause disruptions (due to slower standard report generation) and discrepancies in channel reporting.

But in the grand scheme of things, it is absolutely the more accurate method of disseminating credit for conversions.

Data-driven attribution is not perfect. (It is still a bit too “black box” and reliant on trusting Google for my liking).

However, it is a much better reflection of the complex user journey spread across multiple digital touchpoints than the last click could handle.

Although data-driven attribution is new to Google Analytics, it’s not new to Google.

It has been the default attribution model in Google Ads for at least the past year and has been around for years.

Google Ads and GA4 data-driven attribution differ because Google Ads will only attribute across different Google channels, while GA4 will expand across all channels.

At the very least, businesses will be familiar with how this works and why they get the odd conversion that comes through, which isn’t a whole number. (I still get asked this regularly.)

Embracing the learning curve

There’s no denying that once we all get used to GA4 and accept UA in its new role as the ghost of data past, we will be all the better for it.

GA4 is a much more sophisticated, data-driven, privacy-centric tool than UA, and it’s long overdue.

Because the jump from Google’s third web analytics iteration to its fourth was much larger than any of its preceding migrations, the pain points will be harder and learning curves will be more exaggerated.

Patience is required and businesses will need to rise from the inertia of past reporting to move ahead and embrace this new dawn of data analysis.

PPC marketers will need to guide and educate them along the way. Persist through continuous emails from company executives demanding to know why page views are down and why bounce rate has increased so much.

Like you are showing your mom or dad how to use a smartphone for the first time and explaining to them that 5G doesn’t control minds, move forward and show them the promised land of GA4. They will love you for it and never look back.

Citation: If you would like to find out more about the source of this article – From UA to GA4: Managing your reporting expectations, see here.


GA4 expert

Mike Raybone is a GA4 expert who helps businesses develop effective marketing strategies. His services are designed to improve a business’s marketing strategy and help them achieve their goals, get in touch today to find out more.