Google Analytics. Whether you love it, loathe it, or fall somewhere in between, your credit union likely relies on it to understand your members and how they interact with your website, digital campaigns, and online tools.
This resource has evolved over time—Universal Analytics (UA) is the current iteration—but past changes have been relatively minor compared to what’s coming. The latest update, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), will become the primary Google Analytics platform on July 1, 2023, and it is radically different.
Here are five questions our credit union clients are asking us about GA4:
1. What’s driving the changes?
There have been significant changes in the data industry over the past decade. GA4 is a tool that’s better aligned with the shifting environment, particularly in these areas:
Data privacy and legal compliance. The legal environment around data collection and consumer privacy has changed in recent years as consumers increasingly look for more control around what they do and don’t share when it comes to data.
GA4 is designed with these realities in mind. It’s more scientifically and ethically designed on the backend and its flexible design makes it easier to adapt to future changes related to privacy and security.The legal implications (and associated financial penalties) of having an outdated analytics structure mean that Google is under significant financial pressure to pull off this conversion on their timeline, and that means that everyone who uses their current analytics tool is as well.
A focus on conversions. Google has completely redesigned their analytics tool around what’s most important for marketers today — conversions on important user behaviors, no matter when they happen. GA4 decouples interactions from the time in which they happened to provide better insight into website usage and conversions, as well as to identify more actionable audience segments. It also allows for flexibility in visualizing and reporting on key conversion metrics.
2. What else is different about GA4?
Here are the highlights:
You’ll be able to track your website and apps with one data stream. Before GA4, website tracking and mobile app tracking had to happen in two separate views, because of the differences in how each collected and displayed user data. Now this information can be combined in one view.
There’s only one account and one view. With UA you had the option to create different views of the data based on who needed access and what they wanted to know—i.e., everyone could get the data they needed without impacting anyone else. With GA4 that’s going away: There’s one account, one view and every user will be in one place.
That said, there are ways to section off different parts of the reports and limit permissions — for instance, perhaps you only want your SEO partner to have access to Google Adwords and search acquisition data.
There’s more report flexibility. UA had tons of out-of-the-box reports; with GA4 there are very few pre-built. While this might feel like a negative, it actually gives your team the flexibility to create customized reports that fit your exact needs. Learning how to do this will take a bit of time—another reason to get started early.
3. What will happen to our historical data?
Universal Analytics (UA) will stop collecting new data on July 1, 2023. After this date only GA4 will be collecting user behavior data for your website, so you’ll want to have GA4 set up and collecting website usage data before then. We made sure that our clients all had GA4 set up by July 1, 2022 so they would have 12 months of historical data to benchmark against in the new platform; the sooner you make the switch the better.
Existing UA (historical) data will become inaccessible on January 1, 2024. If you want or need to keep this data for historical purposes, it’s critical to have a data retention plan put into place before this date.
How do you know if you need to maintain historical data? The answer to this question depends on your data and IT governance standards and is often determined at the board level. Investigate your requirements now so that you can put a data retention plan into action if needed. And if you do need to retain data, you’ll also need to determine how it will be stored and accessed and whether you’ll need to earmark additional funding to make that happen.
4. What should my credit union be doing now to prepare?
July 1, 2023 will be here before you know it and starting data collection in GA4 is your most important to-do right now.
Collaborate with your internal stakeholders and agency partners. Each player will need to learn how to set up and manage GA4 and report performance for their respective disciplines. Work together to minimize disruption and help ensure a smooth transition.
Enable GA4 tracking on your website ASAP. Even though you can continue to use UA to collect and report data until July 1, 2023, it’s time to enable GA4 as soon as possible. That way you won’t have any data collection downtime—Universal Analytics will still be running smoothly—and you’ll have the chance to learn and troubleshoot GA4 before losing access to your current Google Analytics account.
With both Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 accounts collecting data at the same time, you can work on replicating UA data filters, audience segments, and cross domain tracking in GA4 so that your reports continue to work as expected after the changeover. Doing this while you still have access to Universal Analytics gives you time to compare reports between both systems, ensuring your basic GA4 reporting is aligning with your existing averages. Also, resolving GA4 data issues before losing access to Universal Analytics will help lead to a seamless transition in reporting website performance.
Set clearly defined roles for ownership and change management. Because there’s only one account and one account view, it will be especially critical to put the right person in the role of primary account owner. Put some thought into the best person for the job and how you’ll determine whom to grant account access. And be sure to keep all the players in the loop so they know whom to report to, how to get information and where to go if they don’t have what they need.
Create a plan for exporting historical Universal Analytics data. If you need or want to be able to reference and/or visualize this data—or if it’s important to your agency partners—you’ll need to have a plan for maintaining and using this data in the future.
Train your staff. View GA4 as a brand-new tool and make sure anyone who currently uses Google Analytics goes through a comprehensive training. You—and they!—will be glad they did. Google Skillshop offers free training and there are lots of paid training options available too.
5. Where can I learn more?
We recommend starting with:
Google Analytics Support Articles has the most up-to-date information and is a great starting point to learn more about their plan and important dates.
Google’s Official GA4 Certificate Training is the best resource to learn how to use the new tool. It’s free and directly from Google.
Google’s options for data retention is a great starting point to learn how data can be exported, which can inform other decisions about if and how you want to make this information accessible in the future.
Change can be scary, and your transition to GA4 will undoubtedly face some bumps along the way. Start now so you have more time to adjust before the critical July and January deadlines. And don’t be shy about leaning on your agency partners. They are a great resource for rollout planning and execution and as committed as you are to making this transition go as smoothly as possible.
This article originally appeared in CUInsight.