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21 August 2023 / Opinion

An Analytics Transition: GA4 and the End of Google Optimize

Nathan Jackson / Head of Analytics

This year, businesses face two significant changes in the analytics landscape: transitioning to GA4 and saying goodbye to Google Optimize.

As of 1st July, free GA3 properties were scheduled for deactivation, forcing users to make the switch to GA4 if they hadn’t already. And, as of September 30th 2023, Google Optimize will be discontinued, prompting companies to reevaluate their data strategies and explore alternative solutions. In this blog, Nathan Jackson, Jaywing's Head of Analytics, guides you on how to confidently adapt to these changes and make the most of your analytics efforts.

Navigating GA4: Lessons Learned So Far

As we’re past the GA3 deactivation date of 1st July 2023, nearly everyone who relied on GA3 (UA) should have their new GA4 property setup (through manual migration or relying on Google’s own discouraged automatic migration process) and getting stuck-in to day-to-day use. Those who manually migrated with a well-defined measurement plan have been best prepared for successful adaptation.

Putting the effort in to make a well thought-out measurement plan (that then becomes an implementation plan, and then a point of reference for those who rely on the data) is a crucial underpinning of measurement in 2023 and beyond.

Whilst both GA3 and GA4 are both Google Analytics, their user interfaces and infrastructures are worlds apart - teams have had to learn about the new GA4 data model and re-train their muscle memory in the reporting UI. Thankfully, Google has made efforts to improve their help section over the last few months, providing resources to address common queries and issues as people adapt to the new platform.

GA4's measurement capabilities might also differ from what you were used to in UA. For example, some tools like Site Speed may no longer be available, making it essential to explore additional and alternative insight tools.


Overlooked Opportunities

Whilst GA4 aims to have a use-case parity with GA3, there were some default configurations of GA4 that brands should look at making sure they’ve reviewed and checked in the first couple of months of a GA4-only landscape. A couple of key settings are:

  • Google Signals which significantly improves identity reporting. GA4 can better track individual users across different devices, providing incredibly valuable insights for audience targeting and cross-device remarketing activities. It's important to bear in mind, however, that this would require collaboration with a Data Protection Officer to ensure compliance with privacy regulations.
  • GA4 Data Retention Settings which affects how far back you can use individual—level data (i.e. Segments and Explorations). UA was set to 26 months by default, but GA4 defaults to 2 months. Adjusting this setting to a minimum of 14 months is recommended (if your Data Protection Officer is happy with that), especially for brands with longer customer journeys who want to dive into historical data in detail.

As with any data-related changes, companies should ensure that they’re consulting with their Data Protection Officer to make sure that they’re in-line with GDPR compliance.


Leveraging Customisation

To maximise the potential of GA4, investing time in customisation is crucial. With GA4’s flexible Data Model you can have customised event names, parameters and metrics collected and reported by GA4. This is a collaborative effort that involves your marketing teams (who will use the data for campaign optimisation), your web/app developers (who can pass the data into the datalayer) and those who manage your GA4 implementation (who pass the data from the datalayer to GA4 and other tracking tools). Again, building a measurement plan which then becomes an implementation plan allows you to align analytics with your specific business needs and objectives, making it an essential aspect of deriving actionable insights from GA4.

For those seeking to familiarise themselves with GA4's interface, functionalities and customisable options, Google SkillShop offers a treasure trove of free training resources. Acquiring this knowledge will empower your team to leverage GA4 effectively and drive meaningful results.


The Sunsetting of Google Optimize

The discontinuation of Google Optimize, Google’s testing tool, raises questions about potential data gaps. Considering alternative products may be necessary, though some of these solutions might come with a price tag.

Before picking an alternative to Google Optimize, you need to carefully think about exactly what you’ve been using Google Optimize for, and where you’ll be seeing gaps from its discontinuation. This can be facilitated by reviewing what problems you’re looking to solve, and what improvements you’re trying to make. In some cases, adopting a more in-depth, qualitative approach may prove more beneficial than the experimental testing Optimize provides.

Sidenote: If you’re currently running tests in Optimize, keep in mind that you won’t be able to access this data after September 30th! So make sure to export results before then.


Analytics as a Dedicated Role

Ultimately, the transformation in the analytics landscape emphasises that analytics should be more than just a line in someone's job description. It's a dedicated role that demands expertise and continuous learning to drive genuine business value. If internal resources and skills are insufficient, businesses may need to seek external support to fully capitalise on their digital analytics investments.

Increased regulation and tech changes also reinforces that businesses need to ensure that Marketing, Development, Data Protection, Data Management and Analytics teams work together on what data should be collected, how it’s used and that it’s in-keeping with this ever-changing landscape.

Want to learn more about GA4, Google Optimize, and how to make the most of your analytics? Catch up on a webinar I took part in with the GO! Network here.