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Transitioning to Google Analytics 4: An Instructor’s Survival Guide

Are you ready for the shift to Google Analytics 4? Starting on July 1, 2023, the Google Marketing Platform suite will migrate from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which will be the new standard for data collection. Google developed GA4 to address the challenges that digital marketers will face in the future — most notably, the lack of third-party cookies to track consumer behavior.

It’s imperative that students learn GA4 now, or else they risk developing skills that will be obsolete by the time they enter the workforce. According to the W3Techs Web Technology Survey, Google’s analytics platforms are used by 86% of all websites whose traffic analysis tool is known. Google is a powerful ally to digital marketers, which means students need to prepare for GA4 today. To help you integrate GA4 into your classroom, the Stukent marketing team has prepared a guide with helpful tips, tools, and classroom resources.

For more information, check out Nathan David’s “Digital Marketing Analytics” courseware or see the “Transitioning to Google Analytics 4: Instructor Survival Guide” webinar that’s available on demand at the Stukent Webinars Library.

Why Is Google Changing its Analytics Platform?

First and foremost, the Universal Analytics platform relies on browser cookies, a technology that’s nearly 20 years old. As more governments stepped in to regulate how their citizens’ private data is used, Google began developing superior tools to collect and analyze data from websites, apps, and mobile experiences to meet industry standards.

Google says GA4 is a “new kind of property with different reports than what you’re used to seeing in Universal Analytics properties,” giving digital marketers access to high-quality data that doesn’t impact consumer privacy. From conversions to bounce rates, pageviews, and more, the two platforms calculate metrics differently. 

For example, Universal Analytics supports two types of user metrics: total users and new users. GA4 will support three, including total users, active users, and new users. The active user metric measures the users who have engaged sessions that last “10 seconds or longer, or had one or more conversion events or two or more page or screen views,” according to Google. 

GA4 doesn’t just give digital marketers more information, it gives them more useful information to work with. The GA4 UI, pictured on the right, provides targeted data and highlights useful insights, putting powerful tools in marketers’ hands. GA4 is also highly customizable, too.

google analytics versus google analytics 4 UI

In short, your students need to learn GA4 — not only is the platform better than Universal Analytics, but it also aligns with where the industry is at today

The Advantages of Google Analytics 4

GA4 contains new features to help marketers understand how customers are interacting with websites and apps. Unlike Universal Analytics, this new platform allows marketers to see data in a holistic manner, as it connects behaviors across platforms for a more complete and comprehensive analysis of the consumer journey.

According to Google, the new analytics platform will:

  1. Collect both website and app data to better understand the customer journey. “The big GA4 news is that users can track app activity alongside web tracking,” says Stacey Watkins for Invoca. This allows for a “more complete and unified view of the consumer journey.”
  2. Use events instead of session-based data. Google says an event “allows you to measure a distinct user interaction with a website or app … [such as] loading a page, clicking a link, or completing a purchase.”
  3. Include privacy controls such as cookie-less measurement and behavioral modeling. To address domestic and international privacy concerns, GA4 no longer relies on cookies and will not store IP addresses. 
  4. Offer guidance without complex models. New predictive capabilities will help you identify which user actions may have led to a purchase.
  5. Drive actions on websites and apps with direct integrations. GA4 will feature robust integrations with BigQuery, Search Console, Optimize, and more.

GA4 is also faster and more efficient — and it will allow you to collect real-time base measurements right out of the box, too. It works cross-platform, provides ad hoc analysis, and includes anomaly detection and predictive analytics.

The Challenges of Google Analytics 4

Let’s admit it up front — GA4 is so new, there aren’t a lot of resources available to help you learn how to use it, much less teach it to your students. GA4 uses a different data structure and collection logic, which means every user is a beginner. It will take time to learn how to use this new tool … and for many busy professors, time is something you just don’t have. To help you tackle the challenges of GA4, Stukent and “Digital Marketing Analytics” author Nathan David have compiled a list of resources that can help you integrate GA4 into your curriculum.

GA4 also has limitations, including character restrictions for user properties, parameters, and event names. It has limited IP filtering capabilities, no recurring email report functionality, and some of the reports that you may have had in Universal Analytics — such as a behavior flow report — are no longer available in GA4. At least, not yet. New features are being implemented each week.

Yes, GA4 is still in development, which makes it difficult for early adopters to make an action plan. “We are [still] getting weekly updates from Google Analytics 4 experts,” says Derrick Turner for Augurian. “We must understand the new definitions around GA4 metrics to react to fresh updates. … Determining an event tracking plan becomes a big challenge with that ambiguity.” 

And finally, GA4 is a brand-new tool … and a blank slate. The data that digital marketers have been collecting in Universal Analytics for the last decade will essentially become obsolete, unless organizations put in the time and effort to migrate their data from Universal Analytics into GA4. Students should be prepared to step into the workforce without a lot of year-over-year data to rely upon, at least at first. “The sunsetting of Universal Analytics and the forced migration to Google Analytics 4 means that UA customers will have to rebuilt their digital analytics, essentially from scratch,” says Mallory Busch for Amplitude.

With all these challenges in mind, GA4 still adds powerful tools to a digital marketer’s kit. GA4 gives you new metrics to explore, a flexible UI, better predictive modeling, and more. 

Classroom Resources and Assignments

Nathan David, author of Stukent’s “Digital Marketing Analytics” courseware, recommends that instructors take the following steps to prepare for GA4.

Checklist for GA4 transition

Additionally, Nathan has curated great GA4 resources for you to use in the classroom. Nathan has used these resources to create the 2023 update to the “Digital Marketing Analytics” courseware. Educators can request free access to the courseware and simulation, too!

Though GA4 will have a learning curve, it places powerful data analytics tools into digital marketers’ hands. By familiarizing yourself with the new GA4 platform today, you can prepare your students for brighter, more successful tomorrows!

To learn more about the “Digital Marketing Analytics” courseware and its accompanying simulation, Mimic Analytics, schedule a walk-through with a Stukent course consultant or visit our website.

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