Q&A with the director of Google Analytics: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

Russ Ketchum, director of Google Analytics, talks about migrating from Universal Analytics and shares some GA4 power user moves.

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We’re wrapping up our series on getting started with Google Analytics 4, with a Q&A with Russ Ketchum, director of Google Analytics. Here he talks about migrating from Universal Analytics and shares some GA4 power user moves.

MarTech: What is the most important thing to know about migrating from UA to GA4?

Russ Ketchum: GA4 is truly different from Universal Analytics at its core — and that’s intentional. Before Google Analytics, page views and sessions were unfamiliar concepts. And, even so, they worked great for website analytics. But the world has evolved. “The internet” isn’t a synonym for a desktop website. The internet is all around us and that’s the world that we’ve built GA4 to measure. Streams, events, partial data, behavioral modeling, and so on are the “page views and sessions” of today’s connected world.

We know that this is a big leap for many of our customers. With migration tools, educational content, videos, and more, we are working to be as helpful as possible for our customers during this transition. 

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MT: Power user moves for GA4?

RK: It’s a great question. I’ll highlight two; one that helps customers migrate a little easier and another which highlights a big improvement we made to GA4 based on customer feedback about Universal Analytics. 

When a customer is migrating to GA4, one of the first things they need to consider is how to get the data they care about the most into the system. In Universal Analytics, the ability to measure events is somewhat limited with just a Category, Action, and Label to indicate a particular interaction. In GA4, customers can create as many events as they want and use parameters to be very descriptive. 

We get a lot of questions about what’s the easiest way to go from the old world to the new. In our experience, “easiest” usually means “without writing new code for your site.” In GA4, there’s an easy way to do this thanks to Google tag. If you look under your tag settings for a given stream, you’ll find an option “Collect Universal Analytics events” in GA4. This will create a single GA4 event type that records Category/Action/Label as parameters. You can confirm this is working by looking at the Events section under Configure. 

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Now, the Pro move is to click the “Create Event” button. This lets you write rules to break-out the legacy event into as many native GA4 events as you want. For example, you can make “Category” the GA4 event name and “Action” and “Label” some of the parameters. Now businesses can analyze what their users are doing with all the power of GA4.

Now that you have the data they care about in GA4, here’s another pro tip to help focus on what matters to them the most: customize reports.

Report customization is something entirely new and different in GA4 and a feature that has long been requested in Universal Analytics. All of the default reports can be customized and customers can even replace the entire standard set of reports with something completely custom to meet the specific needs of their business. 

MT: What topics are you seeing the most questions about?

RK: Honestly, it’s a pretty wide range at this point. As you might expect, we have customers who are in the setup process so they’re asking lots of questions about the best way to structure their properties, their events, etc.. This is why we’ve made such a big investment in our Setup Assistant to make it as easy as possible to move from UA to Google Analytics 4. 

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We also have customers who were experts in Universal Analytics and are now learning how to apply that expertise to GA4. We’ve already launched a lot of educational content aimed exactly towards this audience, but in 2023, we’re excited to add even more. 

MT: Will GA4 do anything to comply with EU privacy laws? 

RK: One of the reasons that Google Analytics is so unique is because our customers own their data — not Google. Because of this, we have an obligation to provide our customers with the controls and tools they need to comply with regulations wherever they operate, not just in the EU. Over the course of the past few months, we’ve introduced more granular privacy controls and we’ll continue to evolve as necessary.

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While these concerns are something we’re actively addressing in GA4, we don’t have the same flexibility with Universal Analytics. That makes it more important than ever that customers move to GA4 as quickly as possible. 

MT: Will the sunset date for Universal Analytics get changed from July of next year? 

RK: We appreciate the fact that the migration to GA4 is a heavylift for many of our customers. That’s why we recently made two announcements to make things a little easier. First, we announced an update to our Setup Assistant which will effectively “Jumpstart” our customers on the path to GA4 by creating a GA4 property and carrying over the settings from their Universal Analytics properties automatically.

Additionally, due to the scale and complexity of many of our Analytics 360 accounts, we announced that we will be extending their sunset date to July 1, 2024.  Our goal with both updates is to help customers be best positioned for the migration to GA4, with as much historical data and customization possible.

MT: What areas can we expect new features and/or updates in?

RK: Customers can expect even more out of the customization features I mentioned earlier, especially for SMB customers. We have some pretty big plans for the Advertiser Workspace, so what you see there now really only scratches the surface. 

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Getting started with Google Analytics 4

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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