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The landscape of digital marketing is always changing. Whether in response to market forces or legislation, a seismic shift occurs every few years in the way marketers conduct their business online—often because one of the major tech companies has altered the structural core of how users can be identified and tracked.

In recent years, the fight for consumer privacy and protection of public information set its sights on third-party cookies, which have not only served as the cornerstone of many marketers' audience and targeting initiatives but also become the flashpoint of stronger digital privacy legislation. Major tech companies have largely flouted the writing on the wall saying third-party cookies are a privacy minefield. It took legislation like the GDPR and CCPA to force meaningful change.

After years of delays, third-party cookies are set to be removed from Chrome browsers, and Google is going to replace its longstanding Universal Analytics (UA) platform with Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which unifies digital Web and app analytics.

The next nine months will be critical for marketers as they prepare for GA4. Having some time to prepare is a gift; it affords brands the opportunity to learn the capabilities of GA4 while Universal Analytics is still available as a safety net.

By getting started now, marketers will be able to hit the ground running when GA4 becomes the default in July 2023.

The Imperative for GA4: Privacy Compliance

Google Analytics has always been an iterative platform. Shifting consumer behavior and a greater emphasis on mobile apps—not to mention increased calls for digital privacy—have resulted in the structure of Universal Analytics' being a less effective product as marketers prepare for the future.

One of the cornerstones of GA4 is its privacy-by-design nature. As third-party cookies go away, brands are being forced to find other means of targeting. Within GA4, consumer information such as IP addresses are hidden, and the new "consent mode" in Google Tag Manager prevents tags from firing for users who have opted out of tracking.

The real benefit of GA4 is its ability to use machine-learning to fill in those gaps in the data caused by opted-out users. By understanding the behaviors of consenting users and quantifying the number of unknown users from generalized traffic, GA4 has the capacity to fill in gaps to allow marketers to make informed reporting decisions using directional data.

The intelligence contained within GA4 will be essential for brands ,enabling them to continue building and segmenting audiences while staying above board with user privacy and data regulations.

A G4 Transition Plan in Four Steps

Although nine months may seem like a long time to transition operations away from Universal Analytics, it's essential (for many reasons) that companies get started right away . Putting together a preparedness plan can create ample runway for testing, which will produce a baseline of measurable results when GA4 becomes the sole platform.

To put together an action plan, it's important to keep in mind the four main areas that GA4 was designed to address: cross-device tracking, privacy regulations and updates, advanced insights, and data activation.

1. Dedicate time to understanding the platform

This is where having UA as a fallback is so essential: Carving out time for teams to familiarize themselves with GA4's capabilities, reporting structure, and metrics while still relying on UA for day-to-day performance will pay dividends in the long run.

2. Audit current UA metrics and create a new measurement plan and targeting strategy for GA4

Once you have a firm grasp on the platform, take advantage of GA4's capacity for better understanding the user journey across platforms. Integrating all multichannel platforms through GA4 can give brands unprecedented audience insights that UA struggles to make sense of.

Using tools such as Google's BigQuery can provide valuable predictive data such as churn or customer lifetime value. Starting the transition to GA4 now gives you time to test and discover such insights, so when the time comes all the rules will be in place to allow you to hit the ground running.

3. Institute dual tracking

Because GA4 is much more focused on end-user privacy and data protection, it reinforces the need for brands to end their reliance on third-party identifiers. Running UA alongside GA4 enables you to experiment with the capabilities of GA4 without completely upending your current tracking process and build up historic data in your new GA4 accounts for year-over-year reporting.

One important thing to remember is many GA4 features are still in beta, so it's not advisable to switch from UA to GA4 as your reporting source of truth until GA4 is fully out of beta.

4. Connect CDPs and make your stores of data actionable

Because GA4 is so driven by first-party data, it's important for brands to recognize the customer data they already have. Transitioning to GA4 means connecting CDPs (customer data platforms) and making the stores of data your company already has actionable.

Getting Started Before It's Too Late

Nobody going in cold is expected to be an expert in GA4 overnight. The capabilities of the platform are extremely robust, however, and GA4 will therefore serve as the future of multichannel targeting for years to come.

When you do become familiar with GA4, it may be clear that you will need to bring in a partner with platform expertise to truly make the most of it.

The next nine months will be pivotal for brands in that transition; the period of experimentation and testing will also reveal to brands what their capabilities are. The current nine-month runway is enough time to test, assess, and execute on core business decisions that will have a big impact on the next five years. The key is getting started before it's too late.

More Resources on Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 for Marketers: MarketingProfs Master Class

Goodbye Universal Analytics, Hello Google Analytics 4

Why Google Analytics 4 Requires Your Immediate Attention: Katie Robbert on Marketing Smarts

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image of Jade Arenstein

Jade Arenstein is the global service lead for analytics, data, and BI for Incubeta, a performance marketing agency based in London.

LinkedIn: Jade Arenstein