If you expect to be able to switch over seamlessly in May of 2023 when Google Analytics 4 takes over for Universal Analytics, think again.
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"I really keep pushing marketers to start this process as soon as possible," says Trust Insights CEO Katie Robbert. "Waiting until closer to the deadline is going to make it more expensive, more of a headache; and you will risk have time periods when you're not collecting data, and that's problematic."
In the latest episode of Marketing Smarts, Robbert digs into exactly how GA4 differs from the previous version of Google Analytics. One reason she recommends setting aside some time to get educated on the switch to GA4 is that so many of the metrics are different. Bounce rate, for example, does not exist in Google Analytics 4; it's been replaced by engagement rate; and yet, the two are not directly inverse to each other, so a whole new mindset is required.
But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. "Use it as an excuse, an opportunity, to take a step back with all of your marketing," Robbert recommends. "It's a really good reason to evaluate your whole Google marketing platform ecosystem. Is it set up correctly?... Are these the KPIs we still care about?"
Related: See Google Analytics 4 for Marketers: A MarketingProfs Master Class with Chris Penn.
Many marketers have been frustrated with the rollout of GA4, but Robbert insists that the platform will allow for deeper data collection in the future.
Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George Thomas: I know as marketers one of the things we're supposed to be able to pick up on is patterns. If you've been listening to the last couple of episodes, you may have picked up that I start almost every episode with I'm excited about the episode. And it's true. I'm an excitable guy. This episode goes past excited and maybe ecstatic is a better word. You see, one of the things that I've learned over the past 25 years in marketing is diagnosing a problem, then finding a way to solve it for folks, but there is a middle part of that scenario that is less talked about. That part, at least for me, is sounding the alarm, letting people know, and stopping the potential trainwrecks from happening before something needs to be fixed.
If you have historically not used Google Analytics or if you are in Google Analytics all the time, there is a change coming. I hope you know, but if you don't know, this episode with Katie Robbert from Trust Insight and myself is a gift to you. Today we're getting into the conversation that is Google Analytics 4. First, let's meet our guest, co-founder and CEO of Trust Insights, Katie Robbert. Katie is an authority on compliance, governance, change management, agile methodologies, and dealing with high stakes no mistakes data.
As CEO of Trust Insights, she oversees the growth of the company, manages operations and product commercialization, and sets overall strategy. Her expertise includes strategic planning, marketing operations management, organizational behavior, and marketing research and analysis. Prior to co-founding Trust Insights, she built and grew multi-million-dollar lines of business in the marketing technology, pharmaceutical, and healthcare industries. Katie is a Google Analytics certified professional, a Google Adwords certified professional, a Google Digital Sales certified professional, and holds a master of science degree in marketing and technology innovation. Without further ado, let's get into the good stuff.
Katie, I'm super excited. Just to give the listeners some context and some backstory, a couple of weeks ago we were on a webinar together and you were talking about Google Analytics 4. It was mind-blowing. Listeners, get the notepad, get the pencil, get the pen, get the iPad, get the rock and the wall or whatever you need to scratch down what we're about to talk about. We're going to talk about Google Analytics 4. The title says The Immediate Attention Needed Around Google Analytics 4 and Your Business, so that's what we're going to dive into.
Katie, what would you want to say to any marketer listening to this right now that doesn't have Google Analytics 4 in place yet?
Katie Robbert: That you're already behind the eight ball. The reason I say that is if you have a web analytics tracking system such as Google Analytics 3, commonly known as Universal Analytics, and you haven't already started to set up Google Analytics 4, you're going to run into challenges around things like year over year comparisons. I know that's a big comparison that a lot of companies big or small want to make with their data. They want to see what happened last year, what happened this year. That's not going to be available until you have Google Analytics 4 set up with your goals set up and collecting data. The way in which Google Analytics 4 has goals configured is also very different from how it's set up in Google Analytics 3.
This is a great time to be spending with your teams to be doing new business requirements, auditing what you have, making sure that the goals you're collecting are still the goals that are relevant, and that you're collecting them in the way in which you need to be reporting on them. If you haven't started at least gathering those requirements, you're already behind the eight ball, you're already behind in time. Even though you technically have until July 1, 2023 to make the switch, you should have already been collecting data in both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.
George: I feel like this is a reboot, a restart, a re-learn, because it's going to be so different from what we're used to and what we're getting into. I want to add in some history for the listeners, and I think this two-part question will get us there. Why are we as marketers faced with this significant Google Analytics change? And how long do we have to actually make this change that we are faced with now?
Katie: To start with the first question, why are marketers faced with this significant Google Analytics change, it's because Google decided to mess with us hard core. Google does whatever they feel like doing. In all honesty, one of the reasons why Google is rolling out Google Analytics 4 and it is so drastically different from Google Analytics 3 is because of mobile apps. Google Analytics 4 is built on the foundation of Fire Base, and Fire Base is the software in Google Analytics 3 that allows you to track mobile app usage. In Google Analytics 4, all of that is a heck of a lot more seamless. That's one of the big reasons.
The other reason is because Google has decided to start separating out the different pieces of software in the Google marketing platform ecosystem. With Google Analytics 3, Universal Analytics, you could do a lot of what you needed to do without ever really leaving Google Analytics. You could set up your goals, you could do some lightweight reporting, you could do some attribution analysis with the built in models, you could email reports to people based on things that you've built. In Google Analytics 4, you're being forced to use Google Analytics and Tag Manager and Data Studio to put the complete package together. That's why it's such a big difference. Even just needing to use Tag Manager is in some ways a whole different skill set. Especially if you're doing something like server side tagging, which is a whole episode unto itself that probably involves your IT team and some hard core development skills.
This is why it's significant for marketers to be getting on this now, especially if they don't want to lose any data in terms of the time period. If you're waiting until May 2023 to start setting up Google Analytics 4, you may be surprised to find out that it's going to take you more than that 30 days that you have set aside, or really 20 days if you take out weekends, or really 10 days if you take out your full-time job, or really 5 days if you take out all of the other responsibilities, and then factor in chasing people down for answers to questions and access to systems, all of the different things that if you start now, you can alleviate a lot of those headaches.
That is why I really keep pushing marketers to start this process as soon as possible. Waiting until closer to the deadline is going to make it more expensive, more of a headache, and you will risk not having time periods where you're collecting data. That's problematic because you then have to answer for that to your managers and stakeholders.
George: I want to dive into that a little bit deeper. As a marketer who is creating a podcast for marketers, I know other marketers could literally look at the titles that I put up and go, “George is trying to bait us with this one,” but I put attention needed because of this next question that I want to ask and give you the ability to go a little bit deeper on what we were just talking about.
By the way, sometimes in life we can be like, “I didn't know,” or we can be like, “I'm just going to ignore that,” and it can be a no harm, no foul type of scenario. In this one though, what happens if marketers don't know or simply ignore this change?
Katie: I feel like it's two separate questions. If they ignore the change, it's going to be problematic, and I'll get into that. If they don't know, there are a lot of resources out there that they can start to get into. There are communities, there are Slack communities, there is documentation. If they don't really understand why this change is such a big deal, then there are a lot of resources out there. Everyone has been writing about this, talking about this, giving their own opinions on this, myself included, so there are a lot of resources that can help a marketer understand why this is a big deal.
The other question of what if you simply ignore this change, well, that's on you, that's your bad. What happens if you ignore this change goes back to those risks. If you're a marketer who is used to reporting to your bosses, or your clients, or your stakeholders, or your board, the risk is you will not have that data and you will need to answer to those people as to why that data doesn't exist. The way that Google collects data and defines data in Universal Analytics and the way they collect and define data in Google Analytics 4 is not apples to apples. You have to factor in the time for that change management process, that education, that bringing people along for the journey.
A really good example, a lot of marketers use bounce rate as a unit of measurement to determine whether or not content on their website is effective, if people are staying, if the website is sticky. Bounce rate does not exist in Google Analytics 4. Google has replaced it with a metric called engagement rate. Engagement rate is not the inverse of bounce rate. If in Universal Analytics you have a 10% bounce rate, that does not automatically mean that you have a 90% engagement rate. They're not one-to-one. Google has said this metric replaces this metric, but you can't just flip them.
George: It's crazy. By the way, to give the listeners a little bit more context, at the beginning I said we were on a webinar together. You were one of the three, it was Friday Forums. Listeners, if you're not signing up for Friday Forums, coming over and checking out all of the deep level information that we're providing, you need to do that.
But one of the things that I noticed in the chat pane during these three webinar sessions was people were like, “I hate this. This is terrible.” I could quickly go to the question of what don't you like, and what do you find challenging about Google Analytics 4, but I'm kind of a pros and cons guy, so I have to start with the positive. I'm super curious, what are some things that you love about Google Analytics 4 as you've gotten into it and have been making this change?
Katie: I like that in Google Analytics 4 you can go deeper into your insights. You can look at the user level at all of the different activities that any one individual person has done. With the caveat that Google, rightly so, is very strict about privacy and personally identifiable information. They have a lot of legal regulations built into the system that you have to make sure that you are familiar with in terms of how they're collecting data. They don't allow PHI or PII, so you can't say this was George on my site doing things, they will not give you that level of information, so you can't then connect it to your CRM and go this is George.
What you can do is dig into one individual person and start to figure out user segments, start to figure out what people are doing when they come to your site. If this one person has a lot of goal completions or conversions on your website, what are the things that they were doing, what are the pages that they were looking at that led them to do that. You can look at it at the individual level.
They have more sophisticated attribution models to sort of understand what are the things that are leading people to take action on your website. Google Analytics 3 and 4 both have AI built in that will give you automated insights to say we noticed this was happening, we noticed that the traffic to your website increased, this might be something that you need to pay attention to. I like that Google is trying to do me a favor as a marketer by saying these are the anomalies that we noticed that we think you should pay attention to based on the types of activities you usually take within the system. That's one of the things that I really like about the system.
George: We did the pros. Google, we love you. If you're listening, we know you're listening, but we have to hit the cons. What are some of the things that you have been finding or folks that you're helping have been finding challenging about leveraging Google Analytics 4 from this get started position?
Katie: There are two big challenges that I see. Number one is the fact that the data in Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is so different that you can't just merge the two systems together and say I have my 10 years' worth of Universal Analytics here and my one year worth of Google Analytics 4 here, and I can do that year over year comparison. The reason for that is the second thing that I really dislike about Google Analytics 4 is that the metric definitions, the scope definitions of the metrics are so vastly different.
What was a goal conversion in Universal Analytics is now known as a conversion in Google Analytics 4. However, they are defined differently, so you can't compare the two metrics, so your numbers are going to be drastically different. The thing that I don't like, aside from that, is the change management process, the education to help people who aren't in it every single day, my clients specifically, to help them understand why their numbers are so drastically different. These numbers that they are being promoted or fired on, numbers that their bosses don't understand. There is a whole new education process.
Basically, Google Analytics 4 is a totally new system. I think when they rolled it out, that wasn't totally made clear.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, I apologize. I know that you're probably sitting there, standing, walking, riding a bike, maybe you're on a plane flight, and you're like, “There is a fire under my feet, and I don't know how it got here.” I have to ask this next question because I don't want to leave you with this thing of crap, I want to give you an opportunity. Katie, in your opinion, people are like this is a fire, we have to put it out, we have to get things in place, where should people go to learn more and get started on this Google Analytics 4 journey of change that they're going to be on?
Katie: My co-founder Chris and I have actually spent a lot of time educating ourselves on Google Analytics 4, what the challenges are, what the changes are, what the definitions are, and we're rolling out a comprehensive course to teach people, to teach marketers how to use the new Google Analytics 4 system....
Now, Google has not released their Google Analytics Academy courses. Historically, they have their Google Analytics, their Tag Manager, their Search Console, etcetera, courses. That's good, but the problem with those is that they're all standalone and it doesn't really bring all of the different systems together. What we have worked really hard to do in our Google Analytics course is give you the holistic 360 view of the whole Google marketing platform as it relates to Google Analytics 4 and really teach you lesson by lesson what you need to know and how to set up each of those pieces.
In a very biased way, that would be my recommendation for a really good resource as to where marketers could start.
George: I think that's a great resource. I don't know about you, listeners, but me personally, I love when people connect the dots for me. It makes my life so much easier. To take these different pieces of what is going to have to work together to be this engine for your analytics moving forward is absolutely amazing.
One of the things that I like to do on pretty much every episode is some strategy, but I'm a tactical driven type of guy, my brain works in tactics. When you think about that, it's tips, tricks, hacks, that type of thing. What are two or three tips that you would want to give the Marketing Smarts audience about Google Analytics 4 as they're learning and moving forward and having to get their hands dirty around this scenario or situation that they're in?
Katie: The number one thing is use it as an excuse, an opportunity to take a step back with all of your marketing, all of your data collection, all of your requirements, your KPIs, and who has access to what. It is a really good reason to evaluate your whole Google marketing platform ecosystem and if it is set up correctly. Use it as an opportunity to have the conversations with your teams to say, “Are these the KPIs we still care about?”
Over the past couple of years, your business has likely changed. Have we added in a lot more e-commerce and online sales? Have we stood up a whole bunch of different services and products? Are we collecting the data on those different things? Use it as an opportunity to have those conversations.
The other tip I would give people is as you're collecting those requirements, utilize user stories. A user story is a simple sentence of as a user, I want to take an action so that I get a certain outcome. It's a simple sentence that helps you define everybody's perspective on why they're using the system and everybody's perspective on what they need the system to be able to do, which will help you set it up in the correct way. Every single person should have their own individual user story. There is definitely going to be some overlap, but consider each individual person who has to interact with the system as their own set of requirements.
What you might find is that if in Google Analytics 3 you had a long list of users who needed access to the system because of reporting, this, that, or the other, you may find that is no longer the case because they only need the information that is coming out of Google Data Studio. You may be able to restrict access to the data collecting systems themselves and give more people access to the reporting side of things.
George: Listeners, you know what we just hit, we hit the rewind spot. Literally, you need to rewind that, you need to get those secondary notes and jot them down. Those were two great tips as far as using Google Analytics 4 and mindset and things that you can do as you move forward.
One of the things I like to do is look into the future. Tying back to there's a lot of people right now that are throwing out a lot of cons because it's this brand new thing and it's this who moved my cheese scenario almost happening around Google Analytics. What I want to do is put your goggles on and if you were to future-think for a second, what do you think Google Analytics looks like in the future?
Katie: I think that Google Analytics, the way in which Google is rolling it out, although it is frustrating for myself and average marketers who maybe aren't coders and developers, it is going to allow for deeper data collection across different platforms and systems. If you're familiar with Scott Brinker's mar-tech tech stack, it's now the Mar-Tech 9,000 because of how many systems are out there. Just in CRM systems alone, I think there were something like 400 different systems. People who buy those systems generally want to know what's happening inside of them, and they generally want to know how that connects to their website traffic.
My prediction is that the way in which Google is rolling out the new Google Analytics 4, it should start to make those connections between systems a little bit more seamless. It's still going to take some time, it might take some API development, but that is the way that I'm seeing it moving. They want to become that central point for data collection so that everything is filtering into their systems versus Google Analytics just being a small part of those larger systems.
George: I love that so much. I agree with you, I love the direction where it's probably going to go. I think it's going to be interesting how other SaaS software integrate and tie into what ends up being built and what is being built now.
As we close this out, because you've given us a little over 20 minutes of mind-breaking, earth-shattering, fire under our feet information of the oh crap moments, what are some final words of wisdom that you would want to give to the listeners after hearing all of this, maybe for the first time, maybe the second time but they've kind of ignored it? What are your words of wisdom?
Katie: Make a plan. It doesn't have to be a daunting exercise. It's a great opportunity to get more stakeholders in your organization involved and give them a sense of ownership over this move from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. Start with what are all the different mar-tech pieces that we have. Do we have access to all of them? Do the people who set them up still work at this company? Do we even know what the password is?
Start with an audit of here is everything we know. Even if it's not fully organized, collect everything, put it in a big pile, and then start bringing people into the conversation of, “Do we still need this? Who has access to this? What data are we collecting here? Do we even look at that data? Do we care about that information anymore?”
That would be my words of wisdom. Make a plan. Have a purpose. What are the questions that you need to have answered? Everything you do should tie back to answering that question. If it doesn't, push it aside for now, it's not a big priority. If it does answer that question, leave it in the big pile of things that you're sorting through.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, so good. Such good wisdom, such good advice, such a valuable podcast episode to help people get through this trying time with their analytics. Katie, if people want to connect with you, reach out, have questions or whatnot, where do you want to send them?
Katie: I would definitely send them to our free Slack community, Analytics for Marketers. I'm there every day. Chris is there every day. We have almost 4,000 community members who are asking and answering each other's questions, specifically around Google Analytics, but also just analytics in general.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Is it strategizing? I don't know. You'll have to let us know. Make sure you reach out and let us know either in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #Mprofs.
I know for me, one of the most mind-blowing sections of this episode was Katie's words of wisdom to stop and make a plan pertaining to your Google Analytics 4 next steps and future usage. I'm a firm believer in always strategizing and envisioning your path before you start to throw tactics against the wall praying and hoping that they'll work.
Marketing Smarts listeners, we'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or a friend. Until we meet in the next episode where we talk about the power of a collaborative content strategy with Andy Crestodina, I hope you do just a couple of things.
One, reach out and let us know what conversations you'd like to listen in to next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on June 2, 2022
Katie Robbert, an authority on compliance, governance, change management, Agile methodologies, and dealing with high-stakes, “no mistakes” data. As CEO of Trust Insights, she oversees the growth of the company, manages operations and product commercialization, and sets overall strategy. She is a Google Analytics Certified Professional, a Google AdWords Certified Professional, and a Google Digital Sales Certified Professional.
LinkedIn: Katie Robbert
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