September 7, 2022

How Your Franchise Should Prepare for GA4

Google Universal is going the way of the dinosaur, with the search engine fully transitioning to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) by July 2023. This is industry-shaking news, especially as there is no way to migrate Universal data to the new GA4. If franchises or multi-unit organizations are caught off guard by this shift, they run the risk of losing all their historical data, not just for the corporate site, but for each individual location as well. This article will look at what we know about GA4 so far and offer several ways franchisors can prepare for the shift.

GA4 VS Universal  

Part of the reason GA 4 offers such an impact is because of how different it is from Universal Analytics. For instance, GA 4 is events based while Universal Analytics is sessions based. Every traditional “hit” or user interaction that Universal Analytics would record, is now recorded as an event in GA4.  

GA4’s Schema markup, or its design, tracks each event individually, while the Universal Schema organizes each event together with other events that happened in the same time frame. This fundamental difference between these two properties is why migrating data is nearly impossible. It’s equivalent to fitting a square peg in a round hole.

The purpose of Google Analytics 4 is to gain a better understanding of the user's journey from start to finish. Universal Analytics was hyper-focused on page views, but modern websites are more sophisticated, and users can interact with content without having to reload or move to a new page. GA 4 is much better suited for this new normal, tracking user engagement in a more comprehensive manner.  

This type of data reporting is essential to franchisors, who need to understand how a user interacts with multiple locations at once, but not at the expense of losing out on all their historical Universal Analytic data. Franchisors need to use the time they have between GA4’s full implementation to make sure that their current data archives are moved properly and maintained to the best of their ability.

The Great Migration  

While some data settings can be transferred over, this is no means to import historical data direct from Universal Analytics to GA4. This is a considerable setback, and to get around it, franchisors will have to be creative. Fortunately, franchisors have options when it comes to saving and exporting their historical data. Here are several methods franchisors can use to move their data effectively.

Exporting By Hand  

It may seem counterintuitive for a franchisor to manually export their own data, especially if they have hundreds of locations to account for, but it is still one of the easiest ways to guarantee your data’s safety. Exporting directly from a Google Analytics account lets you save your data to where you want, in several different formats, including an Excel spreadsheet, Google Sheet, CSV, or a PDF.

It’s important to note that a traditional Google Analytic export only lets you apply two custom dimensions, so franchisors need to be pragmatic with their data filters. Additionally, while this method is convenient, exports are limited to 5,000 rows. Franchises might receive thousands of hits on their webpages a day, so general Google Analytic data might only represent a sample of the overall data. To quickly see if your data is sampled, look for the green shield.  

Google’s Tools  

Google has a variety of tools in its toolbox. Google’s custom APIs offer advanced data configuration and reporting and understanding how they can help export data can benefit a franchisor looking to move their data. Some of the main Google APIs to look at include Core Reporting and Query Explorer. Additional add-on tools include Google Sheets as a means of exporting data for those franchisors who are and are not technically inclined.

APIs

Google’s Core Reporting API is best suited for exporting Universal data. Please note that this API does not support GA4, with Google using its new Google Analytic Data API moving forward. The Core Reporting API works in tandem with the Universal Analytics Query Explorer, which is a free tool that allows you to build queries around your Google Analytics data.  

Franchisors can access Query Explorer through their Google Analytics accounts. Query Explorer automatically inputs the Google Analytics ID, so all they have to enter is the account they want to export data from. Next, simply enter the data range and any general or specific metrics to filter.

Using minimal, general filters lets the Query Explorer export more data than specific filters. After a franchisor runs a query, they can open the data in a spreadsheet as if they had manually exported it.  

Ironically, while the Core Reporting API is incompatible with GA4, the Query Explorer is compatible.

For franchisors to get the most out of their data between now and Universal Analytics’ sunset, it makes sense to use the UA and GA4 versions of Query Explorer simultaneously, so they can see their historical data while remaining on top of current data trends.

Add-Ons

Like APIs, Google has a variety of Add-Ons that combine the features of multiple applications. The one best suited to help export historical Google Analytics data is Google Sheets. Franchisors can create and design spreadsheets using their own data, allowing them also to create dashboards, visualize their data, and query from multiple profiles at once. That’s mission critical for a franchise operation, that needs to understand how to separate data from one location to another.  

Business Intelligence Tools  

Outside of Google, there are also several Business Intelligence (BI) tools that could be useful in protecting historical data. BI tools are powerful resources to have regardless, helping franchisors better understand their own data. Google Analytics is an essential tool, but it offers static, artifact data that might not provide much insight into why a business or business location is performing the way that it is.  

Third party BI tools like Tableau or Hevo are platforms that allow their users to export and analysis data and connect to data warehouses like BigQuery. BigQuery can export Universal Analytics data, however, that feature is only available to those that have an Analytics 360 account with Google. Tableau is a powerful tool, and can connect to BigQuery which supports GA4; however, Tableau itself can only support Universal Analytics as of now. That kind of separation is why GA4 migration has proven so frustrating for many.  

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the number of available BI tools. Franchisors need to be critical of their BI tools, to ensure that they are investing in the right tool for the job and that their historical data can be kept safe. Paying for data analysis or for accessing a data warehouse are viable options for larger franchise operations; but a franchisor needs to be aware of the benefits these services offer in association with the cost. A good BI tool needs to protect historical data and have the ability to offer insight that can help make better business decisions.  

Franchisors need to be using a BI tool in junction with Google Analytics, to compare data sets and create specific filters to gain even more value from your data. This will help them gain a competitive advantage while the competition struggles to rebuild their data from scratch after July 2023.

Understanding Your TruPresence  

Franchises, and multi-location organizations, are unique in that they need to protect data from multiple data sources at once. Location analytics is simply analytical data unique to an individual location that can be compared to other locations within that franchise. Each franchise location is a data source, with each location's web page acting as that location’s website. A franchisor needs to be able to track its performance, traffic, conversion, etc... over time. To do this right, a franchisor needs to work with multiple analytical tools at once, preferably ones built to meet the needs of a franchise, like TruPresence.  

Franchisors can implement both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics on the main corporate site to retrieve general data on how the overall website functions as a whole. A franchise-specific business intelligence tool like TruPresence can glean the same type of analytics on the page level, extracting incredibly detailed data that franchisors and franchisees can use to understand location performance.

Digesting Data  

There are a dozen reasons why a franchisor would need their analytical data, one of the most important of which is benchmarking. Benchmarking compares data points against a standard, so see how they differ. Benchmarking is mission-critical for franchises because not only do franchisors have to compare themselves against the whole franchise industry, but they also must benchmark internally, comparing locations against one another. Data tools like Google’s Data Studio help visualize historical data for a year-over-year comparison.

To get started in Data Studio, the migration path looks like this:  

  • Universal Analytic Export to Google Sheets  
  • Import Google Sheets into Data Studio  
  • Create Report  
  • Configure Data Studio Table to highlight desired metrics and dimensions
  • Compare YOY data in one place  

This is a beneficial tool for any site owner, and for franchisors, it helps visualize historical data quickly and efficiently.  

Google Analytics offers additional benchmarking against competitors in hundreds of industries. TruPresence offers in-depth benchmarking capabilities for franchise industries, so, a franchisor can compare data against other franchises regardless of their industry. Having the two data sets side by side would make any franchisor an analytical expert in their field.

Conclusion  

No matter how you do it, the important thing is that you take the necessary steps to protect all Universal Analytic data before the July 2023 deadline. The more time spent not using Google Analytics 4 in tandem with Universal Analytics means franchisors won’t have a full year’s worth of data when Universal is finally sunset. Use the two together, in addition to a BI tool right for your situation, to remain competitive and maintain your incredibly valuable data as the industry moves on to new technology and new opportunities.  

Nick Zerbst

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