Google Analytics is transitioning to a completely new analytics platform known as Google Analytics 4 (GA4) on June 30, 2023. And even faster approaching, Google will launch its responsive ads format by the end of this month. Google Ads will retire their “expanded text ads,” a popular ad format used in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. In exchange, they will require a new format known as “responsive ads”.

And even though big changes like these can be scary for any digital marketer, Google’s updates will hopefully bring more beneficial results and foster opportunities to create impactful campaigns and ads for a wide variety of customers. We hope this blog can at least prepare you and your team for the upcoming changes to analytics and Google advertising.

Prepare Website Trend Data before Google Analytics 4 Transition

With a launch date for Google Analytics 4 more than a year away, why should we worry about it now? The answer: trend data.

To provide context to many metrics, we often like to compare them to previous time periods. How does this number compare to the number last month or the same month last year? Are we improving or getting worse? Without that context and historical benchmarks, most of your metrics are just numbers.

When GA4 is installed on your website, it will only have data from the moment you install it. Upon its installation, it can show real-time site data and will begin creating historical data from that point on; but no existing data from the old version of Google Analytics will be pulled in. And unless you’re willing to manually blend your data, you won’t be able to compare anything until GA4 has at least two months of data recorded. In addition, year-over-year (YOY) comparisons will not be available until an entire calendar year of data has been recorded.

How To Prepare For The Google Analytics 4 Launch

To avoid any data loss or significant manual data exercise, consider installing GA4 on your site no later than June 30. That way, when Google Analytics stops processing data in 2023, your GA4 platform will already have a year of data to provide context to your metrics. The basic installation process is very simple and shouldn’t take more than an hour.

Google Analytics verses Google Analytics 4

It’s important not to confuse the move to Google Analytics 4 from Google Analytics with a basic platform update. While the name is similar, GA4 uses an entirely new data model and takes a very different approach to analytics and data reporting. There are basic differences like changes to the nomenclature and visual display. Some metrics you’re probably used to seeing — like “bounce rate,” for example — are no longer in the system. You can get ahead of these changes by using your overlap period to develop new data dashboards and benchmark metrics to share with your key stakeholders. Data from the same time period can be shared on both platforms to point out the differences between each metric and explain what they really mean. This will avoid stakeholders being surprised or disgruntled when you don’t have the same side-by-side data to show.

For a complete comparison of the metrics in Google Analytics verses GA4, you can read Google’s Analytics 4 Migration Guide.

Google’s Switch to Responsive Ads

Ads you see on Google today are quite a bit longer than how they were when they were first introduced. Back in the day, Google only gave us one 25-character headline, and two very punchy ad descriptions with 35 characters each. In 2016, Google introduced the “expanded text ad”, which gave advertisers a lot more wiggle room to construct their copy. Today, we get three 30-character headlines and two 90-character descriptions. It’s a nice way for advertisers, especially in the B2B space, to convey more complicated concepts that are crucial to articulating a brand’s story. We still have to think about simple ways to convey these concepts, as the ads are clearly not limitless in terms of character count — but they’re also not as painfully restrictive as they used to be.

This character allotment expansion also helps advertisers to create more robust ads, thus improving click-through rates (CTRs). However, the functionality of the expanded text ad itself isn’t fundamentally different from Google’s original formats; everything is still static. Expanded text ads are uploaded and aired more or less exactly as the advertiser intended. Google makes minor adjustments here and there on the advertiser’s behalf — perhaps dropping one of the three headlines or one of the two ad descriptions if there isn’t enough ad space on a Google search result page to accommodate them all. But the cores of the ads, and the order in which these elements would appear, don’t change.

For Google’s new responsive ads, the character allotment for headlines and descriptions is staying the same but its functionality is changing quite a bit. Google Ads will no longer be static; they will be dynamic moving forward. Advertisers can now upload a multitude of headlines (up to 15) and description ideas (up to four), but Google will mix and match these different elements algorithmically depending on what they think is most likely to boost CTR on a searcher-by-searcher basis.

Key Takeaways When Moving to Responsive Ads

First, you need to consider how your ad configurations could appear. For example, if headline 2 is dependent on headline 1 or vice versa, you’ll need to control for that before you upload your ads. Otherwise, they may render in a way that doesn’t make sense to a user. However, you can pin any elements you’d like. If headline 1 should always appear first, you simply pin it as such when you’re uploading your ads. If you really want to maintain as much control over your ads as you used to be able to, you still can. It just requires you to pin every element in your ad accordingly.

You may struggle to meet the upcoming June 30 deadline, but you’re in luck: your old ads won’t go away. You just won’t be able to upload any new static expanded headlines after this deadline. However, it’s important to remember that quality scores — the metric Google leverages to help determine ad rankings in its auction — are likely at risk if you don’t embrace Google’s newest ad formats. We strongly predict that the quality score associated with any legacy expanded text ads will start to fall after this update is implemented. You may consequently either not rank regularly in search results or pay inflated click costs if you don’t adapt to this change.