If you use Google Analytics, by now you are probably aware that a new version known as Google Analytics 4 is coming. By July 2023, Google Analytics 4 will replace the current version of the popular web analytics service, known as Universal Analytics (UA). This news has sent shock waves throughout an ad tech world that has grown dependent on UA to track and report website traffic. Here are some questions you may have – and some answers:
What exactly is happening to Google Analytics?
UA – the current version of Google Analytics — is going away. UA will stop processing hits in July 2023. That’s because Google is replacing UA with Google Analytics 4 (GA4). If you want to continue using Google to track and report website traffic, you’ll need to transition to GA4. Google actually began to introduce GA4 in 2020, as noted in this blog post. But in July 2023, Google is making GA4 mandatory, as Google said in March 2022. While standard UA properties will stop working July 2023, Universal Analytics 360 properties will receive an additional three months of new hit processing, meaning these will stop working come October 1, 2023. (Author’s note: Google has since revised its timeline. Google now gives 360 properties an additional full year, making the new deadline July 1, 2024.)
Why is Google Replacing Universal Analytics with Google Analytics 4?
Google says that GA4 is coming for three primary reasons:
- Provide more user-centric data. UA is built on a session-based data model that is 15 years old. Google built UA to measure independent sessions, or groups of user interactions within a given time frame on a desktop device. This measurement approach has become obsolete. GA4 does not measure goals by user, only by session. For instance, if someone watches four videos in one session, the interaction can only count as one conversion. By collecting user data as events, GA4 seeks to provide businesses with more accurate insight into user activity.
- Work across platforms. UA was built for a desktop experience. GA4 is designed to work across platforms, including mobile. According to Google, GA4 provides a complete view of the customer lifecycle with an event-based measurement model that isn’t fragmented by platform or organized into independent sessions. Google cites the example of UK-based fitness apparel and accessories brand Gymshark, which is already using an iteration of GA4 to measure user activity across its website and app. This allows the Gymshark team to better understand how users move through the purchase funnel. Google says that as a result, Gymshark has reduced user drop off by 9 percent, increased product page clickthroughs by 5 percent, and cut down their own time spent on user journey analysis by 30 percent.
- Transition to a privacy-centric world. Google is under tremendous pressure to adapt to a world in which user privacy is a much bigger priority than it used to be when UA was introduced. GA4 does that. For instance, GA4 4 will also no longer store internet protocol (IP) addresses. GA4 also offers a workaround for when users reject cookies. UA works by setting cookies on a user’s browser when visiting your website. But more people are opting out of sharing their data via cookies. So, UA cannot report on all the people who visit a website. GA4 will rely on a technique known as conversion modeling to provide results in a cookie-less world. Conversion modeling uses machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence) to enable accurate measurement while only reporting on aggregated and anonymized data. GA4 will still collect data from first-party cookies, but conversion modeling makes it possible for GA4 to continue collecting user data when cookies are rejected by users.
In short, Google is changing website tracking and reporting to adapt to a more privacy-centric world in which people use multiple devices to interact with brands.
How does Google Analytics 4 differ from Universal Analytics?
GA4 is a replacement, not an update. It’s a completely new way of tracking and reporting website traffic. The key difference is the adoption of more user-centric data as discussed above. This post from the Google Help Center explains in more detail how the more user-centric data model differs from Universal Analytics. Don’t read it until you’ve had your morning coffee.
There are many other differences too numerous to describe here. For instance, with GA4, you can choose to retain data for two months or 14 months. And GA4 offers custom reporting templates (whereas UA favored the use of pre-built reports).
What will happen to Universal Analytics?
UA will go away. It will not be possible to track and report website traffic with UA as of July 2023 for standard accounts, and October 2023 for UA 360 accounts.
After UA properties stop processing new hits, all previously processed data will remain accessible for at least six months. In the coming months, Google will provide a future date for when existing Universal Analytics properties will no longer be available. After that date, users will no longer be able to see UA reports in the Google Analytics interface or access UA data via the API.
What should I do to prepare for Google Analytics 4?
If you rely on a marketing and advertising agency to manage GA4, it’s highly likely that they are managing the transition for you. Just the same, contact them to understand how they are going to make the transition and how your website tracking and reporting will change. True Interactive uses UA in our client work. We’re doing all the heavy lifting for our clients by transitioning them to GA4.
If you manage GA4 yourself, it’s important to start your transition now. Don’t wait until 2023. For example, right now you’ll need to start building historical data so that you can do a year-over-year analysis in 2023.
In addition, we recommend downloading historic data from your UA account and storing it for future reference before Google shuts off access to it via both the web interface and its reporting API as mentioned above.
Make no mistake: the learning curve is steep. You’ll need to understand how GA4 conducts event reports, conversion reports, and many other details. We recommend that businesses review resources such as:
- This post from the Google Help center.
- This Search Engine Journal article that breaks down key steps in getting started.
It’s going to take an effort from an integrated team to pull this off. You’ll need to make this effort a high priority managed with a project timeline to get it right.
Contact True Interactive
To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. We design and develop successful marketing and advertising campaigns and know how to track results, including the use of Google. Read about some of our client work here.