Why Is Google Sunsetting Universal Analytics?




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Sundry Photography

Google announced this week it will deprecate Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023. That means marketers have 15 months to transition tags and report settings because Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the only framework supported. 

In its announcement, Google noted that users of Universal Analytics 360, the enterprise version of UA, will have a sunset date on Oct. 1, 2023, an additional three months due to the recent introduction of Analytics 360.

What’s Behind Google’s Move?

As Steve Jobs once said, all software has its sunrise and sunsets. So, among developers and marketers acquainted with Google Analytics, the transition is not an entire surprise: GA4 has been live for over two years, an evolution of the App + Web Property, and Universal Analytics is now 10 years old. 

In this case, the change reflects an evolution on how analytics is associated with websites and the changing role analytics plays in privacy. Universal Analytics represented the pinnacles of page-loaded measurement, introducing cross platform tracking and more flexible code options for producing custom dimensions and metrics. However, it still relied on cookies, the text files in browsers, to transmit data behind the dimensions and metrics. 

Google Analytics 4 still examines page loading. However, an “under the hood” infrastructure manages page events and triggers data more directly, removing the reliance on cookies. That positions the metrics to be more convenient for apps and other software applications rather than a browser-page framework. Moreover, marketers use the data for broader modeling purposes, such as machine learning insights on the data and an integration with Big Query.

The move this week also sets up Google to manage data privacy better. Google noted in its announcement that GA4 will “no longer store IP addresses.” IP addresses can be misused as personally identifiable information data, compromising personal privacy. Despite its increased privacy controls within the GA4 platform, Google still faced GDPR compliance challenges this year, regarding how data is transmitted. I explain the details in this post on consumer data transfers and recent European rulings

Related Article: Google Gave Us a Reprieve on Cookies. My Advice? Don’t Take It

What the Change Means for Marketers

Depending on the business, 15 months can be an eternity or a New York minute. It can be more than enough time for small firms to make the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4. Larger firms have numerous stakeholders that must prepare multiple teams and reporting needs for a transition.

The first starting point is an audit. Note your current reporting. It’s useful for not only setting up GA4 alongside your current Universal Analytics solution, but also for surfacing what additional reporting from other solutions is required. This avoids losing historical data and preserves reporting that can answer some initial assumptions for data models.

I’ve done this tactic with smaller businesses in past transitions as well as individual ones involving a changeover to a new website. In some cases, I have found the need to export data into additional dashboards for further statistical examination. 

Improve Reporting Workflow

The transition can also be an opportunity to improve reporting workflow among the team. If a team is working with more than GA4, then they are likely working with dependencies if data is being exported into a model and reporting tools that probably are not as valuable. I explain how to reevaluate tools to avoid workflow bottlenecks in this post on analytics bottlenecks.

Marketers can create a notebook of past settings and installation concerns. In the past, Google Analytics reports included an annotation feature which allowed users to create notes along a chart timeline. The notes were initially meant to document technical changes, but could also hold when campaign changes were made, too.

Today, marketers can use online notebooks such as Evernote, Notion or OneNote to document changes. If your team includes developers who are frequently using GitHub, you can turn to features such as GitHub projects to create history cards that support QA documentation. No matter what format you choose, you should have the changes documented and accessible for the team.

Related Article: What Analytics Trends Should Marketers Expect in 2022?

The Analytics on the Horizon Is Already Here

So, for all those who are data-driven, mark the calendar for July 1, 2023, for the end of data collection from Universal Analytics. In the meantime, you can read these past posts on the GA4 reporting features on CMSWire:

Many analytics practitioners have shared their feedback online, lamenting over a few feature decisions. I personally want the annotation and social media reports back. If you are manager, you will hear a lot of developers making suggestions for improvements. I am certain Google is taking it to heart, and the world will see how Google incorporates those changes into a response.

In the meantime, we discover new insights as GA4’s sun ascends.

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. He reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability.



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