Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2022. It was updated in 2023.
Circle July 1, 2023 on your calendar. That’s when you’ll need to be ready for a new way of analyzing your digital marketing data.
In March 2022, Google announced that Universal Analytics (the current iteration of their data-processing platform) will be phased out in favor of Google Analytics 4. New hits on all standard Universal Analytics properties will cease processing on July 1, 2023. A year later, on July 1, 2024, new hits on Universal Analytics 360 properties will stop processing. After those dates, all users must utilize Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to monitor their website activity.
Data previously processed on Universal Analytics will be stored until July 1, 2024.
Why did Google announce the transition to Google Analytics 4 more than a year in advance? Because it will have a major impact on the way companies collect and analyze data. It will take time to fully understand what makes GA4 different and adequately prepare for the switch so that you aren’t in panic mode come July.
This article will summarize why Universal Analytics is going away in favor of Google Analytics 4. It also will provide insight into how you can begin to prepare for the upcoming transition. Being proactive and familiarizing yourself with GA4 now will help you minimize the shock when it is implemented.
Why is Universal Analytics Being Replaced by Google Analytics 4?
A beta version of Google Analytics 4 was first released in October 2020. Any Google Analytics user was automatically enrolled into GA4 but could still use Universal Analytics. Now, the clock is ticking before GA4 is the only option.
Google’s announcement said Universal Analytics had run its course.
“Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies,” said Russell Ketchum, Director of Product Management for Google. “This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.”
GA4 was designed to deliver cross-platform insights to help companies achieve key business objectives like sales, lead generation and app installs. Google emphasized these benefits:
- Event-based Analytics – Get a complete overview of the customer lifecycle that isn’t fragmented by platform or organized into independent sessions.
- Data-driven ROI Attribution – Analyze the collective impact of marketing activities across the customer journey, not just the final click.
- More Valuable Data – Machine learning generates predictive insights about user behavior and conversions, creates new audiences of users likely to purchase or churn and automatically surfaces critical insights.
- Expanded Insights – Integrations with other Google products like Google Ads work across combined web and app data, making it easy to use Analytics to optimize campaigns.
- Privacy Protection – GA4 has more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage and will no longer store IP addresses, essential features in today’s international data privacy landscape.
There are many differences between the display and functionality of Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. Here is a summary from Google. This article also does a great job of breaking them down.
Reaction to the Looming Transition to GA4
Unsurprisingly, the Google announcement painted a rosy picture of this new era of Analytics. It explained the reasons Universal Analytics needed to be retired and highlighted the shiny new features offered by GA4. It was the corporate speak anyone would expect.
But what did the public think?
Google Analytics 4 has fans in its current users and those who are buying into its potential and aren’t concerned about the transition process. However, there are also many who weren’t happy when the announcement was made. The reactions ranged from annoyed to incensed. Here’s a sampling:
Then, of course, there were memes:
Concerns with Google Analytics 4
The complaints and jokes at the expense of Google Analytics 4 aren’t unfounded. Business owners and marketers have real concerns about a negative impact on their companies. Here are some of the most common concerns that have surfaced:
- Difficult to Use – There’s always a learning curve with new software, but indications are that it’s steeper than usual with GA4. Even experienced and tech-savvy marketers have voiced their frustration. There’s a feeling that Google Analytics 4 is geared more toward big corporations and enterprise-level users as opposed to small- and mid-sized businesses with employees who aren’t as plugged into tech.
- Different User Interface – Similar to the ease-of-use concern is the fact that GA4 collects and displays data differently. It will take some time to get used to the new way data is presented. Additionally, the way goals are tracked has been updated, so the switch to GA4 may require setting goals all over again.
- Loss of Historic Data – One of the biggest points of emphasis (and sources of user ire) is that Google Analytics 4 is not compatible with Universal Analytics. It’s an entirely new tracking and measurement system. This means historic data can’t be transferred into GA4. You’re essentially starting from scratch once you begin to use GA4. As mentioned earlier in the article, your UA data will only be available for a year after the system is sunset.
- Time-consuming to Learn & Set Up – Transitioning to a completely new tracking and measurement system will take time and resources. At a time when those things are at a premium, it will be critical to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented. Being proactive and drawing from the GA4 resources that are available will help the transition go more smoothly.
How Should You Approach GA4 Right Now?
Time is running out to test the Google Analytics 4 waters. Here are some things you can do:
- Educate Yourself on GA4 – The transition to Google Analytics 4 is a big deal. As a result, there is no shortage of articles, guides and videos you can consume to learn about it. Take some time to research so you aren’t going into the switch blind.
- Collaborate with Your Team – Start having meetings with all parties involved (marketing, web/SEO, reporting, etc.). Discuss questions, comments and concerns as you prepare for the transition, and start assigning tasks as you progress toward the change to GA4. If a marketing agency manages any or all of your Analytics properties and reporting, make sure they’re involved. And don’t forget to ask them about timelines and costs.
- Take GA4 for a Test Drive – The best way to know what to expect from GA4 is to experience it for yourself. You don’t even need to disrupt your current processes with Universal Analytics. You can “dual tag” by adding GA4 tracking onto your website to work in parallel with your existing UA tagging. There’s no cross-over between the two, so there’s no concern of one impacting the other. Benefits of dual tagging include:
- More time to acclimate to the GA4 interface and reporting before it’s your only option
- Building historical data in GA4 since existing data in UA won’t be transferred over
Additional Google Analytics 4 Resources
Ready to give Google Analytics 4 a try or at least see what it takes to get it set up? Here are some articles to help you out:
- Google: [GA4] Set up Analytics for a website and/or app
- Google: Google Analytics 4 tags
- Search Engine Land: How to get started in Google Analytics 4
Have additional questions, want to learn more or need help making the transition? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.