Your Google Analytics Data Is Going Away, Eventually
Are you using Google Analytics 4 yet? If not then you should get it installed ASAP, because Universal Analytics is going away next year.
Much to the chagrin of many marketers, Google announced last week that Universal Analytics is going to stop working in July of 2023. Their words exactly:
"On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. If you still rely on Universal Analytics, we recommend that you prepare to use Google Analytics 4 going forward."
Not only is what many marketers consider the "current" version of Google Analytics going to stop working, eventually you will lose access to the existing platform and all of your data. (They did kindly say that you are welcome to manually export your data to a spreadsheet)
As if that wasn't bad enough, there also is currently no mention of being able to import any of that valuable website data into the new platform, GA4. Google Analytics was initially released in 2005. That means that some people may have nearly 17 years of data they will no longer be able to look at natively in the Google Analytics platform.
The analytics community, rightfully, is pretty up in arms about this. There has also been a slow acceptance of the new platform (GA4) so many digital marketers feel uncomfortable using it on a daily basis. I hope, at the very least, Google will create a tool that allows you to import a certain amount of data from Universal Analytics into GA4.
What should I do right now?
I strongly recommend that you set up a GA4 property and get the tracking code installed on your website. This is super easy to do if you have a Google Tag Manager container already installed on your site (if you don't, that is an easy set up as well).
Why do this now when Universal Analytics isn't going away for a while? While you can access both via analytics.google.com, Universal Analytics and GA4 run in parallel to each other and use separate tags to collect their data. This means any data collected in your Universal Analytics account is not being ported over to GA4. So if you want to have historical data in GA4 (starting with the date that the new code is installed), you'll want to get that code installed ASAP.
Plus it is a good idea to get comfortable with the new platform before Universal Analytics stops working in July '23.
What is Universal Analytics?
To take a step back - Universal Analytics is the "old" version of Google Analytics that most marketers are used to and have been using for many years. If your Google Analytics screens look the image below, then you are using Universal Analytics.
At first glance, the Google Analytics 4 seems more complicated, but it is really very simple to use, understand, and interpret once you get used to it. Change is hard, but ultimately GA4 does provide advantages in that it isn't reliant on cookies the same way Universal Analytics is.
Universal Analytics works on a basic principal - user comes to your site, and the Universal Analytics code (Tag) cookies that browser to collect data about their browsing habits on your site, and uses that cookie to recognize them when they come back. It will also analyze their behavior to give you data about what sites they came to your site from (ie referrals, or if they found you via organic search, an ad, etc.).
One problem - Third party cookies are eventually being phased out by Chrome, and already have been eliminated from a number of other browsers (Safari, Duck Duck Go). Therefore a lot of the rich attribution data from Google Analytics is not nearly as rich as it once was.
Take for instance someone comes to your site from an ad and they leave after visiting a couple of pages on your site. If Google's cookie is deleted, then when the user comes back to make a purchase, they may look like a new user, rather than a user that was generated by your paid marketing.
How is GA4 different from Universal Analytics?
GA4 is an analytics platform that automatically collects more "event" data from the users of your website. In Google's world an event is something that occurs on your website. It is automatically tracking not just page loads, it is also capturing scrolls, outbound clicks, video views, site search, and file downloads by default.
On the other hand, Universal Analytics is a "session" based model, where the only default event being tracked is a page view, and all your data, including time on site, is calculated based on each subsequent page view. The data being passed to GA4 is way more rich in that sense.
Google also claims that GA4 is future proofed with respect to cookies in that it will not rely on cookies to generate info about attribution. How they will do this is a little vague, but they say they will fill in the gaps from cookie data by using machine learning. That means a machine will create estimations in your data rather than it being 100% sampled.
The interface also looks a lot different, based on the data that it is collecting. Because it has all of this rich engagement data, The default reports are much more forward about user engagement.
At first glance, GA4 seems complicated for the sake of being complicated, but I'd argue that Universal Analytics can be the same way for a lot of newbies.
Goals (Universal Analytics) vs. Conversions (GA4)
One of the biggest adjustments for many marketers will be the absence of goals. GA4 has a similar concept that it calls "conversions". One of the biggest issues is the inability to quickly set up pre-defined user engagement goals in the form of "time on site" or number of pages per session. These pageview based goals will need to be created manually in GA4. This is where getting to know the interface is very helpful.
Remember, even time on site is derived from pageviews, because Universal Analytics uses the time stamp on a pageview to calculate how long a user is on your site.
In GA4, once you get to know the interface, it actually offers a lot of flexibility on what is considered a conversion.
We're here to help
If you'd like to chat about any of this or need a hand with implementation, we are happy to help! Just reach out so we can have a conversation.