Google have announced that they are sunsetting their Universal Analytics (UA) platform, transitioning to an overhauled GA4 from June 2023 to meet all your tracking needs.
What have Google announced?
In a blog post on Wednesday 16th (1pm GMT) Google announced that UA will sunset from July 2023. For standard customers, this will take effect immediately from the 1st of July 2023, whilst Google Analytics 360 customers will be granted an additional three months, to 1st October 2023.
What does sunsetting mean?
From the dates mentioned above UA will no longer process any new hits. Essentially, new data will no longer appear within the platform and the last dates that will show in reports will be 30th June 2023 for standard customers and 30th September 2023 for 360 customers. At this point, properties will become read-only meaning that users will still be able to access UA properties for historical data analysis.
Are Google offering an alternative solution?
Google released GA4 in 2020, to supersede UA. GA4 is the next evolution of GA, bringing tracking, privacy and efficiency enhancements to answer the key challenges facing marketers today.
What is GA4?
GA4 (formerly known as “App + Web”) is the next generation of Google Analytics. It has been completely overhauled for the modern and future tracking requirements of marketers and analysts, focussing on three key pillars:
GA4 has been designed to track across both web and apps so that a holistic view across both platforms can be used for reporting. This gives marketers and analysts a complete view of how their site is performing, something we’ve blogged about previously here.
With a refreshed, cleaner, dataset behind the scenes, GA4 is able to expand its offering with enhanced modelling from Google’s AI, better identifying users most likely to convert. Additionally, greater automation features enable data trends to be highlighted and responded to faster, enabling more informed and responsive business decisions to be taken.
With recent changes to the landscape following GDPR and initiatives such as ITP, tracking is changing. In response to these challenges GA4 has been designed with privacy in mind and does not rely exclusively on cookies. Furthermore, with Consent Mode, GA4 can use modelling to see site limited site performance where users do not accept cookies.
In short, GA4 is Google’s new analytics product of record, and all future development will be on that platform. It already offers the following compelling enhancements versus UA:
- Enhanced Measurement provides the ability to activate additional tracking features (scroll tracking, video engagement, file downloads and outbound clicks) from within the GA4 UI.
- Enhanced Data Deletion capabilities. In GA4 you get far more granular control over the data that is deleted when submitting a Data Deletion request. For example, you can choose to delete only parameter values that contain specific text.
- UI-based configuration of Cross Domain. In-scope domains can now be added/removed from within the UI rather than needing to amend code or tag management systems.
- BigQuery linking is available in GA4 standard (in UA this feature was restricted to 360 customers).
- Data Driven Attribution is available to GA4 standard customers. This was only available to 360 customers in UA and leverages machine-learning algorithms to evaluate both converting and non-converting paths to distribute credit.
- Additional analysis techniques are available within Explorations to standard GA4 customers. These tools include Free-form, Funnel, Segment Overlap and Path explorations. For a quick overview of these features, see our Advanced Analysis with Explorations post.
- Event Editing enables customers to 'correct' and fine-tune the events logged in their GA4 properties directly within the UI, without needing to adjust tracking implementations e.g. to rename an event so that it matches with those from another data stream.
- Reporting Customization enables customers to create bespoke experiences within the reporting UI by adding/removing items to the left-hand navigation as well as customising the reports available.
Why has Google taken this step?
UA was launched in 2012 and leveraged much of the architecture of the previous ‘Classic GA’ solution that preceded it. Consequently, the platform is one that was designed for a world of cookies and observable data. With the significant changes that have impacted the internet over recent years, Google have maintained their philosophy of iterating their solutions to make them as innovative and future-looking as possible for advertisers and businesses.
Whilst the speed with which such a ‘final’ sunsetting process is being deployed is surprising, particularly in comparison with previous examples (Classic to UA), it can likely be explained by the fact that the GA4 architecture is completely new. This was not the case when GA migrated from Classic to UA, meaning that Google are currently simultaneously supporting two unique analytics products for the first time. Given the growing scale and complexity of their customer base it is perhaps unsurprising that they have chosen to focus on their new solution, especially as it is one that does not rely exclusively on cookies.
What does this mean for UA customers?
Planning for GA4 must now take centre stage. UA is being sunset completely for standard customers in just over 18 months (from the time of writing). Consequently, a determination of the criticality of Year-on-Year reporting should be made and migration timelines set accordingly.
At a high level, the migration plan should consider the following as a minimum:
GA4 uses a new event-based data model that is fundamentally different to the one used by UA. Consequently, tracking solutions will need to be updated and it is likely that development resource will need to be secured to support this. Customers working with tag management platforms may be able to leverage their existing data layer and configurations to fit the new data model which will reduce the amount of developer resource required.
Reporting and Measurement
With GA4 being event based, rather than session based, how performance is measured and reported on will change. This may necessitate changes to KPI definitions, and it is likely that users will need time to adjust to this. All bespoke reports and integrations (e.g. with Data Studio) will need to be migrated to leverage GA4 data streams and this has the capacity to be a resource-intensive workstream.
As detailed above, GA4 is a fundamentally different analytics platform with a new event-based data model and significant changes to the reporting solution which may present a daunting challenge to some UA customers. Time and resources should therefore be allocated to training/upskilling within the migration plan as this will help facilitate a smoother transition and provide additional benefits through the sharing of knowledge and ideas.
How can we help?
As a Google’s largest UK Sales Partner, we’ve completed thousands of implementation projects and have been working with GA4 since its beta release (see our 2020 blog post here). We’ve already supported many of our clients as they have embarked on their own migration journeys and have a team of certified experts on hand to provide support and guidance on how to address the three pillars above:
Our implementation experts can review your current tracking solution and determine whether existing architecture can be readily repurposed for the GA4 event-based data model. Where feasible, we can then provide guidance and/or assistance on how to do this. If a new architecture is required, we can work with you to determine and implement a best-practice solution that meets your specific use cases.
Reporting and Measurement
Our data visualisation experts and analysts can work with you to chart your current reporting portfolio and build and execute against a migration roadmap. In instances where like-for-like data will be unavailable post-migration, the team will walk you through alternative solutions that will minimize the impact on your reporting and analysis capabilities (for example, our Ecommerce in GA4 blog post walks through the recreation of UA Ecommerce funnels using the Funnel Exploration).
We have experienced trainers who love to share their knowledge and upskill in-house teams. Our trainers will work with you to tailor the content to your needs and ensure you get the most from your sessions.
If you would like to know more about how we can help, please reach out to [email protected].
For all blogs on GA4, please see below: