How to prepare now for Google’s Universal Analytics sunset
Google launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020. They have now announced a date for when its predecessor – Universal Analytics or GA3 – will stop working altogether. That date is 1st July 2023. You might be thinking it’s a way off – but for businesses which haven’t yet migrated to GA4, there’s a pressing need to act now. Read on to find out why.
Why you need to act now
Any business which analyses data needs to make comparisons, such as week on week, month on month, and year on year. Here lies the challenge: to have a full GA4 ‘past’, you need to have a working GA4 profile no later than 1st July 2022. This is to allow you to build up a year’s worth of data before Universal Analytics is discontinued. Without this in place, you won’t be able to make meaningful year on year data comparisons from July 2023, which could distort your business decision-making.
To overcome this problem, you might be tempted simply to stitch together Universal Analytics data with GA4 data to bridge any future gaps. A word of warning: please don’t do this. The data between the two is not comparable and we believe this approach will lead to inaccurate conclusions as you will not be comparing like for like.
GA4 aims to enhance user tracking, making it easier to identify users returning to your website. Its measurement model is completely different from previous iterations of Google Analytics. Therefore, on migrating to GA4, you may see significant fluctuations in visits, users and pageviews. Some clients have seen significant traffic losses when comparing GA4 to its predecessor, especially those with lots of multi-device journeys. We expect typically that you will see a lower number of sessions and visits due to the model change. Industry sector and the mix of devices used by your customers will also play a part. This doesn’t mean any traffic has genuinely been lost, just that traffic is now recorded and measured in a different way. Although Universal Analytics and GA4 are both Google products, this does not guarantee any equivalence in data once you switch. Google argue that the difference in traffic numbers is explained by GA4 more accurately tracking users than its predecessors.
What should you do?
To be fully ready for GA4, we recommend you set up GA4 (or another web analytics tool of choice) ideally by 1st July 2022. And we mean truly set up including conversion goals too. (You can create the reports you want later, as long as the data is there from July1). This will give you the best possible year on year comparisons when July 2023 comes around, because you will be comparing GA4 data to GA4 data, not GA4 to Universal Analytics.
Ideally you should run both Universal Analytics and GA4 between July 2022 and July 2023 so you will have two full sets of comparable data to look at your performance. Until July 2023 you will be comparing Universal Analytics data with Universal Analytics data and from July 2023 onwards you will be comparing GA4 with GA4. This will also give you a full year to road-test GA4, identifying and learning about the changes you will see in your analytics data, by comparing Universal Analytics and GA4 side by side over a full year of business.
If you are happy not to have year on year data for a period you can choose the best time for your business to migrate from Universal Analytics to GA4 or an alternative, as long as it is before July 2023.
At the point at which you stop using Universal Analytics, please make sure you download your full data set, as from July 2023 onwards it will no longer be available.
Are there alternatives to GA4?
You might be considering leaving Google Analytics altogether. If so, here is a list of competitors to consider. Oban is not affiliated with any of these brands, but if you are open to alternative web analytics providers, they are worth researching as potential options:
- Get Insights
- Simple Analytics
- Visitor Analytics
- Data Centurion
- Adobe Analytics
For more options, please look at this link: https://www.g2.com/products/google-analytics/competitors/alternatives
Why has Google introduced GA4?
Google has launched GA4 to solve the problem of cross-device tracking – which has been an uphill struggle for years, as user journeys become more complex and fragmented – and to provide greater consumer privacy in response to laws like the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA.
The main difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 is that the latter will allow you to track analytics on both websites and applications, whereas the former only allows you to track on websites.
Google say that clients should expect a difference in session count and that it will vary from business to business depending on factors including:
Geography. For clients with a global customer base, users in different time zones may cross the midnight threshold to restart a session and be counted differently.
Your use of UTMs on your owned websites and apps. Google don’t recommend UTM tagging as it resets the session in Universal Analytics. Therefore if you use UTMs you will see a higher session count in Universal Analytics than you will see in GA4.
Filters. The two systems treat filters which exclude data or define which data appears in a sub property differently.
Estimation. The measurement model is different between the two systems, with GA4 using a new statistical estimate of the number of sessions that occur on your website or app.
Oban can help
With 1st July fast approaching, you need to act now if you haven’t already done so:
- Decide whether you will stick with Google and migrate to GA4 or whether you will use an alternative.
- Devise a project plan for how you will transition to GA4 or an alternative, which includes preserving historical data.
- Set up your web analytics with special focus on replicating your conversion strategy. The sooner you do this, the better – so that when July 2023 comes around, you can make meaningful year on year data comparisons.
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If you need advice or support, Oban can help. To find out how, please contact your account team or get in touch.
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.