Google to replace Universal Analytics with Google Analytics 4 in 2023

Google to replace Universal Analytics with Google Analytics 4 in 2023

Analytics is invaluable when it comes to running websites, and Google Analytics is favoured by many website creators thanks to its easy setup and powerful tools. Now, that Google Analytics has been online for over a decade, Google Analytics is officially shutting down Universal Analytics as it moves towards a new standard.

Google Sunsetting Universal Analytics

From July 1st 2023, Google Analytics will stop counting new hits on properties using Universal Analytics, or UA (GA3). This comes after the tool was created in early 2014, making it long overdue for an update, considering the speed of the online world and its innovations.  

On its support page, Google explains that the current Universal Analytics will be replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which launched back in December 2020 as a cookie-free method of measuring website traffic and incorporating new data such as predictive insights and features deeper integration with Google Ads.  

It’s important to be aware, that even though Google is shutting down Universal Analytics next year, the existing site data will be available for at least six months, but Google highly recommends exporting historical data during that time period. There is no exact set date for when Universal Analytics will be inaccessible, but it’s always good to be safer and change over to GA4 sooner rather than later. Bear in mind that Google Analytics 360 properties have an extension date, with new historical data and hits being processed through October 1st, 2023.  

If you use Google Analytics for a website, you can tell which version you are currently using due to the creation date. If the website was created before Google 2020, you’re likely using Universal Analytics, and any website created after is likely already using GA4. Another way to tell is by being aware that if you see UA in your website’s identification number, this means you’re using Universal Analytics.

Why Is It Happening?

To burrow Google’s own words, Universal Analytics was made for a different generation of websites. This was for a time when the online measurement was anchored in the desktop web, with observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete as mobile data becomes more helpful, and cookies aren’t relied on as much anymore.

In order to cater for this, Google Analytics 4 differs from its predecessor in that it operates across many platforms, doesn’t rely heavily on cookies and uses an event-based data model for measurement. It also doesn’t store IP addresses, which means brands can adhere better to privacy regulations.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google describes the purpose of the new Google Analytics as a next-generation approach to aspects such as, ‘privacy first’ tracking, x-channel measurement and AI-based predictive data. By applying Google’s complex machine learning models, the new Analytics can fill out data for website traffic and user behaviour without having to measure hits that come from each and every page.  

Google Analytics 4 is additionally built on the same platform as the ‘App + Web” system that they released in 2019. This App + Webb version was mainly focused on cross-channel data, meaning that it gave marketers a way to track users across apps, software and a website. This means that its main goal is to change the way data is shown to focus on users, and exhibit their user journey from the first visit to the final conversion.  

This is the reason GA4 is focused on ‘events’; these are the main ways that data is presented in the new Google Analytics. This helps, as you have distinct markers to see where you are succeeding and where you are not.  

The last thing to know is that the new Analytics has a machine learning process which means it can easily fill in gaps where the business isn’t able to previously understand their customer base because users can opt-out of cookie usage and data collection. This is due to the current trend where users don’t want to disclose their information to websites.  So, Google Analytics 4 was born from the new internet privacy protection laws that require websites to move from cookie-related data to user-related data.

The Highlights of Google Analytics 4

With this new iteration of Google Analytics comes a wide variety of great highlights that users should exploit fully.  

  •  Where event tracking in Universal Analytics required modified analytics codes, the new Google Analytics 4 claims to enable editing, tracking and fine-tuning of events within the user interfacing. This encompasses interactions like page scroll, clicks and more. 
  • Google Analytics 4 is built with machine learning as the main form of data measurement, using modelling that can extrapolate from existing data and make assumptions about site traffic and user behaviour. 
  • The new Google Analytics 4 is focused on giving marketers more understanding of the customer journey across devices. This means that it’s focused on measuring an end-to-end journey, and not just individual metrics across devices, pages and segments. 
  • Analytics 4 is designed to be future-proofed and work in a world where cookies and identifying data no longer exist. 
  • Google Analytics 4 has no view level section, now utilizing account and property levels. Instead, the new system features data streams. 
  • Google Analytics 4 will now allow marketers to edit, fine-tune and correct the way events are tracked in their analytics without having to edit on-site code. 
  • Data importing now includes data from non-website sources such as apps.
  •  A Life-Cycle Report is one of the bigger changes and allows focus on the user journey. This and the replated reports for eCommerce businesses allow users to display and visualize data in a way that was only previously available in Analytics 360 accounts. 

Key Differences Between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics

User Interface

The biggest difference we’ve noted between Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4 is the user interface. This means that people using the new Analytics 4 shouldn’t expect to see the old default reports or some features they’ve grown used to.  Traditional Analytics featured three tiers of data organization with Account, Property and View, whereas the new system only has Account and Property. 

Data Collection

Another key difference we’ve seen is that data collection has changed, especially how data is defined and what data elements are called. Here are some of the terms and their meanings. 

User ID: which is used for cross-platform user tracking.
User Property: attributes or demographic information about the user. 
Event: user interactions with a website or app, including user actions, views, button clicks etc. Now, events don’t require you to add custom code into the onsite analytics tracking code, these are now tracked by default. 
Parameters: additional information that gives contexts to events. These can describe the value of a purchase or be page titles, article ID, etc.

Smaller Sessions

Sessions are lower in Google Analytics 4. This means that hits are processed within lower time sessions, and this in turn means that old data and new data will not match up entirely. So, keep in mind that previously Universal Analytics will start a new session with a new campaign, regardless of activity, now, in Google Analytics 4, a new campaign doesn’t begin a new session. It’s also important to note that delayed data is also handled differently. In Universal Analytics, hits are processed if they arrive within 4 hours of the end of the day, but the new Google Analytics 4 processes events that arrive up to 72 hours later. 

Final Thoughts

When you think of all that we’ve gone through so far, you won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a lot to keep in mind. But here are a few things to remember that will make it easier for you.  

  1. You can use both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 side by side, this can help you become used to the new version while you still incorporate the old version. 
  2. You will not be forced to switch over to the new version of analytics, but any new properties or any new accounts will default to Google Analytics 4.
  3. We recommend creating a new version of the Google Analytics 4 property using the App + Web property set-up so you can let data begin to populate and start getting used to the new user interface and the new way the data is shown.

In addition to the above, here are some important dates to keep in mind.            

July 1st 2023 is when all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. October 1st 2023 is when all 260 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits.  Previously processed data in Universal Analytics will remain available for at least six months after the above dates.  

In general, when huge new updates like this happen, we try to remind the people we work with, whether they be clients or not, that you can choose to view Google’s constant changes as a constant hassle that drains time and resources, or you can see the hidden opportunities. We much prefer staying up to date with these new changes as soon as they come to the market, as in the end, they are all improving Google in the long term. In addition, if you stay ahead of these changes, you’re also staying ahead of your competitors. 

If you do feel overwhelmed by these incoming changes, and can’t seem to comprehend them, or if you find them time-consuming to incorporate, you aren’t the only one. This is why we at Perfect Link Building offer support to our clients regarding their Google Analytics, just call us and see how we can help.

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