Google has announced its plan to sunset Universal Analytics, making way for Google Analytics 4.
The standard version of GA4 shall come to an end in 2023. To be precise, Universal Analytics shall stop processing new data from 1st July 2023. On the other hand, Universal Analytics 360 will have an extra three months before ending on 1st October 2023. Any previous data within Universal Analytics shall be stored for six months once these dates are crossed off the calendar.
What’s wrong with Universal Analytics?
This move has largely been taken to enable cross-platform analytics exclusively provided by GA4. Google stated that –
“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. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.”
Moving away from the cookie-dependency, Google Analytics 4 uses an event-based data model that can operate across desktop websites and mobile apps. This inclusivity makes it a much more sought-after solution for the future.
While Universal Analytics does offer intricate privacy controls, GA4 has privacy built within its very core. The platform doesn’t store any IP addresses, helping brands stay on the right side of the new regulations. Smarter insights, better ROI, improved marketing and a complete understanding of customer interactions are some of the biggest selling points of this change.
Here is what you have to do next
If you use Google Analytics for your website, there is a rule of thumb to be followed. If a property was created before 14th October 2020, it is most likely using UA, while all the sites built after that shall be under the GA4 purview. To identify the obsolete ones, all you need to do is look for “UA” in the identification number. Google Analytics property IDs only have numbers.
Now, to use the new platform, you’ll need to set up a Google Analytics 4 property using the Editor role. Considering you already have a Universal Analytics property in place, all you need to do is add a GA4 property to your existing setup. The GA4 Setup Assistant shall help create that, thus allowing Google Analytics 4 to collect your data alongside Universal Analytics.
In a special case where the website builder requires you to put in a UA ID, you’ll need to copy-paste the global site tag (gtag.js) snippet into your website builder’s or CMS’s custom HTML field manually. You can check if you need to do that with your platform here.
In these 15 months, we encourage you to export your historical data to the new solution. This shall help build the necessary trails for the updated experience, preparing you for continuity once the predecessor comes to a halt. If you need a step-by-step process for making the switch, Google has come up with a migration guide here.
Now, let’s understand why Google Analytics is a step ahead.
Google Analytics 4 represents a significant technology leap that will alter the way businesses use machine learning, privacy-first data collection, and audience strategies. Adapty is very excited with the latest update, and your business should be too.
Before Google Analytics 4 or GA4. The previous three versions were Urchin, Classic Analytics and Universal Analytics.
What is the New Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
The brand-new property type comprises of expanded predictive insights, deeper integration with Google Ads, cross-device measurement capabilities and more granular data controls.
Announcing GA4, Google had this to say:
“To help you get better ROI from your marketing for the long term, we’re creating a new, more intelligent Google Analytics that builds on the foundation of the App + Web property we introduced in beta last year.
“It has machine learning at its core to surface helpful insights automatically and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms.”
The release is an extension and rebranding of the App + Web property launched last year and marks the first significant step in emerging beyond Universal Analytics.
Sounds pretty promising.
Introduction to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
GA4 gives a complete cross-channel picture of the customer lifecycle. It puts that information to use with predictive marketing features, providing marketers with more information and efficient ways to act on those insights.
To get familiar with the latest version of Google Analytics, marketers can watch Google’s video guides on GA4. They can also set up a new property in their existing Google Analytics account and click through the latest version on their own.
Google’s videos show how to set-up a Google Analytics 4 property with either a universal version of gtag.js tracking or with a Google Tag Manager (GTM) account. There is also a short walkthrough of the interface—information on managing accounts and properties and lots of information on managing the Admin section.
Highlights of the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Customer lifecycle-framed reporting.
One of the most prominent differentiation between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics is how are reports organized.
“We’ve reorganized all of the reports that had been in the App + Web beta, added a handful of additions, and now it’s organized around the customer lifecycle,'” Russell Ketchum, Group Product Manager, Google Analytics.
GA 4 has designed the reports to help marketers drill down into particular aspects of the customer journey. “For example, you can see what channels are driving new customers in the user acquisition report, then use the engagement and retention reports to understand the actions these customers take, and whether they stick around, after converting,”
Google Analytics 4 also aims to give marketers a comprehensive view of how consumers are engaging with their businesses across devices as well as channels. Marketers can provide their user ID or enable Google signals to deduplicate users across devices for reporting and ad targeting.
Codeless Event tracking.
Additional codeless characteristics make it easier for marketers to track and measure on-site and in-app actions that matter — in real-time — such as a page scroll or video play, without having to add code or set up event tracking in Google Tag Manager. In Universal Analytics, event tracking requires additional processing which includes latency, and the data is typically not available until the following day.
New AI-powered insights and predictions.
While machine learning-powered insights in Analytics have been available for some time, the new insights and predictions making their way to Google Analytics 4 can automatically signal marketers to data trends such as growing demand for a product they sell.
This technology is also applied to foretell outcomes, such as churn rates and the potential revenue a website could earn from a particular segment of customers. Such insights can help marketers anticipate actions that their customers might take in the future and focus on higher-value audiences.
Marketers can do deeper audiences integration with Google Ads.
Marketers can create and maintain audience lists from their visitors across the Web and App. For example: If a user qualified for an audience list due to an action taken on the Web and then the user completed a purchase within the App, then GA4 will automatically update the list to remove the user so that they’re not retargeted with ads.
Additionally, Google Analytics 4 will report on actions from YouTube engaged views that occur in-app as well as on the Web.
More granular user data controls.
Google Analytics 4 also offers options to help advertisers comply with data regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA.
GA 4 provides Consent model for sites that have to obtain end-user consent to collect analytics data. This new model offers separate consent opt-ins for analytics and ads. “Without this level of granularity in the previous version of Google Analytics, what we were seeing customers do is simply exclude analytics wholesale, and so for that given user, the value of the Analytics product to our customer wasn’t there,” said Ketchum.
Data deletion capabilities are also enhanced, allowing businesses to comply with deletion requests from users without having to remove more data than necessary. These features will also include a preview mode for businesses to verify the data they’re about to remove.
Analytics in a cookie-less future.
As third-party cookies are phased out, Google anticipates that data sparsity will become the new norm. It will rely on machine learning to fill in the data gaps.
“The norm is that we’re going to have a mixed set of data: We’ll have event data but not necessarily a user identifier associated with it. We’ll have gaps in data altogether, and this is going to be true of all measurement providers,” Ketchum said, adding, “We don’t have any specific announcements on this today, but as we get into next year, we’re going to be using machine learning modeling to support various modes of analysis in Google Analytics.“
“We’ll have the ability to have different modes that may be emphasize the user analysis side of it less, but focus more on the behavioral,” he provided as an example.
Using Universal Analytics (UA)& Google Analytics 4 (GA4) In Parallel
Marketers can use both Universal Analytics and GA4 side-by-side. There’s no indication of when Google will deprecate the old style of Analytics, but businesses with Universal Analytics properties can continue to use that version.
Google will not force marketers to switch over to the new version of Analytics, but any new properties or any new accounts will default to Google Analytics 4.
Many businesses may want to create a new version of the Google Analytics 4 property using the App + Web property set-up so that they can let data start to populate. So they can become accustomed to the new UI and to make sense of the new way data is shown.
Like we explained above, Google warns that users shouldn’t expect their data to look the same across both versions. Because these two platforms are very different conceptually – and because “hits” now measure things like events and parameters differently (even across devices) – the data will not perfectly align with the regular reports in the old version.
Google Analytics is one of the most prominent tools at your disposal when marketing online. Nevertheless, it can be challenging to utilize all of that data into actionable measures that improve your bottom line.
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