Google has announced that they will be sunsetting Universal Analytics to compel users to move over to Google Analytics 4. All Universal Analytics installations will stop recording new data on 1 July 2023 and existing Universal Analytics data will be deleted six months later.
Why is Google doing this?
Many people believe that Google Analytics 4 is an upgrade or evolution of Universal Analytics (or Google Analytics 3), however, this is not actually the case. Google Analytics 4 is actually based on Google's mobile application analytics platform called Firebase.
Google wants website owners to move over to the new platform as privacy restrictions such as GDPR have made tracking users using third party cookies, such as those used in Universal Analytics more difficult, and Google Analytics 4 has more methods of tracking users as Firebase Analytics was not built for the web and used methods other than cookies to track users.
Most website owners and analytics professionals have been extremely reluctant to change over to Google Analytics 4 for the following reasons:
- Many commonly used features in Universal Analytics are missing in Google Analytics 4.
- As Google Analytics 4's data model is completely different to Universal Analytics, most existing reports and dashboards will break, meaning that many processes will have to be built again from scratch.
- The different data model also means that historic data from Universal Analytics cannot be imported into GA4, making year on year data comparisons impossible.
- Lack of compatibility with a large portion of 3rd party marketing and CRO software - Because of the different data model, a lot of software will have to be rewritten to work with Google Analytics 4, and until all software that you are using is updated, you will lose integration with Google Analytics.
- Its complexity - Universal Analytics was popular because it is intuitive and easy to use, making it simple for a business owner to see some basic statistics, while still giving more advanced options for power users. Google Analytics 4 is much more difficult to use and less intuitive due to its roots as an analytics platform for mobile app developers.
Many analytics professionals believe that Google could be bluffing as a way of compelling the adoption of Google Analytics 4 on both websites and the software that integrates with the websites by scaring website owners into believing that there will be no other options, however, this could backfire on Google by driving website owners to other analytics platforms such as Matomo Analytics that are able to import historic data from Universal Analytics, whereas by moving to Google Analytics 4 they will lose their data.
What will happen to my data?
As mentioned earlier, and if Google is to be believed, Universal Analytics data will stop recording new data on 1 July 2023, with all historic data being deleted six months later. Since Google Analytics 4 currently does not have a migration tool for importing the historic data into Google Analytics 4, this could be very bad news for websites relying on historic data to see how the performance of their site has improved over time, return on investment of previous projects, and data on which services to prioritise at different times of the year. Especially considering that the old data will be deleted, so you will not even be able to do a manual comparison by switching between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.
We are currently investigating alternative analytics platforms, such as Matomo Analytics, which will allow historic data to be imported, so that if Google is not bluffing and the historic data is deleted, the data will still be accessible using the alternative analytics platform. This may involve running both Google Analytics 4 and the alternative analytics platform side by side to enable the use of historic data while still having a deeper integration with Google's products by using Google Analytics.
Do I have to do anything now?
There is still over a year to go before Google will stop recording data in Universal Analytics, so there is plenty of time to move over to Google Analytics 4 or to investigate alternative platforms. However, we do recommend getting your SEO agency to set up Google Analytics 4 before the end of June this year so that you can at least have year on year traffic data if Google does not come up with a way to import the historic data from Universal Analytics.
If you use any software that integrates with Google Analytics on your website, such as chat software or call tracking, you should check with the provider if the software has been updated to work with Google Analytics 4.
You can run Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics (or another analytics platform) side by side until Google stops tracking data in Google Analytics 4 and this is probably the best option at the moment until we have more information. If your website is hosted Conscious, we can set up Google Analytics 4 on your website for you, however it may not currently be possible to track all goals that are currently set up in Universal Analytics and many filters are not supported.
If you’re not sure where you stand, we can help. Get in touch with your Account Manager or email firstname.lastname@example.org.