June 30, 2022
Bo Chipman, SVP Data Science Solutions
Google will sunset Universal Analytics (UA), the Google Analytics (GA) version used by most companies, on July 1, 2023. This change has been well-publicized, but many companies have not started the transition. They feel a limited sense of urgency to begin the process. This is a mistake.
For many companies, the transition will be non-trivial; significant planning is required. The below outlines reasons companies need to act now.
1. Data Collection Ends
This a mission-critical change for digital marketers and customer experience professionals. There will be no option of limping along using an unsupported GA version until the organization gets around to making the switch. UA will stop collecting data on July 1, 2023 . No more. Nothing. Historical data will be available but not forever. If the idea of being unable to see site conversions, daily media traffic, or content downloads alarms you, take notice!
2. Key Variable Changes
The transition would not be problematic if it were a simple ‘lift-and-shift’ exercise. Unsurprisingly, this is not the case. There are many changes. For example, some basic variables will be calculated differently, which could change key performance metrics.
· Users: GA4 will introduce some changes that enhance user identification. The most prominent is the optional use of Google Signals to consolidate users based on data from Google and affiliates in its Ads network. While valuable, particularly for cross-device measurement, this feature may result in fewer users, making marketing and site performance look weaker.
· Sessions: Similarly, session counts may decline in GA4 because of changes in the calculation. UA sessions begin when a user visits a page and end when the user exits the page, after 30 minutes of inactivity, at midnight or when medium, source or campaign dimensions change. GA4 sessions start in the same way but end only when the user exits the site or after 30 minutes of inactivity. These changes, while sensible, may surprise users who have not monitored and compared UA and GA4 metrics side-by-side overtime.
3. Reporting Changes
Some of the standard reports in UA no longer exist in GA4, and all custom reports will need to be rebuilt. While GA4 offers reporting customization features in Analytics Hub, the functionality required to replicate more complex dashboards does not exist. Google seems to be encouraging users to use Data Studio or access the data in BigQuery for reporting. Regardless of the solution chosen, the transition will require planning and real work for all but the least sophisticated organizations.
The items above are simple examples of the numerous challenges that will confront organizations as they transition from UA to GA4.
Did I mention the fact that the fundamental data model changes from a session-based model (UA) to an events-based model (GA4)? Or that users will need to redesign how they categorize all those events because the Category/Action/Label taxonomy for describing events will be replaced by parameters? If the simple examples above were not convincing, I encourage you to explore those topics.
Now is the time to begin the GA4 transition process. We recommend parallel data collection for twelve months for companies that rely heavily on their website to drive conversion. The transition from UA to GA4 is an opportunity for affected companies to enhance their digital analytics capabilities. Forward-thinking companies will leverage this opportunity to correct existing problems and add new capabilities. Laggards may find themselves scrambling at the last minute to understand marketing and site performance.