May 31, 2023

Why is Google Sunsetting Universal Analytics?

Blockbuster. Twinkies. Brangelina. Vine. We know all good things must eventually come to an end. The same is true of the digital analytics tool marketers and businesses have been using for a decade: Universal Analytics. Google recently announced the program’s sunset date as July 1, 2023, forcing users to migrate to Google Analytics 4, the next generation of website analytics. 

It can be intimidating learning you need to change the way you’ve been collecting website analytics, and there’s always confusion surrounding updates from Google. That’s why we’re here to answer some of the biggest questions about why Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics. 

Is Google Universal Analytics Going Away?

Yes. All properties installed with the UA code will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023. This means if users wish to continue using Google’s analytics features, they must update Google Analytics to Google’s next-generation measurement solution: Google Analytics 4, or GA4.   

This transition doesn’t come as a total surprise, considering Universal Analytics is now 10 years-old. Even GA4, an evolution of Google’s App + Web Property, has been around for nearly two years now. What is surprising however, is the quickly approaching sunset date in which users will have no choice but to migrate to GA4. Google also announced that six months after UA’s sunset date, UA properties and reports will no longer be visible in the Analytics interface. All Google Analytics historical data will be lost, unless users have a plan to migrate their data to the new system. 

Not only is UA going away, but the clock is ticking to migrate to GA4 before losing months of crucial reporting data. 

Will GA4 Replace Universal Analytics?

All Analytics properties installed after October 2020 are automatically installed with Google Analytics 4, but now, Analytics users don’t have a choice to use GA4 or not if they want to continue using Google for website analytics. It’s more important than ever to understand the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics

But why is Google sunsetting Universal Analytics? Google Analytics 4 was created to address an ever changing Internet ecosystem and provide deeper insights across complex, multi-platform customer journeys all while maintaining user privacy. Among GA4’s many benefits, its reporting capabilities are better suited for today’s Internet user than its predecessors like UA. 

To get a better understanding of why this change is necessary, here are three reasons why Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics. 

Better Cross-Platform Insights

Universal Analytics was built for a time when Internet users were primarily accessing the web from desktops. But today, users are surfing the Internet from phones, tablets, and laptops and across both web browsers and apps. While UA does allow for cross-platform tracking, its measurement model is still fragmented by platform and recorded as  independent sessions. 

The measurement methodologies UA relied on are becoming increasingly obsolete. GA4 will provide a deeper and more cohesive view of customer journeys across websites, apps, and devices. 

Moving Away From Cookie-Based Tracking

Even though Universal Analytics changed the game for on-page traffic reporting, introducing cross-platform tracking and more flexible coding to create custom dimensions and metrics, it’s still reliant on one important factor: Cookies. As you may know, cookies are tiny files of information stored in web browsers that inform websites of user characteristics.

Universal Analytics is a cookie-based measurement tool, meaning it relies on these stored bits of information in web browsers to track users across pageviews and sessions. But as privacy legislation unfolds and users become increasingly wary of big data, we’re starting to see gaps in data processing and a shift away from relying on cookies. 

GA4 offers a new data modeling feature that uses machine learning to fill in gaps in data and make more informed predictions about user behavior, without needing to rely on cookies or store IP addresses. According to Google, GA4 is designed with “privacy at its core” so users and customers have a better overall experience. 

Better Goal-Tracking

The events-based measurement model of UA is another key reason Google Analytics changes were necessary. With the new GA4 model, all user interactions on a page, including clicks, pageviews, scrolls, file downloads, etc. are seen as “events.” UA’s sessions-based model, on the other hand, groups all user interactions (called hits) on a page during a specific time frame. The UA model also contained monthly hit limits, a feature that is eliminated in GA4. The new events-based model will allow for more flexibility and better predictive capabilities so users can glean more insightful customer insights and track goals along the customer journey. 

What should you be doing to prepare?

First of all, don’t panic. The first thing you should do to prepare for the sunsetting of Universal Analytics is check whether or not you already have GA4 installed. If you installed Google Analytics after October 14, 2020, you’re likely already using GA4 and don’t need to do anything differently right now. But if you installed Google Analytics before October 14, 2020, you’re likely still using UA. (If you’re not sure which property type you’re using, you can find out here.)

If you are still using UA, it’s time to set up a GA4 profile. To begin the GA4 transition process, the first thing you should do is conduct an audit of all of your dimensions and metrics you currently use. These will be important for moving your customizations over to GA4. It’s recommended to use parallel tracking with both systems installed for richer data collection. That way, after UA sunsets, you’ll be prepared with GA4 metrics similar to the ones you used with UA. 

How Marketwake can help

Did you get all that? It’s okay, we didn’t either the first time we read about the update. Google Analytics changes are a beast to tackle alone, which is why we’re here to help. With our six-step GA4 migration process, we’ll help you conduct a full UA audit and customize your GA4 metrics to make your transition to GA4 as seamless as possible. Contact us to get started with your GA4 migration today!  

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