Google recently announced that Universal Analytics, the most widely used version of their Google Analytics platform, will be “going away” as of 1 July 2023.
Many of us know and use Google Analytics. You may be familiar with ‘bounce rate’, ‘pageviews’ and ‘sessions’ - measurements used to assess website performance for years. With the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA) and subsequent loss of legacy data, we summarise what this could mean for you, and list actions you can take now to prepare for UAs long-term successor; Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
What immediate steps should I take?
Check if you have GA4 already installed on your website
Login to Google Analytics, ask your web developer, or check the <head> of your website’s html code. With the latter, a Google Analytics 4 property looks like "G-XXXXXXXX", whereas UA is "UA-XXXXXXXX".
If you don’t, then install GA4 on your website ASAP
By installing GA4 now, you will have as much data as possible to work with by 1 July 2023. UA and GA4 can work concurrently.
Familiarise yourself with GA4
You have some time to master GA4, so begin familiarising yourself with it as soon as possible to make the July 2023 shift relatively painless.
Export your existing data
The majority of your Universal Analytics legacy data will be gone forever from July 1 2023. UA can export to CSV, PDF and Google Sheets. Google Sheets should be considered, as this potentially will allow you to continue to benchmark some data sets with a little customisation going forward, when integrated into Google Data Studios reports.
If you subscribe to Google Analytics 360, it's worth noting that you can also export all raw UA data via BigQuery. 360 users will also have access to legacy data for longer; 1 October 2023.
What happens when Universal Analytics is no longer supported?
- Google will focus on moving its resources, and customers, to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
- Universal Analytics (UA) properties will no longer record any website data as of 1 July 2023
- Google will only retain UA data going back 6 months to 1 February 2023
- All data prior to 1 February 2023 will be lost forever
Why is Google sunsetting Universal Analytics?
Google’s Universal Analytics is the most popular version of Google Analytics by far. Since UA was launched in 2012, the internet and how users interact with online content and platforms has changed significantly.
Functionality – data streams and cross platform insights
Website traffic has shifted significantly from desktop to mobile since 2012. Mobile (excluding tablets) generated 54.4% of global traffic in 2021. GA4 uses different metrics from UA, focusing on ‘events. This, combined with integrating multi-platform data in one place, provides a more complete understanding of customer journeys. GA4 is also built using machine learning, identifying insights more readily than previously.
Cookies and privacy laws
With GA4, Google is hoping to future proof itself from changes to tech device privacy settings and data protection and consumer privacy laws.
The release of Apple’s iOS14 operating system was a game changer regarding how data could be captured via cookies – data sent to a browser via a website visit.
Similarly, GDPR, and other similar data protection regulations, have had a big impact on internet data, with potential serious ramifications for Google. In January 2022, an Austrian data regulator found Universal Analytics in breach of GDPR.
Pushing users to GA4
Sunsetting UA has been some time coming. GA4 was released in October 2020, however user uptake has been slow.
GA4 isn’t an upgrade on UA - it’s a totally different platform, with different datasets, metrics, and functionality. As GA4 was initially buggy and factoring in the considerable time and effort users had spent mastering UA data reporting, there was no real incentive to move to the new platform.
Google tried to address this by making GA4 the default option for brand new Google Analytics accounts and properties, however users still chose to setup the legacy UA platform instead.
Are there alternatives to Google Analytics?
There are multiple free and paid alternatives to GA4. It will be interesting to see whether Google’s move to sunset UA will see Google Analytics’ position as the preeminent website analytics reporting tool come under threat for the first time in decades.