Google announced that they will be ending the old version of Google Analytics, also known as Universal Analytics, on July 1, 2023. This means it is time to either migrate to the next generation Google Analytics 4 or switch to an alternative like Matomo.
Although this announcement may shock many, it will have a significant impact on the close to 30 million websites that use Google Analytics today.
Why is Google discontinuing Universal Analytics now?
Google Analytics 4 was introduced to the market in October 2020. We all assumed that Universal Analytics would continue to be available for at least three to five years, as there was no end-of-life date. However, this has changed. Google has decided to accelerate the migration to GA4 and to sunset Universal Analytics earlier than expected due to a few external factors.
Although Google hasn’t stated explicitly that it is a different way, we believe the most pressing external factor in Universal Analytics's recent scrutiny with respect to data privacy laws, regulations and laws, such as the Austrian Data Protection Authority's decision indicating that Universal Analytics may be violating GDPR. Instead of rewriting Universal Analytics to comply with GDPR, Google has chosen to accelerate migration to GA4, which will be more compliant.
Universal Analytics data privacy control is opt-in. Most websites will choose not to use this option, but privacy controls in GA4 are the default. In GA4, IP-address anonymization cannot be disabled.
What happens to Universal Analytics data?
It is important to be clear that you can still use and collect new data within your Universal Analytics properties from now until June 30, 2023.
However, all Standard Universal Analytics properties will cease processing new hits after July 1, 2023. You will no longer be able view past reports of data processed in Universal Analytics after this date. This is for a maximum period of six months. These properties will cease processing new hits if you are using Google Analytics 360, the paid version.
Google has yet to specify the date at which the Universal Analytics interface will be removed from users' access, but we recommend that you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. We anticipate that Google will completely shut down the Universal Analytics interface by 2023. You have just over a year left to say goodbye to Universal Analytics properties.
You should at the minimum switch to GA4 before July 2023, and export historical data from Universal Analytics before December 2023. This will minimize disruption to your reporting process.
This will give you some time but we don't recommend waiting for these deadlines to take action. You cannot import historical data into Google Analytics 4. This means that data collection starts at the point of creation. You can start collecting historical data in GA4 as soon as you deploy GA4 to your web and mobile apps data streams.
Is it possible to move data from Universal Analytics into GA4?
Unfortunately, no. GA4 cannot import data from Universal Analytics. Universal Analytics data that has been previously processed should be exported and then blended into GA4 data using a separate visualization tool such as Data Studio. However, this process is time consuming and finding the right mix can be difficult.
What to expect from GA4
Universal Analytics and GA4 have fundamentally different products, and should be treated accordingly. Universal Analytics is a tool that combines data collection, analysis and reporting into one interface. Google Analytics 4 is a more focused tool that focuses on ad-hoc data analysis. It can be used in conjunction with advanced tools such as:
- Google Tag Manager for data collection
- Google BigQuery to cloud data warehouses
- Google Data Studio to visualize and report data
GA4 is not a one-stop-shop tool. You should be familiar with the associated tools in order to successfully migrate to GA4. You will also need to reconsider how you collect data. Universal Analytics properties use a users, sessions- and pageviews-based measurement model. GA4 uses an events-based model. Everything that happens on a website is now considered an "event", including page views, clicks transactions, etc.
How to approach a complete migration to GA4
You should plan a migration from Universal Analytics to GA4 as soon you can if you are currently using Universal Analytics. This will allow you to have enough time to complete an orderly migration and not rush to do it in the spring or summer 2023.
Here are some practical steps that you can take to ensure smooth migration to GA4:
1. Take stock of your Universal Analytics measurements. Take note of the measurements that you would like to keep track in GA4.
2. Create a GA4 solutions design reference. How to structure your GA4 account so that it scales with your business over the years.
3. GA4 allows you to create properties and data streams. You can now analyze multiple streams of data from mobile apps and web sites within one property. This will require some thought.
4. To activate your GA4 analytics tracking code, use the configuration tag of Google Tag Manager.
5. Allow enhanced measurement events such as page views, scroll depth and file downloads. On-site search results are also available. Video engagement is possible (if applicable).
6. To deploy custom event tracking, create a tag management plan. These should be linked to Universal Analytics custom events that you want to collect in GA4.
7. To take advantage of Google BigQuery long-term storage without worrying too much about GA4 data retention limits, export raw event data from your GA4 property to Google BigQuery
8. Flow BigQuery data into your Business Intelligence tool of choice (e.g. Data Studio, Tableau), for data visualization and reporting.
9. To ensure that you don't lose your access to your data, set a reminder to Export Your Historical Data in Universal Analytics by July 2023.
Parting ways with Universal Analytics
This can be a daunting task, especially for those who have relied heavily on Universal Analytics in the past 10 years. It is easy to remember how much time it took to configure metrics, collect data, and report numbers to our liking - all within a single interface. Google Analytics has spent the past decade developing best practices, templates and tutorials to make it easier for users.
Matomo to the rescue
As we prepare to say goodbye to Universal Analytics, we have an extraordinary opportunity to embrace alternatives like Matomo. This tool was created especially for GDPR compliant data collection and analysis. But most importantly: when switching to Matomo you keep your historical data that your collected over the years. You won't need to start from scratch. In fact, it's an almost seamless transition.
Have more questions? We don't blame you.
It is difficult to take in all of this information and it can feel overwhelming. We can offer consultation and help you with a seamless transition.
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