All software changes over time. What uses expect from software, how they use it, and what technology allows is always in a state of flux. Which is why it is hardly surprising that–after a healthy run of 10 years–Google’s Universal Analytics is being retired in favour of Google Analytics 4.
While Universal Analytics did allow for measurement of activity on multiple devices–including mobile apps–its foundations were still desktop browsing. And it also relied on cookies for tracking and measurements. But user behaviour has changed significantly over the last decade, and users are also much more demanding of privacy, supported by a slew of privacy regulations around the world. And although Universal Analytics did gain new features over the years–including the App + Web property–it wasn’t truly future-proof.
When Will Universal Analytics Stop Working?
The rollout of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) began three years ago, and any web properties that were created after 14 October 2020 are likely already using GA4. Properties still using Universal Analytics will need to be switched to GA4 before 1 July 2023, which is when Universal Analytics will stop processing new data. This date is more than a year away, but marketers are being encouraged to make the switch now so that they can build up enough historical data. Although historical reports for Universal Analytics will still be available for some time after July 2023, no new reports will be generated.
What is Changing?
One of the biggest changes is the measurement model. Universal Analytics measured hits, such as Page View, Social, Transaction/e-commerce, and more. GA4 uses events-based measurement, and all user activity is counted as an event, promising greater insight into how users are engaging with your website and/or app.
Naturally, this means that the primary interface for Google Analytics also changes, with some reports and metrics falling away or being consolidated. By way of example, bounce rate is replaced by engagement rate in GA4, which also measures the amount of time a user spends on a single page. Benefits of these changes include:
Complete View of the Customer Lifecycle – event-based measurement means gaining better insights into your customers across all touchpoints. Customer activity is not fragmented by platform or grouped as independent sessions. If users drop off while moving through the purchase funnel, you’ll be able to easily identify the cause.
Understand How Marketing Activities Influence Conversions – data-driven attribution uses machine learning algorithms to understand how the timing and presence of particular marketing touchpoints could affect conversion. It does this by contrasting what happened during the customer journey with what could have happened. This helps in figuring out which touchpoints are most likely to influence conversions.
Predictive Insights – machine learning is a core component of GA4. Instead of only using Google Analytics to understand and measure the actions users take on your website or in your app, GA4 also helps predict future actions. These include Purchase Probability and Churn Probability. The former shows users most likely to make a purchase from you in the in the next seven days, and the latter, users unlikely to visit your site again in the next seven days. This information can be used to understand which marketing activities drove purchases, but it can also be used to target your Google Ads to specific users.
Since hits are no longer measured, there is no longer a hard limit to the amount of activity you can measure monthly. You are limited to 500 distinctly named events, but automatically collected events do not count towards this limit.
Why You Have to Implement Google Analytics 4
The most obvious reason for implementing Google Analytics 4 on your website and/or app is that without it you won’t have new data showing up in Google Analytics from July 2023. The shift from measuring hits to measuring events does mean having to learn new methods for interpreting and acting on different metrics. But the predictive insights generated by machine learning, along with expanded integration with Google Ads does offer more benefits in the long term. By switching to GA4 now, you not only ensure that you have a year’s worth of historical data once Universal Analytics is retired, but you also benefit from having more time to navigate your way around the new measurements.
If your analytics are currently managed by an agency, they will be able to take care of all the technicalities of implementing Google Analytics 4, including setting up appropriate views, filters, and reports. And once completed, they should also be able to help you understand the new data, and work with you on making any necessary adjustments to your marketing strategy.