Why you need to act fast following Google's Analytics announcement

By Dale Higginbottom • 18 March 2022 • minutes reading time

So, you have heard the news that your favourite analytics tool is going away and are panicking about what to do next? Or maybe this is the first time you are finding out and need to understand what’s happening and how quickly you need to act. We’ll cover everything you need to know right here.

The big news is that the de facto analytics tool for most websites for the past 9+ years is changing. Google announced this week that:

All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023

This is a significant change as, unlike when Google pushed the upgrade from Classic GA to Universal, the move to the new Google Analytics (GA4) will require a brand new property and there will be no way of accessing any historical data in this new property.

Why now?

It’s getting on for 18 months since Google promoted the idea of Google Analytics 4. GA4 had been around in beta under the guise of App + Web properties since July 2019 but, let’s face it, there was no incentive to switch over for the majority of GA users. Maybe if you had an app or just wanted to give something new a try you would consider a switch to App + Web but for most, the July 2019 announcement fell on deaf ears.

In October 2020, Google’s longer-term intentions were announced when they confirmed App + Web properties were moving out of Beta, and along with that came a rebrand (to GA4). This move was a statement of intent from Google that GA4 was the future of their web analytics offering and that at some point Universal Analytics would be phased out. 

I think many assumed at the time (and in the months since) that this would be a protracted transition (as the switch from Classic to Universal was) and that along the way there would be steps to this, such as 

  1. Announcing an end to updates for UA properties
  2. Stopping the creation of new UA properties
  3. Significant email campaigns to push the creation of new GA4 properties to existing UA customers
  4. Notification messages in GA accounts (this however has now started)
  5. Greater promotion of new features and reasons for switching
  6. And finally, an end to support of Universal Analytics.

I think many assumed that the main driver to switching would be that the new features and capabilities would entice many GA users over and only the last few naysayers would be forced over some time after that.

The announcement last week was however a strong shove from Google to rip off the sticking plaster and force the switch in a short time frame.

When is it happening?

Firstly, we now have a deadline of July 1st 2023. At this point your Universal Analytics properties will stop collecting new data so if you have a website that relies on this analytics data, you need to look for a new solution. This could be GA4 but equally as the historical data is not easily comparable, you could choose another solution (Adobe Analytics, Matomo, Snowplow etc).

Not just that, Google confirmed that after UA properties stop processing new hits, you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in Universal Analytics for at least six months. So effectively, from 1st January 2024 all of your old data may be gone forever and GA4 (or other analytics tool) is all that you have.

How likely is this to happen by July 2023?

Google certainly has a habit of pushing back previously stated deadlines. Whether it’s the deprecation of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser, or the rollout of the page experience algorithm update for search, there is no guarantee that July 1st 2023 will be the ultimate cut-off. Obviously, Google’s strength comes from the data it collects so if they find that many active websites have still not made a switch then in theory a delay may benefit Google. 

This however should not take away from the fact that this is still a very important move by Google and that, whatever the time scale, we’ll all be moving away from Universal Analytics eventually.

What should you do?

Firstly, you need to find and decide on the tool that you want to use going forward. Let’s assume, as we are creatures of habit, that we’ll decide on GA4 and the first thing to do is to create a new GA4 property and add it to your site.

To get there, it’s not as simple as pressing a big migrate button and you’re good to go. The new GA4 properties are built to operate “across platforms, do not rely exclusively on cookies and use an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.” meaning that it’s highly unlikely that any data from Universal Analytics will be made available, or even make sense in a GA4 property. Instead, you need to build out your measurement plan. 

That measurement plan should include a comprehensive list of everything that you’re tracking in your current analytics setup as well as anything else that could be beneficial to your business. Use this change as a great opportunity to really understand what you need from your analytics tool, what metrics are relevant and key to the strategy and success for your business and how you can simplify what data you are collecting to make it easier for users of your analytics property.

Ideally, you should aim to have a working and reliable GA4 set up by July 1st this year, to allow for a complete YoY comparison before the switchover. Anything before that will be a bonus at this stage. The final recommendation is to use the next 15 months to really understand the ins and outs of GA4 and ensure that everyone in your business that will use it is adequately trained and confident in using it.

If you want to understand how this change will impact your site, and how you can future-proof and improve your analytics, data, and understanding of your users, get in touch.

Our analytics and insights team can help to better understand your business and customers, what you’re trying to achieve, and create a measurement plan that gets the key insights you need to make decisive improvements.

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