Universal Analytics will stop tracking in July 2023, paving the way for GA4 to replace it.
When Google Analytics 4 was first released in 2020, we all knew it would eventually replace Universal Analytics, or Google Analytics (UA) as it’s often been called over the past decade. Although it’s been an indispensable tool in the industry, and one that’s become synonymous with digital analysis, its time has come to an end. Google announced it will sunset Google Analytics (UA) in favor of GA4 in July 2023.
What is GA4 and What Does This Mean for the Old Google Analytics?
GA4 is the new generation of Google’s analytics platform. This means that the Universal Analytics, the previous version of Google Analytics, will stop recording hits in Jul 2023 in Universal Analytics. Analytics 360 will also cease to record new data, however, Google has extended that grace period to October 2023.
This is also means that you should export your Universal Analytics data. Google has stated that UA data will be available for at least 6 months after the sunset of Universal Analytics, but after that, the future is uncertain. Back up your historic data NOW!
What’s the Difference Between GA4 and Universal Analytics?
Aside from looking completely different and having many new features, the biggest difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics is how data is collected. Universal Analytics (GA) collects data based on sessions, which are snippets of web activity over a length of time. In contrast, GA4 collects data based on users and events which is meant to facilitate omnichannel tracking, as online interaction has moved beyond desktop browser surfing to apps across varying devices.
For example, you may interact with a brand through an ad through your smartTV and then pull up that brand either through its mobile app or website. The goal of GA4 is to be flexible enough to relate those omnichannel interactions in ways that UA fell short.
When should I switch from UA to GA4?
It also means that if you haven’t already set up Google Analytics 4, you still have a little over a year to get ready. There’s no need to panic, but you should configure GA4 as soon as possible.
Because GA4 collects data differently than UA and displays different metrics, the earlier you enable GA4, the earlier you will have historic data to report on and to use to inform your strategic decisions. Although GA4 has a data import option, not all of the parameters are the same across UA and GA, and migrating this data is a complex process — so much so that Google has created a LENGTHY guide for analytics teams.
The sooner you can start tracking data using GA4 parameters, the sooner you will have historic data in GA4 to inform YoY and MoM analysis and make data-driven decisions without any roadblocks.
Can I Run Universal Analytics and GA4 at the Same Time?
That said, you can still keep your configuration for Universal Analytics and configure GA4 at the same time to track your online metrics through both platforms.
Similar to how you might have multiple tracking tags in a container like Google Tag Manager or multiple scripts in your data layer for different marketing and digital platforms, you can track online activity through both UA and GA4 simultaneously. In fact, this can be an interim solution as your analytics team determines the specific configurations you will need moving forward in GA4 and how you will handle the historic data tracked by UA.
Can You Preserve Historic Data from UA in GA4?
Your historic data in UA is not going to directly migrate to GA4 because the way each has been collected is inherently different, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options to view your collective historic data in a single platform. With the move from UA to GA4, it may be a good time to consider a business intelligence program or having your analytics team do a custom migration to GA4, by importing and mapping data from UA and other platforms to GA4 to better understand the historic picture in a single interface.
Although GA4 represents a major shift from UA and the analytics interface that has been second nature for many of us, it does open up a world of opportunity for us to better understand user activity in the omnichannel experience. Use this time to audit your existing data and plan for the future. You have until July 2023 to perfect your configurations in GA4 from UA, and until October 2023 to switch from Analytics360.