The (Inevitable) Death of Google’s Universal Analytics

Google’s recent announcement that Universal Analytics (UA) will be sunsetted and stop collecting data on July 1st, 2023, means that anyone who wishes to continue using the Google Analytics platform will have to move to a GA4 property. 

If you’re like me, you were holding out faith this announcement was never going to come, or at least not for a while, since thousands of marketers use UA on a daily basis and the investment into, and maintenance of, these deployments across organizations is exponential. 

If we’re being honest though, we knew Google would eventually retire UA, given the launch of GA4. That’s why we’ve personally installed the property and have helped a handful of our clients do the same since, at the moment, a major benefit is having both UA and GA4 run simultaneously without impacting the other. 

For those reading who haven’t installed or built out your GA4 property, now is the time to do so. Google has essentially started the count-down clock until your UA becomes a historical artifact. 

Why is Google Sunsetting Universal Analytics?

As I mentioned before, the transition is not all that unexpected, but jarring nonetheless. All marketers realize, when a new version of a technology is released, the expectation is that the platform will be pushed forward. As Stewart Brand once said, “when a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller you’re part of the road.” In Google’s case, there are three aspects we can point to that help explain the decision.

  • Age of Tech: UA is extremely useful in its own right, but it is also old from a technology standpoint. It first launched in 2005; GA4 was introduced in 2020 and has been evolving since then. 
  • Increased Privacy: world. Recent privacy enhancements and GDPR reduce user tracking, and GA4’s goal is to lower the reliance on third-party cookies and browser-page relationships.
  • Emphasis on User: “User experience,” as a broad concept, has grown tremendously since UA launched. GA4’s interface and tracking metrics emphasize this and the user journey. 

The internet today is significantly different than before; so is the world’s most popular tracking platform (and how it can track users). 

Advantages of GA4

This next generation of GA has some unique advantages:

  • Easier data viewing and configuration: Gone are the days of jumping through multiple views on your property to see app and web data. Hello, singular view connected via a data stream connection from your web, IOS, and Android feeds. No more snippets of code on GTM parameters or gtag calls. 
  • See the whole user journey: Users and user engagement takes precedence in GA4, and as a result, allow for more accurate user journey tracking. By implementing User ID tracking, we’re able to measure the journey across all interactions, piece together these custom events (more on that shortly), and see the holistic path to a conversion. 
  • Easier event and conversion tracking: Unlike UA, marketers are now able to mark any logged event as a conversion, and since we’re provided one view, aren’t constrained by max conversion limits. GA4 comes with pre-built actions, events, and conversions that don’t require knowing how to create or edit code. (We do recommend custom events for high-priority goals, which may take some knowledge, but that’s why we’re here to help!)
  • Enhanced data visualizations and reporting: Another notable improvement of GA4 is the introduction of the “Exploration” view. Here, admins can create impactful reporting visualizations to make sense of their data from pre-built and pre-defined templates. This dramatically reduces time and effort to tell the story of the data, but it does require some time to understand how to refine the reports. A few valuable template examples include path exploration, funnel exploration, and segment overlaps. 
  • Data validation made easy with debug mode: As most experienced GA users will admit, debugging and ensuring everything pulls correctly was a headache. “DebugView” is another new advancement in GA4, allowing real-time data monitoring and validation, similar to GTM’s Tag Assistant. This feature is useful when you are creating new custom parameters, events, or conversions; you’re able to properly test that the data is tracked and pulled in, and since it’s real-time, data is presented in the view within a minute or so. 

The more time we’ve spent on the platform, the more we’ve discovered additional features. However, with all new technologies, there are disadvantages that come and GA4 certainly has some. 

Disadvantages of GA4

  • Complete data reset: The most shocking and, dare I say demoralizing takeaway from Google’s announcement for us marketers is that no historical UA data will migrate to your new GA4 property. Only after the property is created and the data stream is connected will it start flowing into the account. Therefore, the time to create your GA4 property was yesterday. 
  • Steep learning curve: Couple the data reset with the fact that the platform has a massive onboarding process, and we should be ecstatic for a 15-month notice. Many popular metrics, reports, and terminology have been restructured, renamed, or even removed altogether. And, if you’ve spent a good deal of time tagging/tracking your website in UA, GA4 will require equal commitment to reimplement. 
  • Removed goal tracking: Although the two other disadvantages are more crucial to consider, the removal of goals is a sizable step back. This development directly correlates with “easier event and conversion tracking” since you can create any event and mark it as a conversion, but you need to be wary initially of what you mark as a conversion and how you’re reading the data.

With all this being said, GA4 has shown significant advancement compared to the previous version. Although it’s two years old, there is still room for improvement from the platform, and I suspect Google will continue to iterate as more users start to make the transition. 

Prepare for the Future with GA4

Whether this announcement came as a surprise or sparked some concern, our team has the ability to make the transition process for you as seamless as possible, ensuring your team is onboarded and fully set up with the new analytics platform with minimal disruption.

The best part though is that the adoption process can run in parallel with your existing UA configuration, as GA4 and UA can run simultaneously. One thing remains clear: the 15-month runway to sunset will shorten day-by-day, and organizations stand to benefit greatly by implementing the platform today to ensure historical data is populated come July 2023.