Google recently announced that it is sunsetting its popular Universal Analytics (UA) platform as of July 1, 2023 and transitioning to a new platform – Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This impacts all of our clients at Forum and other marketers throughout the country. Keep reading for more on how we got here, what’s changing, and what we at Forum are doing about it.
From Urchin to GA4: A brief history of Google Analytics
Ten years ago, Google announced the creation of a new version of its famed analytics tool – Universal Analytics. This tool is what we in the marketing and web development world refer to as Google Analytics. I’m feeling kind of old writing this, but I remember when Google first purchased Urchin back in 2005 and immediately relaunched the tool as Google Analytics. All of us in marketing were excited as we finally had something valuable beyond “hit” tracking for websites. Some of you may even remember the “pixel” for the Urchin Tracking Monitor (or UTM as it was referred to) that had to be put on every page of the site. It was the sign of a new era on the web, one where we could track behavior and we cared about page views, not just server-side file views. And, it was free – a free, incredibly powerful analytics platform.
In 2012, when Universal Analytics was released, another shift had occurred – the smartphone. It was no longer “just” desktop behavior that users wanted to track. Other devices were beginning to be used to browse the web ranging from the iPhone (launched in 2007) to tablets and other devices. Universal Analytics gave us the ability to track across platforms and the ability to even customize metrics and some dimensions. Five years later, in 2017, Google updated Universal Analytics to utilize a global tagging system and introduced Google Tag Manager, another powerful tool for website tracking.
Virtually every Forum client and likely almost every marketer in the United States has seen data or utilized Google’s Universal Analytics platform. But, once again the web has changed and so is Google’s analytics platform.
Just prior to the pandemic, Google made an announcement – the launch of Google Analytics 4. This new platform would be a MAJOR shift in how analytics would be tracked. At the time, the web was abuzz about privacy; net neutrality was tossed out during Trump’s first term in office (allowing Internet service providers the ability to charge you different rates based on individual platform usage); and, the European Union had recently launched the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) affecting how data was tracked and utilized on the web. Online privacy became a growing worry. Browsing history and personal data were increasingly at risk, and concerns stirred that entities would begin to use your own data against you
With such buzz, companies ranging from Apple to Google to Amazon began working on what the future of the web would be. While some of these elements are still in development (see our prior article on Cookies), Google had some foresight into what should come next in analytics tracking.
As we all know, today’s internet users are not desktop-centric – they’re mobile. Users have a tendency to cross over from desktop to mobile to television in a seamless fashion. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is a solution that works to push for user privacy while also using enhanced machine learning (yes, those machines – like in Terminator) to attempt to fill in the missing data. The platform also works to create a single user journey for all data linked to the same identity (we’re excited to see how this works – and if it works properly). So, no longer will we look at session data or IP addresses (for privacy), but GA4 uses what is referred to as an “event-based” strategy, processing user interactions as individual events.
For those of us in digital marketing, this is a huge shift and a new challenge. The data will certainly be valuable as it allows for easier cross-platform analysis, is more flexible, more driven to predict user behavior, and should help us analyze more actionable metrics and fewer metrics that don’t drive real conversion. However, on the other end, all of us (including you, our clients) are used to looking at the world through the lens of users, sessions, page views, and time on site. That world is shifting in a big way. So, look for your reports to be changing significantly.
Also, another major change is the shift in reporting. GA4’s dashboards are simplified in summary cards rather than separate reports. This means that all of your data will also look and “feel” different. It’s going to take some getting used to.
Why Do I Care?
On July 1, 2023, what you know as Google Analytics (aka Universal Analytics or UA for short) will no longer accept data. That means that you will still have access to your historic data, but you will not have the ability to track new data or see new results in Universal Analytics.
In order to ensure a clean transition from UA to GA4, Forum is in the process of transitioning ALL ACTIVE CLIENTS to the new platform. We will continue to run UA concurrently with the new GA4 so we have the data now for comparison to next year when the GA4 transition is complete. For most of you, you won’t actually see data from the new GA4 until 2023.
To be frank, and in complete transparency, managing this transition is a significant undertaking. Google announced only a few weeks ago its plans to sunset (get rid of) Universal Analytics escalating the urgency of making the transition to GA4. Many on the web thought it would be at least another 6 months to year before the announcement, but the time is now. And at Forum we are committed to setting up GA4 in a way that best prepares you for the future.
For ALL ACTIVE CLIENTS, we’ll be working to establish new protocols for goal tracking and defining KPIs for your websites so we’re tracking and reporting on the things that really matter to your businesses. This includes things like phone call clicks, form conversions, and other various events. We’re actively working on a plan for this transition and have assigned one of our team members to oversee this transition.
What Do I Need to Do to Prepare?
At this time, nothing. Our team is taking care of the transition, and if we have questions or other needs, we’ll certainly notify you. Thank you for patience as we work through this transition.
Thank you for being a Forum client and we hope you found this article insightful. If you want to know more or have any questions about how this GA4 transition affects your website and business, please always feel free to reach out to us.