Computer screen with Google Analytics open and magnifying glass in front of it
Feature

Google’s Move Away From Universal Analytics: What It Means for Digital Marketers

5 minute read
Nathan Eddy avatar
The switch to Google Analytics 4 will mean major changes for marketers. Learn what you need to do — and when — to keep your strategies up-to-date.

Google announced earlier this month that its Universal Analytics platform will stop collecting new data on July 1, 2023.

Google Analytics 4 will serve as the new analytics property type from the search giant, offering more privacy protection and using data-driven attribution to analyze the impact of marketing efforts across the entire customer journey.

Craft a Strategy to Make the Switch to Google Analytics 4

Dialpad CMO Morgan Norman said marketing teams need to set a strategy now on how to switch to GA4 and when.

“How does the marketing team partner with the development team? Will your team need and depend on historical data? If so, how do you plan to preserve this data? And how will you integrate it into your customer view after the transition?” he asked. 

“These are just some of the questions a marketing leader needs to ask and address with your marketing team. If you wait until July 2023, you’re going to miss out on historical data from now until then.”

Norman said even if the team is not ready to completely make the switch to Google Analytics 4, it’s important to set up Google Analytics 4 tracking as soon as possible.

This task can be done via Google Tag Manager and/or through working with the development team to make sure it’s set up properly.

“In the meantime, both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 can be used in parallel to ease your team into the transition,” Norman said. He added that he’s excited by the advancement to GA4, pointing to the data-driven attribution feature.

“For companies that have long customer journeys spanning multiple products and channels, including self-service, last-touch attribution doesn’t always give a complete picture of the different channels that influence a conversion.

“A personalized customer journey and customer experience [are] what set companies apart — personalization is the biggest differentiator — and the ability to know your customer and follow their journey through data analysis is the answer."

Related Article: Reclaiming the Promise of Personalization

Multi-Platform Journeys Complicate Digital Marketing 

Christina Stevens, a data scientist at Intercom, said understanding multi-platform, complex customer journeys has been a challenge since the advent of digital marketing.

“Individuals are counted and targeted more often than intended due to individual browsers or devices being counted each as a separate user,” she said. “This challenge has grown significantly in recent years as the primary method of user identification — the cookie — is facing tightening restrictions.

”She explained that the concept of multi-platform customer journeys is fundamental to GA4, as the data model in Google’s new analytics is intended to combine audience insights from both web and app interactions.

In addition, the platform features user unification via both User ID and Google Signals.

“We are seeing GA4 become the primary indicator of conversion attribution via integrations with Google Ads, DV360, CM360 and SA360,” Stevens explained. “This means that Google Ads pixels and Floodlight tags will be steadily replaced by GA4 conversion signals. This is a fundamental shift.

Learning Opportunities

”Until now, last click attribution has been the default model used in all Universal Analytics reports and the shift to DDA means that traditionally assisting channels will see a more representative portion of traffic and conversions attributed in GA4.

“Businesses can no longer rely on ill-gotten, third-party data … Intercom believes that first-party data, or information customers give you willingly in every interaction, is now essential to providing personal customer experiences — without compromising privacy,” she said. 

“As part of this shift, we have rightly seen a growing focus on gathering user consent, however, the tightening of browser restrictions on cookies poses a significant shift to both reporting and targeting."

Stevens said GA4 is addressing these privacy choices by introducing Consent Mode modeling — the modeling of user and conversion data of the opted-out cohort based on what is known from the opted-in cohort, and Google Signals — providing more accurate data based on users who are signed in to a Google account across browsers and devices.

Related Article: The 3 Key Components of a First-Party Data Strategy

Clock Is Ticking to Get GA4 Set Up 

“UA going away is a big deal for almost every website owner, digital marketer and web analyst,” explained Mikael Ekelund, senior commerce advisor for Avensia. “It´s not a simple switchover because the data model in GA4 is completely different."

He explained that instead of a session-based data model like Universal Analytics, GA4 is based on events and parameters. Everything in GA4 counts as an event, even pageviews. 

“A good analytics implementation might take several weeks, and even months, to plan and implement,” Ekelund said. “On top of that, you need time to make sure you are tracking data correctly in GA4 and can build all of the reports you need.” 

He also pointed out that if you want to have year-over-year data available to report on, you have just about three months to get a GA4 set-up ready. 

“If you haven’t already been running GA4 side by side with Universal Analytics, now is the time to set it up,” said Ekelund.