We now have a date for the end of Universal Analytics (UA) and it’s sooner than anyone would have expected: July 1 2023. Threepipe Reply’s Vincenzo Ieva, head of data and martech looks, into what comes next, why Google is making such an enormous change and what it means for marketers.
Google is a dominating force in the world of website analytics, with 86% penetration worldwide. Its use spans startups and large enterprises, with millions of daily events. The version of Google Analytics responsible for this is user acquisition (UA).
UA has arguably become the standard way of understanding your website, and for better or worse, assigning value to the marketing that has driven people to it. Professionals from marketing to finance and C-suite all rely on the data it collects, and over the years have become more and more comfortable with the metrics with which it quantifies the digital world.
This is all about to change after Google announced that from July 1 2023, UA will no longer record any new information.
This is not entirely unexpected. UA has become outdated and is need of an upgrade – but the timeline is incredibly tight given the millions of websites involved.
The Google Analytics 4 promise
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the next generation of analytics, prepared for a world of privacy and partial data collection. Its promised benefits include:
Improved attribution – both data-driven and with consent mode, for improved GDPR compliance
Measurement using your own identifiers (if you have them) – giving you more stable data and no need to rely on unstable cookie and mobile ID ecosystems
Greater data accessibility – with all accounts now able to export raw data to Big Query for more complex analysis
Closer integration with Google Ads – on attribution and activation
It will keep working after the UA deadline
Despite its benefits, the advice with GA4 has always been to ‘run it in parallel’ with the UA because many features have been lost. We often hear from clients “isn’t that in Beta?” or “is it finished?” Usage even by those who have implemented it is far below the 86% enjoyed by UA.
What is the motivation behind the deadline?
Google has given the world just under a year to adopt GA4 and move off Universal Analytics. Given the scale of the challenge, it seems unlikely that they will enjoy the 80% adoption rate they currently have. So why would Google sacrifice a dominating market share?
To increase GA4 adoption
Undeniably, adoption of GA4 has been slower than Google might have planned for. The move could be a heavy-handed way of increasing this so that all effort can be placed on GA4. However, this seems unlikely as a main motivator – sacrificing market for new tool adoption is counterintuitive. Google plays a longer game than this.
To improve the web
Google has several policies to improve the web ecosystem, forcing websites to be better for consumers and more secure. GA4 could be seen in the same light, providing improved privacy compliance for consumers. This may be a motivator, but again can’t explain everything.
Google predicts higher ad revenue
Given that most of Google’s revenue still comes from search, deeper ties between GA4 and Google Ads could provide a commercial reason for Google to force GA4 adoption. However, while Google Analytics audience segments are a brilliant optimization in most cases, they are underused. If this did move money into search, it’s unlikely to be noticeable on a large scale.
It simplifies Googles GDPR compliance
This one’s the most likely. UA is from a time before GDPR and GA4 isn’t. With all the news of the EU and US having no safe way to share data, a sudden push to GA4 might simplify compliance for Google. GDPR compliance in the long term is a strong enough reason that Google may sacrifice market share to achieve it.
(Aside from Google’s motivation) why was disruption needed?
Google Analytics has become ‘the standard’ in assigning value and source of truth for many marketers, despite not being fit for purpose. It misses some channels entirely and misrepresents others. As a source of truth for marketing it is limiting and hinders the most impactful campaign plans.
We’re hopeful that the end of life for Google Analytics will be the start of more conversations on what is the best way to judge performance and start measuring influence rather than sessions.
So, while it is going to be a disruptive change for hundreds of millions of websites, we’re excited to be part of the future this brings about.