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Industry Contributor 21 Mar 2022 - 4 min read

This is not a drill: Your current version of Google Analytics is about to stop working; kiss goodbye to year-on-year data

By Gary Nissim - Managing Director, Indago Digital

In July 2023 Google is sunsetting its current version of Google Analytics. GA4 is replacing Universal and none of your old/current data is coming across (though the lucky people on GA360 have until Oct 1st 2023). Over a year away, yes. But if you want historical and year-on-year data you need to implement GA4 immediately, and even if you do so tomorrow, you will only have 15 months' worth of data in GA4. Indago Digital's Gary Nissim breaks down what you need to know – and do – now.

What you need to know

  • What happens after June 2023? Your current version of analytics will stop working.
  • What happens to the old data? You’ll be able to access your old data in Universal Analytics for six months post July 2023. After that it’s gone for good.
  • Can I simply upgrade Analytics to GA4? Nope. GA4 is not an upgrade but a whole new system and way of working.
  • Why is GA4 different? It tracks ‘events’ not ‘hits’, is more privacy compliant and provides unified tracking across websites and apps. 

A brief history of GA

In 2005 Google buys Urchin software. With the insight we’ve come to expect from Google it provides the software for free. Google realised that by helping website owners better track the performance of their adverting they were likely to invest more in its own ad platform, Google Ads. Classic analytics was launched in 2007 and its current version, Universal in 2012. It was, and is brilliant – all the great features of Classic but with more in-depth reporting, ability to track users across different devices, improved attribution reports and the ability to have one set of tags across all Google services.

Why GA4 and why now?

A lot of people are questioning why Google is moving to a new analytics property now but you need to remember that they actually launched GA4 in July 2019. Prior to that in 2014, Google acquired Firebase to help advertisers measure the effectiveness of their apps. Therefore this has been in the making for nearly a decade.

In the recent announcement Russell Ketchum, director, product management at Google, said “Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies … This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete.”

To my mind there are two main reasons for this move and its timing – regulation and money:

  1. Privacy – we’re losing Cookies and privacy is riding high on the regulatory agenda. GA4’s infrastructure manages page events, and triggers data more directly, removing the reliance on cookies. Google (like all big business) faces increased GDPR compliance challenges, and GA4 is more data-compliant. For example GA4 will no longer store IP addresses.
  2. Ad Dollars – GA4 is a platform that helps clients understand how their customers interact on their apps and websites in a unified fashion with better reporting and analysis. Often advertising dollars are spent pushing consumers onto a more traditional website but the monetary transactions happen on an application. To date it has been difficult to understand the relationship and correlate success back to ad spend. For the success of its adverting business Google needs to rectify this and GA4 will help.

There is and will also be other huge advantages such as its free BigQuery export functionality, which we’re excited about. Look at this way, GA4 is the natural evolution of tracking. Big advertisers need this type of solution and if Google doesn’t provide it, rest assured their competitors will soon enough. By incorporating Firebase Analytics, GA4 will facilitate the collection, measurement, and analysis of data from websites and apps in the same space. As a result, the argument goes, marketers will have greater insight into user experience, a better understanding of their customers and more accurate ways to measure campaigns that run across platforms. 

So what do I need to do?

Basically, don't delay:

  • Set GA4 up immediately: If you want to do any form of year-on-year comparison, you need GA4 to be fully functioning within the next three months.
  • Run Universal and GA4 concurrently: GA4 is not yet perfect and its reports not quite as advanced as I’d like. Running them concurrently allows the best of both.
  • Training and utilisation: Work within the new interface so when it becomes your only option you’re ahead of the curve.
  • Extract your data: It pains me to think about all that lost data. Work with a specialist agency, extract and store the data you might need and within a database align it with your new GA4 data.

Roll on June 2023 I say. Outside of Excel, Google Analytics has to be my favourite software – and as much as I love Universal and fear GA4 I have faith it’s going to stay that way.

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Gary Nissim

Managing Director, Indago Digital

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