Universal Analytics as we know it will be gone in July 2023. If you haven’t moved to GA4, you need to act now.
Why is Universal Analytics being retired?
Read our blog 5 Reasons Why You Can No Longer Ignore GA4. If you want year-on-year data for next year, you should have GA4 set up already.
Users are demanding more privacy, transparency, choice and control over how their data is being used online. This is a key reason why Google is moving away from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Google wants to ensure they are evolving to meet the demands and needs of the end user.
Why is this important?
In the past, Google Analytics has relied heavily on the use of website cookies to monitor user activity. Cookies pull IP addresses, which can be used to identify users personally. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) flags this as a privacy risk and subsequently, we are being pushed towards a ‘cookieless future’.
Universal Analytics implemented IP anonymisation – a feature that can be turned on through the back end of the platform. The main issue with this is that it is optional and has to be set up manually, which requires some knowledge of software including Google Tag Manager to implement this.
This leaves room for non-compliance when it comes to privacy laws. Google is taking the steps to enforce user privacy across the board and to ensure advertisers are compliant with privacy laws.
Google Analytics 4 has made IP anonymization the standard across the platform – meaning as soon as it has been set up, IP addresses are anonymised. This combats some of the issues with regard to privacy.
Data Storage Requirements
Universal Analytics allowed marketers to hold user data for 64 months. In the context of event marketing, that is a long time to store personal data. The main change on Google Analytics 4 is that the data storage window has been reduced, with the main options being 2 or 14 months.
Predictive modelling is a new feature that has been introduced to GA4. This is not a feature that Universal Analytics offered, but we can see this being the future of analytics.
Predictive modelling uses first-party data and conversion data to build attribution models – using machine learning to pick up missing pieces that the likes of third-party cookies leave behind.
This is a really interesting space at the moment and we can see AI and machine learning becoming a more intricate part of the wider process.
User Behaviour Has Changed
When Universal Analytics was first set up in 2012, the main focus was on users that were using desktops and navigating websites via web browsers.
In 2022 most of us have mobile phones and tablets, and the way people navigate websites has changed significantly.
There are multiple user journeys and experiences. Universal Analytics has not kept up with these new developments and is restrictive.
Why is this important?
The key difference between the two platforms is the way data is modelled. Universal Analytics uses what is known as a session-based data mode.
A session-based data model means everything that goes into Universal Analytics focuses on metrics including sessions, pageviews, bounce rate, and time on site.
Although these are important metrics to consider and they do provide value, moving over to Google Analytics 4 will be focused more on events.
Events include actions that are taking place on the website, for example, scroll depth or file downloads. This update allows marketers to get better insights, more flexible tracking and access to a wider variety of custom parameters to make our data more effective.
In 2011, Google introduced Firebase to help track mobile app traffic, the problem with this is that it does not integrate well with Universal Analytics.
It allows you to compare reports side by side but with no solution to bring all of that data together in one place.
Unlike Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 provides cross-platform tracking. If your customer journey involves users going through an app on an iPhone or Android, then all of that data can now be attributed to one analytics platform, providing much stronger insights.
The User Interface is Outdated
Universal Analytics has been running for a long time and the amount of data it holds can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the platform.
Google Analytics 4 has been overhauled and simplifying the process gives you more manageable reports as opposed to prioritising the volume of reports. It is all about focusing on the data that matters over the data you can get a hold of.
The Universal Analytics platform contains 30 pre-defined reports, this is clunky and uninsightful from a marketing perspective. It can draw your eye away from what is actually important within the analytics platform.
In Google Analytics 4 the key change is that it has been made far more user-friendly and easy to navigate.
The homepage at the top of Google Analytics 4 is tailored to whatever you are doing within GA and based on your behaviour.
For example, if you regularly visit the reports page it will pull more reports through onto the homepage. Alongside that, there is a widget which lists all of your most visited areas within the analytics platform. It declutters the platform as a whole.