Earlier this year in March, Google officially announced that Universal Analytics would be shuttered and that G4 would become the new way in which Google Analytics tracked and collected website traffic data.
Two and a half years ago, we introduced Google Analytics 4 to address evolving measurement standards and help businesses succeed. Today, we’re announcing that we’ll begin sunsetting Universal Analytics next year.— Google Analytics (@googleanalytics) March 16, 2022
Learn more about what to expect → https://t.co/QPGatOiZLB pic.twitter.com/zRVkds6hir
In addition to this announcement, there’s been a lot of chatter both from other professionals in the SEO & Web industry about how this migration will impact the industry, as Google also announced how they would be handling data stored in Universal Analytics properties. Learn about what this change in Google Analytics means, and how you can be prepared for when Google migrates from UA to G4 in July 2023 below.
What is Google’s Universal Analytics
Universal Analytics is a version of Google Analytics that set a new standard for how user data is collected and organized. Introduced in the fall of 2012, Universal Analytics offers new tracking codes for websites and features that can more accurately measure user behavior (1). Both Google Analytics (GA) and Universal Analytics (UA) are available to users.
When Universal Analytics launched, it provided webmasters with enhanced ways to track data and the ability to customize tracking. The one main loss in tracking that Universal Analytics went away with was showing search terms driving organic traffic. Webmasters would need to pair their Google Search Console (GSC) with their Universal Analytics to see this data, and even then, how GSC tracked users compared to Universal Analytics was different, resulting in inconsistent data sets. Despite a couple of downsides and a clunky UX, Google’s Universal Analytics has been overwhelmingly successful in tracking data.
What is Google’s G4?
Google Analytics 4 (formerly known as “App + Web”) is a new kind of Google Analytics property. Announced in October 2020, Google Analytics 4, or G4, launched as the next generation in analytics.
“It has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms. It’s privacy-centric by design, so you can rely on Analytics even as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data. The new Google Analytics will give you the essential insights you need to be ready for what’s next.”
What Are The Differences Between G4 and UA?
Google states that G4 offers several improvements/advantages over UA:
- Privacy-focused and durable for the future
- Intelligent, using machine learning to unearth insights about the customer journey across platforms and devices
- Enhanced, seamless integrations with Google’s advertising platforms to optimize campaign performance and drive greater marketing ROI
When WIll The Analytics Migration Take Place
Until July 1, 2023, you can continue to use and collect new data in your Universal Analytics properties. However, the big surprise within Google’s announcement is that after July 1, 2023, you will have 6 additional months where the data is collected with Universal Analytics properties, and that after this 6-month period, this data will then be removed. Google strongly recommends exporting historical views.
This removal of data is by far the biggest hurdle in this migration, as there are some sites where all the data that was collected with the Universal Analytics property could reach upwards of 10 years. Exporting this data is extremely important to understand the full history of a website.
Migrating to Google Analytics 4
Because this migration is so important, Google has been providing a steady stream of announcements and reminders for users, in addition to comprehensive breakdowns of how to install G4.
The installation process for new websites is very similar to Universal Analytics, but a few changes. For websites that already have accounts, a new property will need to be created within the account – you don’t need to create a new account.
For Websites with Currently Using Universal Analytics
When logged in and accessing the Admin tab, under the Property column click +Create Property. Once you click Create Property, the setup wizard will trigger for you to follow. Some key notes when doing it this way:
- Copies the property name, website URL, timezone, and currency settings from your Universal Analytics property.
- Activates enhanced measurement in your GA4 property.
- Creates a connection between your Universal Analytics and GA4 properties.
- Creates a connected site tag between your Universal Analytics and GA4 properties. (If your site is tagged with gtag.js and you elected to Enable data collection using your existing tags)
From there, users will then have to install the new tracking script onto the site’s area or install G4 via Tag Manager.
Additional Hurdles in the UA to G4 Migration
While the primary hurdle of exporting historical data, there are a few others that Webmasters & SEOs will face with this migration:
- Third-Party Sources: If you had your Google Universal Analytics properties paired with your SEMRush or Ahrefs accounts, then you will have to repair it with your new G4 account. In some cases, this will reset data – so the sooner the better.
- Google Data Studio: Because the datasets that G4 uses are totally different than Universal Analytics, any report built using Universal Analytics properties as the primary source will not work. Reports will need to be rebuilt from the ground up with G4.
As such, some of the SEO community isn’t too pleased about this announcement:
I don't care that Google is forcing us into GA4. I care that they are:— Joe Youngblood (@YoungbloodJoe) March 16, 2022
1. Deleting all prior Analytics data.
2. Not providing a historical view in GA4 that merges the old data in.
This should be entirely unacceptable by business owners and marketers. pic.twitter.com/RnHhgx8i9L
If there continues to be an overwhelming backlash to G4 and aspects around the migration, this wouldn’t be the first time Google has changed/backtracked on changes to their products & services.