Google Analytics Universal will be retired in summer 2023.
Therefore we need to move to the new GA4 format. We as the rest of the world have been waiting for Google to invent an importing tool so that old data lives in the new platform, but this is not and never will be forthcoming. Even if you can import some data then most will be lost and it will only be the last 500 entries. This is because the data formats on the two versions are totally different. More on this subject can be seen in the references below.
Why are Google changing things?
There are two reasons that Google are demoting UA, and two areas where GA4 does better.
The first is that it relies not on 3rd party cookies but on 1st person cookies. In other words it gets around some of the GDPR privacy issues by storing most of the data for your visits per site (1st person) rather than being shared across multiple sites. This is a good thing, as is GDPR in general, and for those that know us we have been on a mission when it comes to popup cookies vs GDPR.
The second is that UA works really well for web traffic but it does not do so well at apps and one page applications. Google sees this as the future so hence the change away from multi-page “normal” websites.
What does this mean for users of analytics?
The first thing users of GA4 will notice is that the interface is remarkably different. In our opinion is is less good for websites than the UA version, but as mentioned, better for one-page apps. In theory the same sort of data is there but its harder to find it, and the dashboards are not as good as they are for many different scenarios rather than just plain old websites. This is a step backward.
The other thing that will become apparent is that the data is different. No two reporting systems agree with each other and this is true of UA vs GA4. There will be some things that will be better recorded, due to the privacy changes, but some things might be lost or reported less. Google say that no traffic reporting will be lost. We do not see how that will be possible.
How will we implement changes?
Google’s advice is to run the two systems alongside each other. This seems like overkill, so instead we are going to switch over the course of a day, and are doing so in January for the following reasons:
- It makes for easier comparisons from year to year – there will be differences in any two measuring systems.
- It is generally a quiet period for most of our websites in terms of traffic but also in terms of client work.
The data for UA will not disappear, according to Google, but the recording of analytics data will stop in June/July 2023. Therefore you should be able to compare your old data with the new for some time. Making the switch in January will help with this comparison.
We will be running through all of our sites, asking permission from site owners, switching to GA4, bringing across goals and events as best we can, testing, and lastly updating privacy and cookie policies. Some may want to do a full DPIA process and we have partners (ds-compliance.com) who can offer support in this. We should say that GA4 uses a lot less privacy busting cookies and data than the old Universal Analytics.
For our clients you need do no more, other than have a read and to take an opportunity to take a look at your cookie policies, privacy and internal processes. And of course get in touch with any questions.
References and more information
Google’s advice on switching: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10759417?hl=en
Google Migration reference: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10607999?hl=en
Will I lose data? Note this one advocates dualling up data: https://infotrust.com/articles/ua-ga4-dual-tagging/
A guide to how to migrate each step: https://measureschool.com/ga4-migration/