Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Google has just announced Universal Analytics will stop compiling data on July 1st, 2023. Properties with Universal Analytics 360 have a bit more time left: until October 1st.
Switching to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible is therefore essential in order to generate the necessary historical data before Universal Analytics stops processing new hits. But, how did we get to this point? Why is Google implementing this change? And, most importantly, what does your brand need to do now? In this article, we will try to answer all these questions.
Let’s start with a bit of history: Google Analytics is the world’s most widespread web (and now also app) analytics software. Since Google bought Urchin in 2005 and turned it into Analytics, it has been evolving its flagship analytics product.
Despite naming changes (since 2014 it has been known as “Universal Analytics”), the data model on which the tool is based has remained unchanged… until now.
With Google Analytics 4 this has finally changed. It is no longer just a matter of updating the service, it is no longer enough to wait for changes and improvements to arrive automatically in our accounts. We are now dealing with a completely new data model that is much more oriented towards the future of the Internet and digital marketing.
But if you want to benefit from the generous benefits of this new tool, you will have to take the plunge now, because the countdown has begun.
A brand new measurement model: what does this mean for my brand?
The data model on which Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is built is different from that of Universal Analytics (UA), to which we have grown so used to. The best possible summary is that they are different and incompatible models.
Up to now, Google Analytics has always worked on a model based on user sessions and the hits that those users generated: page views, events, transactions…
Now, with Google Analytics 4, the data model is built around the events themselves: it is all about events. Everything else can be built from these events, including the sessions themselves, which will start when a session_start event is triggered.
As Google themselves point out, the difference lies in the fact that:
Universal Analytics hit types include page hits, event hits, ecommerce hits, and social interaction hits.
In contrast, Google Analytics 4 data is event-based, with the principle that any interaction can be captured as an event. As such, Universal Analytics property hit types translate to events in a Google Analytics 4 property.
|In a Universal Analytics property,a hit type …||is captured in a Google Analytics 4 property as an …|
Loss of historical data
Thus, the data model changes, and the basis on which the measurement model is based changes too. The first consequence of this is that, in the new tool, the historical data collected to date will no longer be available.
Thus, we will need to update everything from the measurement strategy, through the implementations and configurations, to the insight visualization dashboards.
New data visualization model
The data visualisation model (and anyone who has visited the new Google Analytics interface (4) will have noticed) will also change significantly.
For example, one of the latest features being integrated into the tool is “Intelligent Home”, a GA4 home page that is personalised according to how each of us uses the tool!
Of course, all these changes require, among a number of other things, a great deal of capacity building among the teams in order to cope with the learning curve. In other words, it requires time and effort.
Although since the release of the beta version in October 2020 the vast majority of digital managers have turned a blind eye (“I’ll try this later”, “what we use now still works”, “there’s no time to learn something new now”) this update presents an unprecedented opportunity to embrace digital leadership and generate a competitive advantage: being the one that others look up to and try to imitate.
Benefits of migrating to Google Analytics 4 today
Early adoption of the new analytics standard can be a game changer for digital marketing strategies, especially for large brands.
The question we get asked most often is: “Why migrate to Analytics 4 now?”
And most often, the answer that crosses our minds (although we don’t say it out loud so as not to hurt sensitivities) is “why not?”. That is to say, until now we have taken all product updates for granted, but this time we are questioning it. Is it because of the extra effort involved? 😉
Fortunately, like most efforts, it comes with a reward. Here are some of the benefits associated with early migration to GA4:
- The classic version of Google Analytics, i.e. Universal Analytics (UA) is no longer supported or updated, and as we have already mentioned, has an expiration date. In contrast, Google Analytics 4 is receiving continuous updates and amazing new features every month (and yes, it is still a free tool, with a paid version for businesses with specific needs).
- As we have explained, the current data history will be lost when UA disappears, and so we need to start generating a data history under the new measurement model as soon as possible or we will have to start from scratch on the day of the changeover.
- The transition is a matter of time: the evolution will take place eventually and brands that arrive first will enjoy a competitive advantage (early adopters versus laggards). Moreover, adoption is not immediate, and requires some time to learn and adapt, so you should avoid being the last to adopt this technology at all costs, planning with the appropriate timeframes.
- It is a much more marketing and business-oriented tool. The paradigm shift – from sessions to events – results in insights that are not so much focused on “what is the user doing on my website”, but on “how my digital presence is bringing business”.
- It is simply better. Much better than the classic Google Analytics and, surely, than any other analytics tool, because of:
- The integration of web and app data.
- More targeted information for marketing actions.
- Predictive and intelligent reports.
- Customised reports for each account.
- The end of sampling for large volumes of data.
- Greater capacity for integration with other tools.
- More sophisticated visualisation systems.
- Improved attribution models.
And, most importantly, because it is the only analytical tool designed for the incoming new digital era. How poetic that made me sound! 😀 However, it is true: the digital world is about to change, governed by freer and more active users, with smarter and more respectful technologies.
If you’re curious about the new digital age, read on. You’ll find out the real benefits of migrating to Google Analytics 4.
Analytics for the new digital age
What we have discussed so far is great, but the good stuff, the real magic, only starts now. The title of this post reads “now is the time” and it is no coincidence, because the future of the Internet is already here.
Google Analytics 4 is 100% oriented to the new reality of the Internet. It has been conceived as a solution to the new digital challenges of the coming years which makes it a unique solution in the world today. We have tried to summarise this scenario in 4 main challenges that GA4 will help brands overcome.
1. Privacy First
Finally, user privacy is starting to be placed at the centre of the digital world. People are experiencing a progressive empowerment that will inevitably lead them to become the decision-makers of the use brands are making -or not making- of the data they generate on the Internet. This process is developing around three pillars:
- States and institutions, through legal changes and regulations, as in the case of the GDPR in Europe or the CCPA in the United States, to name just two examples.
- Users themselves, who are maturing alongside the digital environment and claiming their rights.
Over the coming months we will see major advances in corporate digital strategies, implementing privacy first actions to promote values such as transparency in the use of data and allow users to personalise how their data is used.
But of course, more privacy equals less information. Google Analytics 4 is the result of Google’s efforts to commit to a future with more privacy for users. Its data model is oriented towards overcoming, through artificial intelligence -we will talk about this later-, the information gaps left by privacy.
Until now, analytics was observed data. From now on, analytics will be observed data and modelled data. Google is putting all its technological machinery and user knowledge at our disposal to fill in this information, while preserving individual privacy. Best of all, the reliability of the models is extremely high. It is many years of watching and learning everything us users do.
2. Complex Customer Journey
The digital customer journey is becoming increasingly complex. A few years ago there were more than 900 digital interactions before completing a car rental; now there are likely to be many more.
Virtually all digital activities start on one device and continue or end on another. The user is increasingly liquid and unpredictable, and freer. There are two characteristics of this new complex customer journey that make it particularly difficult to track the user from an analytical point of view:
- Cross platform:Complete tasks within the same digital experience through different platforms. For example, a customer journey where consumers use a mobile app, a mobile web browser, and a desktop or tablet browser.
- Cross device: for the same platform, several devices can be used by the same user; for example, completing a process using your home computer and also your work computer (same platform, different device).
With this new reality in consumer habits in mind, the new version of Analytics has a great advantage over its predecessor: it is based on Web + App properties. In other words, we can track users not only through our websites, but also through our apps, at the same time.
Thanks to the new event-based model and the technological confluence with Firebase, tracking is now truly cross-platform, across a brand’s different digital assets. A real milestone in the tool’s history. And of course, GA4 leverages — and improves — user tracking through User ID (logged-in users) and Device ID (of devices, especially mobile devices) by applying them to this new cross-platform environment.
Last but not least, Google Analytics 4 introduces another small revolution: Google Signals. Something the tech giant has been working on for years and which, once again, is based on Google’s powerful artificial intelligence.
Google Signals makes it possible to fill in information gaps in the customer journey in order to have (almost) complete user traceability and attribution, while respecting the new privacy standards.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Possibly the most time-stretched hype in recent tech history. Everyone talks about AI but no one uses AI… until now.
Yes, Google is putting the full power of its impressive artificial intelligence systems to work and offering them to serve our digital marketing purposes. And yes, it’s free, which may sound obvious, but we’re talking about a huge added value for no money at all.
We have already mentioned some examples of artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, there are many more; here are some examples of top functionalities that we will find in GA4 in the coming months.
- Purchase probability: allows us to know which users have a high probability of completing a purchase, either in the app or in our brand’s eCommerce.
- Churn probability: aimed at detecting users who have a high probability of abandoning — a subscription, for example — through our website or app.
- Revenue prediction: provides revenue levels associated with the digital purchase conversions of active users for the next 28 days.
- Predictive lifetime value: will provide insight into users’ transactional behaviour over the next 12 months, making it easier to focus efforts on the most profitable audiences. Some of the questions it will help answer are:
- Number of purchases to be made
- Monetary value of such purchases.
- Channels generating higher LTV.
4. First party marketing
As a result of the new privacy first reality and the eradication of third party cookies by 2023, the focus on first party marketing will be another powerful digital strategy trend in the coming months.
In the case of Good Rebels, there are several clients who have already expressed their concern about these strategies, and we have started to develop highly innovative marketing plans in this field. It is clear that privacy concerns have become the new digital standard.
It was a trend we were looking at even before the pandemic, given the high conversion rates and profitability of first party targeting. Now, with new regulations and browser limitations, it will be an opportunity that all brands will need to seize to remain competitive.
Regarding Google Analytics 4, it goes without saying that it is a first party tool: its core is to collect valuable information about the users of our digital assets, throughout their web and app customer journey. Totally first, totally marketing.
Everything explained above in reference to artificial intelligence and machine learning is geared towards marketing activation. In our case, however, we like to call it data activation, because, at the end of the day, it is about putting data to work. This is achieved by generating predictive audiences. In other words, we can segment groups of users (according to their probability of purchase, abandonment, revenue forecast, lifetime value…) and activate personalised marketing impacts for each of them.
Preventing a user from leaving our service, making it easier for a lead to become a customer, pushing hot users towards a purchase, maximising investment in the most profitable customers, directing advertising to the target most likely to convert, working on engagement and loyalty with the most sensitive groups… All of this is now easier and more automatable.
Of course, GA4 and its audiences are integrated with Google’s advertising and marketing tools, such as Google Ads and Google Marketing Platform, allowing us to segment ad campaigns or personalise content.
In addition, Google is already taking steps towards native integration with other tools, for example through a partnership with Salesforce, which will enable cross-audience sharing in order to improve the effectiveness of marketing and loyalty campaigns.
Migrating to GA4: optional or unavoidable?
From our perspective, it would be easy to argue that everyone should migrate right now. At Good Rebels we are very early adopters of Google Analytics 4 —both in our sites and in our clients’—, we have been working with it since the beta version launched in Spain in 2019. We have been committed to it from the very first minute.
But we also know that the initial effort is huge, and that at the adoption phase the learning curve is very steep for many marketing managers who are immersed in immediacy and the day-to-day. We’ve been there, we have overcome it and we can only say that it is worth it!
Be that as it may, what is not an option is to stay with Universal Analytics, because it is an obsolete version that will disappear in just over a year and it is not prepared for the new digital reality.
Want to stick with your current outdated version of Google Analytics? Fine, go for it. But in that scenario, things will stop working, while the competition overtakes you left and right, until the day EVERYTHING stops working. Then the rush will come in and everything will be done in the wrong way. #TrueFact.
There’s also the option of trying other analytics tools, but it would not make much sense at this point, because the adoption curve would be similar and because no one can meet the technical evolutions that Google is integrating into its Analytics. In short, abandoning classic Google Analytics is a matter of time; choosing which tool to migrate to will depend on the corporate strategy of each brand.
Who is GA4 for?
Quick answer: any company with a digital presence, just like its predecessor. The longer answer is that, in order to get the most out of GA4’s technical potential, the types of companies it is aimed at meet some of the following characteristics:
- Medium/high level of digital maturity.
- Revenue generation through their online channel.
- Variety of digital assets (web, blog, app, landings, intranets…).
- National and international presence.
- Online transactionality.
- Omnichannel experience.
Where do I start from?
It is now time to take action, start moving forward and leverage the competitive advantage of migrating to GA4.
The first step is commitment to change. Change involves effort —and reward— so you need committed leadership and a team that is well informed of the associated benefits. The next step is to surround yourself with experienced professionals. Don’t gamble, it’s not worth it, this is one of those projects where it’s better to play it safe.
You can talk to Good Rebels or any other agency; however we recommend that you always consult with official Google partners.
Would you like to organise a workshop in your company so that we can better explain what this change entails and how you can implement it? Contact us and we will study the best way to help you in this transition. 🙂