Universal Analytics is dead

Watch our Podcast episode below and learn why you need to upgrade to Google Analytics 4

After eight years of serving business leaders like us in data analytics, tracking and reporting, we have reached the time for UA to move over, allowing us to embrace the new improved structure of GA4 to assist us with decision making.

In this blog, we will walk you through our discussion on Tea In the Desert podcast episode 3 where we brought in a special guest, a Digital Analytics powerhouse, Shawn Foo, about what to prepare for the GA4 transition and what this means for your business moving forward.

About Shawn’s background in Digital Analytics

Basically, Sean Foo was born in digital analytics. He’s the guy with plenty of experience behind large companies such as the rea group Deloitte Sportsbet. His role as focused on data analytics is basically to translate complex data into easy-to-understand information for all of our clients.

When we asked Sean what’s it like just looking at analyzing like massive data structures he said: 

“Being exposed to all this startup like you mentioned it is something that I started out with in a grad position about in 2017 before it became a lot more mainstream. Coming from a more developed background getting exposed to this whole industry that I wasn’t even aware of was great!

In terms of being able to see all the big data that’s so interesting because there’s so many bits of like stories and narratives that you can make out of its insights.” 

What is data anyway? And why is data so important? 

To simplify it, data just helps you make better decisions. Essentially there’s a whole concept around data driven decision making which is just essentially you know when you have websites or apps and things you just want to make improvements on from a user experience point of view. Data is just the thing that you use to make those decisions so you don’t go in blind. 

For example, if you have a website and you know your main purpose is to lead gen you don’t want to just overhaul this whole website for nothing if you already have existing flows and whatnot. The data that I get is what helps enable businesses to work with and should help them make the decisions to make the improvements.

Google Announcement on UA Sunset. What does this mean for us?

There’s a lot of talk behind UA and then GA4. A lot of confusion and a lot of sort of people talking about the google analytics that it’s going to be sunset for good.”

In fact we’ve got an announcement by google on the 1st of july and 2023 they’ve stated that standard universal analytics properties will no longer process data and so Sean will be able to see universal analytics reports for a period of time after july 1st 2023. 

However new data will only flow into your ga4 properties so what is all this giving me or what is going on. Well, that little announcement that google sent out not definitely considering the magnitude of everything. They sent out that announcement a couple of weeks back. Everyone who got that was extremely shocked. It was like whoa what’s happening? 

Just to preface that universal analytics has been around for about 16 years prior to that was Urchin. Google acquired it, transformed it, turned into Universal Analytics so that’s what I would say maybe 90% of websites use today just because of how easily that tool integrates with the google stack and it’s so seamless and for any marketing person, should know it works well, like your google ads connected to your google Universal Analytics.

All those ad reports are just working, empowering and working well with each other so what the big shock is with that announcement with GA4 is Google’s next iteration of Universal Analytics and what they see to be the future. It does involve some fundamental changes on their end in terms of how the servers work the databases work the architect architecture of everything.

The easiest way to boil it down to is that Universal Analytics worked one way had a specific data structure. GA4 is going to work a different way. It has a different underlying structure which over time will become a fully fledged tool that everyone can use and the great part about that is Google does provide this amazing free tool that was Universal Analytics and GA4 is going to be essentially the same thing.

It’s like the younger brother that’s ready to go off to college now and just all this cool stuff.

Why Google claims GA4 is the future? 

It of goes back down to how they’ve restructured the data, so Universal Analytics has this whole concept around data marrying up back to the user level session level and whatnot and you’re probably familiar with event tracking in Universal Analytics so it’s kind of pretty straightforward but that data still marries up to this other underlying architecture.

GA4 differs is that they’ve made it really simple. It does feel a bit reactionary in terms of GA4 is now event based structured where everything is it should be simpler it is following what other tools in the same industry is going down the route of it.

It just allows them to enable like it allows them to recolor, so it will allow them to run reports a lot faster. For example, when you jump into the UA and whatnot so this underlying data structure should allow you to get your insights a lot faster.

What other data tools are out there in comparison with GA4?

At the enterprise level, a common one is Adobe Analytics they’ve got something similar in terms of the structure that they’re going down the right of mixed panel. 

It’s another big one which does have this element of free tier which google likes to offer but they also have the enterprise level but the underlying structure is all event base.

I used to reiterate so we’ve got amplitude. We’ve got mixed panels Adobe Analytics and then you’ve got Google with GA4 which kind of all follow the same kind of route .

Adobe Analytics is known to be an enterprise tool. When I first started out, my mentor referred to it as this whole kind of like Android versus Apple. It’s extremely customizable you can do anything you Want with it, so enterprises love it because it fit within the whole Adobe Stack as well. 

What kind of companies use this? 

These tools with Adobe Analytics at least it’s definitely more enterprise level you’d see large companies using its mixed panel amplitude they’re kind of like newer players on the block they’re not like five years old or anything like they’ve been around for a while.

What kind of tools are available and what kind of companies use alternative tools like Adobe Analytics?

However, large enterprises are slowly moving to those stacks just because they having seen like the UIS in the last week or two, the UIS look so much nicer they look a lot more modern than what you would see with like Adobe Analytics.

GA4 VS Adobe Analytics. What are the differences of what we can achieve? 

Adobe Analytics’ graphical user interface is just quite mechanical. It requires a lot of upskilling to learn how to use it and that’s the thing with these tools is that they do offer you all these online courses training materials workshops that you can go through just to learn how to use it and what’s happening nowadays with the whole self-service concept of reporting is that you just want to be able to chuckle someone in there behind and have them know how to use everything and kind of make sense of things.

That way, you can just get down to your insights a lot faster yeah so again to add to the who uses what tool, Google with Universal Analytics and GA4 definitely caters to the large percentage of the market like 90% of smaller and to medium-sized businesses use it because it’s free, it’s easy to use, it’s pretty much our audience here like most people would probably be using Google Analytics. 

It’s really focused on sort of your more small to medium-sized kind of businesses right.

Why should we care about the new update?

About the new update with GA4: Why should we worry? Can’t we just update simply? Should we just leave it till then? Or is this like something that we have like users Universal Analytics have to action now? And why is it important that they do so?

Well, in a year’s time it’s going to be switched off. In that note, Google’s like yeah we’re going to start practicing and you’re not going to access your data anymore so that being said, you should care just because they are going to switch it off in a year’s time and you’re not going to have data if you don’t have GA4 so you should action it.

Such that you have both Universal Analytics and GA4 today. Just so that in a year’s time you can look in your GA4 property and be like I’ve got years with the data. You don’t have to go down the route of setting up GA4 to be extremely overly complex.

If anything, now it’s a good opportunity to be like okay what was working well in Universal Analytics I’d be like let’s carry that over. What else can we do now?

Essentially, the question for everyone else is like do you want to have data? That boils down to do you want your data to be there? Do you want to be able to still see your reports? Do you want to be able to understand where your leads and conversions are coming from? Like you should still have it set up and that’s probably the main call to action for a lot of people.

Further emphasize with the fact that the big boss man Google is what’s switching that, so you switch there’s no ifs or buts about it. Too bad that Google doesn’t allow an easy option like a single-click to update because we can definitely imagine it. Google would probably have a bunch of customers who are asking what’s going on, why Google is making them do this when everything is working so well, and why change? We see a lot of tech illiterate clients that have no idea what’s going on especially if they’re doing things on their own.

Why is it important for business owners to be aware of what’s happening?

Outside of the whole data loss not having that data analytics to back you up every single detail. One of the good things about GA4 is that when you do go and set it up and assuming you’re a fresh company looking to get analytics on it, it is seamless to implement and out of the box they already track some of the default things that you would expect users to look at your page views, your basic scrolls, link clicks, outbound link clicks, file download clicks, that is tracked out of the box. 

Predictions on what is going to happen with current UA data after June 2023.

We’re still a year away from it so we touched on before hopefully at some point nonetheless they’ll make it easy for us to migrate all these access some of that old data, otherwise you should definitely start considering exporting what you want downloading, what you want saving it to your own internal data store that isn’t managed by Google because, because ultimately it is your data but it still lives on their platform.

Can we export UA data and upload it to the cloud?

You can store your data on certain google clouds. Just download export the data and upload it. Although it does depend on the the business you’re working with and how complex their analytics is or how advanced it is at this time and it’s also more around to do with how Universal Analytics has the concept of the enterprise level as well – where there’s already default and integrations to export your data sets into something like bigquery on cloud so Universal Analytics.

If you are like a free tier for example, the easiest way to go about saving your data in a year’s time is to quite literally go. This is what we want we pick out the things that you need the most, which you think that has the most value and try not to waste time on the small rocks.

How does this affect lookalike audiences based on existing data?

The whole thing about custom audiences on Facebook and Google: so you upload existing data that you have to try to create look-alikes or try to create similar audiences and so forth so that kind of begs the question when you download all these data and you store it and say bigquery. 

Some may ask: 

  • Can you still use that data to give your Google ads or your Facebook ads more sort of beef to be able to sort of create these audiences and give freedom data? 
  • Can you feed those platforms data yeah like so again the concept of it’s your data like you have to go and upload things to create audiences and whatnot?

We suppose you can use that data down the line as long as you have the right identifiers to stitch to create those audiences and do the right thing with them.

There’s also the whole component of privacy security that data is able to tie back to some news is going to make sure that you’ve got the right processes in place to keep them safe but more so to the point of you do download it.

You can upload it, you can create segments according to it but in a year’s time if you do have your GA4 set up now that GA4 data will have collected all of that and you can go and create your code to audiences and whatnot in GGA4.

Then it becomes a matter of like okay we have all this historical data from UA is that even fresh and relative anymore in a year’s time because the whole landscape could change your audiences can change in a year’s time.

It’s just it’s going to be so easy to integrate. Figure out what’s working for you now, what data points you think powers your successful campaigns audiences and whatnot and just make sure that that is in your GA4 setup as well and if anything in a year’s time you should be creating your audiences from the GA4 data and then using your UA for the whole year and do comparisons, so essentially what we need to start doing now is plan an escape, your apocalypse plan as well so when things do shut down like what are you going to sort measure based on the new structure and how are you going to do it based on the the old UA and the new GA4.

It also speaks to how advanced is your analytics, your size component, how far back do you really need to go and how fresh do you want your data to be.

UA and GA4 comparisons

Universal analytics compare with GA4 outside of the underlying structure of the data which most users wouldn’t look at anyway, is that UA is 16 years old so it’s fully fledged out if you were to look at the comparison today.

In the UI, you’ll see that Universal Analytics has all these cool reports right now. All these available integrations, dimensions and metrics available for you to mess around with, while playing with GA4 unfortunately does not have all of that just yet and to be fresh like even though they do market themselves as out of beta, it’s not at the same level as it’s still technically invader – they don’t classify this better so we say that’s not something we would advise you to do just yet.

The big difference obviously outside of what you can see and what’s available to you is that GA4 does have some nice perks and benefits that automatically integrate with the google cloud stack so one of the biggest things is being able to send your GA4 data into bigquery as a free non-enterprise customer so they have this cool little pipeline already set up for you.

You just send your data there and you start doing your advanced analysis in queries and for anyone who doesn’t really know bigquery is this huge Google tool which is great being able to run big data queries and have that come back in less than 16 seconds which is ridiculous!

Having that option there – that’s pretty neat it’s great because then you can start to put your data into bigquery, marry that with all the other stuff that you want to use. Furthermore, GA4’s real-time reports seem to be a lot cleaner which is great being able to see and debug the data as we’re live on the website without waiting for so long in Universal Analytics for things to come through. 

In addition, reporting tool called “explore” like what we’ve mentioned above about Adobe Analytics and how it’s more of the thing for these big enterprise customers – getting these cool data insights and using this tool is that Adobe Analytics has this thing called the “workspace” which is really nice! Free form your tools on the left your dimensions on your left which you just drag and drop things in and stop playing around with it – like a fully customizable sandbox, similar to data studio, so GA4 offers this thing called “explore” which is supposed to kind of work like compete against it so to speak it isn’t fully fledged out yet unfortunately.

Does that mean Google is making Datastudio redundant?

Well, we don’t think so. It’s just the Explore feature is there for you to explore your GA4 data. Data studios still kind of works, kind of like a standalone similar to like Tableau and Looker and all kinds of way you can just integrate any other data source into it really easily.

Do we still see third-party connectors feeding GA4 data?

Some issues users are also asking:

  • How do you see your Facebook ads performance campaigns through GA4? 
  • Will we still see third-party connectors feeding data through ga4? 
  • Or is it still into the ga4 platform itself into Data Studio or GA4? 
  • Do you still kind of need the data studio to be able to connect all these using connectors/different channels that you use on that point like Data Studio or GA4? 

Unfortunately some things are yet to be discovered in the near future. We don’t have the big picture yet! We still don’t know about the pipelines or road maps and things like but what we can definitely imagine is it should should be easier for them to integrate these tools if they want to make it seamless and the same like UA if not better – which is why data center still lives because they already have all these connectors and there’s a community around.

There’s still a lot to learn and to see what Google’s strategy is with the entire data processing. We’re sure Google has tons of learnings working with 99% of all the websites on the internet, so they have all that information, so we’ll have to just wait and see that there’s going to be a weird six month period where the UA is not processing new data but will still be able to have historical reports.

It’s just a bit annoying for most of us in the industry right now just because there is a lot of talk around GA4 in the community both good and bad.

The downsides of GA4. 

Other than it’s immature, a little bit maturity is missing. Some of the self-service reports that a lot of users would want to come into is kind of similar to one another. For example, We’ve got had some feedback in the last week just from users we’ve come across in terms of the new UI it takes a little bit to get used to because it’s like you don’t have everything nicely laid out anymore which is strange.

There were also reports of things like data outages, missing data like Google having to go and backfill some data and it just doesn’t seem fully ready. It seems a bit more reactionary as to why they have pushed this out so quickly, but that’s not to say they’re not going to fix it in a year’s time. 

Key benefits of GA4

Although it’s still in its infancy in two degree if there’s a key takeaway though from that question back to are some of the bad things about GA4 it doesn’t seem like it’s overly because there seems to be a lot of discussion going on a lot of noise but it seems like the pros of ga4 outweigh significantly.

It will outweigh it in the long term, we have no doubt that it will be fully fledged a lot faster than Universal Analytics. This is a shiny new tool and it isn’t difficult to get it set up now if you already have any of existing Universal Analytics like snip it on there you just chuck your GA4 on there, let it run, tickle the automatic tracking components, let it run for a year and as Google releases more things for it, you can start to plan to integrate and shift over like small benefits of GA4 is just that they’ve made it pretty easy to do cross-device analytics as well it’s they have one set property send your data into a if it’s from your app if it’s from your web you’ll know it’ll be able to differentiate which is why they went with the whole event-based structure just because apps historically have always tracked things in that similar fashion.

What they’ve potentially realized is that this is actually a much better way of doing things which is why they’ve brought it over and now it’s a lot easier to marry up your web and app data in one spot yeah and it probably makes it also a lot easier to run like cool ai or ml things.

To get insights out of it because right now if you do jump into your GA4 setup, they already have some automatic insights and things that you have missed from the last week, so the main question is how do I set up and configure GA4, easy!

If you are in a position where you have Universal Analytics or you’re in a position where you’re looking to set up brand new analytics then you should start looking at GA4 or start planning out your escape plan from UA to get away from things that you want to save.

However, if you’re still confused, come reach out to us! That’s an easy quick chat. A 15-minute no-obligation call will do. It doesn’t have to lead to anything yet, you can learn a lot from it and to get things clear to you. It’s really important for your business to get a direction.

Most business owners always tell themselves like I can just do it myself but the reality is like, while it’s true for some but for most, they may not be collecting the data that they actually need. Unless you’re an expert and you’ve been in the field before and you understand how to attribute things, and really track and add certain tags and figure out if the data is even accurate, then you got it on you!

The main thing here is yes, you can set up all your life but could also be ending up wasting time without getting the accurate data for your business. And for business owners in all industries, time is money!

You can do it yourself but if you’re not an expert in this space and not to say that you probably couldn’t learn how to do it yourself it’s just a lot quicker to get help.

Book your free 15-minute no-obligation call with us anytime – go to digitaloasis.com.au/contact

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