Farewell Google Universal Analytics
Google Universal Analytics is going away next month. For those who work in the digital marketing space, this has been common knowledge for a while now. For the rest of the world, this news has likely flown far under the radar.
If you’re among the uninitiated, what this means is that Google’s primary analytics platform — the one that most digital marketers use to track the performance of myriad website and other integrated digital marketing campaigns — is being permanently phased out.
Not an update. An entirely new platform.
And, honestly, it’s no big surprise. Universal Analytics was released over a decade ago, way back in October of 2012. At the time, there were aspects of the service that felt truly revolutionary, like being able to collect tracking data across platforms and customize certain metrics.
Although numerous updates were made to the service since its initial launch, the sunsetting of Universal Analytics and transition to Analytics 4 is a big undertaking — not just for us, but for the entire industry.
In order to make certain we were on top of the most important aspects of this switch, our team has spent a better part of this past year preparing both our systems and ourselves.
There were a number of internal processes, reporting metrics, and changes we had to make to be ready for the shift, so we’ve been familiarizing ourselves with every possible aspect of Google Analytics 4.
Of course, the best way to make sure this enterprise went as smoothly as possible was through a formal (but still self-directed) training process.
How We Approached Google Analytics 4 Training
We kicked off 2023 by carving out time every week for our team to complete the Google Analytics 4 training provided by Google.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with how this type of training is administered, Google provides a platform called Skillshop. It’s a venue for education, formal training, and official certification.
Since training can often become a lower priority when we’re all juggling a bunch of high priority projects, Meghan and I made the decision to create official training time for everyone to ensure they had the time they deserved to devote to this new service.
And because we had given ourselves so much lead time, our folks could work at their own pace, pore over the details, and ultimately earn their certifications.
What was really great about this approach, we found out, was that having this time blocked on everyone’s calendars was helpful before we had any internal conversations about our own official transition as an organization.
Once we finally began these discussions as a team, everyone was able to have meaningful conversations about new metrics, perspectives, views, and were able to make decisions faster about the impact that GA4 was going to have on how we conduct our business.
Cause here’s the reality of this change…
My (Personal) Truth About Ga4
Everyone I know kind of hates GA4. No one wants to switch over (at least in my network). When monoliths like Google decide to make sweeping changes like this, there’s not much that any organization can do to avoid its impact.
The reality of this change from Universal Analytics has been looming over us for a long time. Personally, I’ve grown accustomed to how the soon to be defunct platform operates, I have a good understanding of why it’s good for our business and for our clients, and much of this shift feels unnecessary. Maybe I’m just a creature of habit.
That said, now that we’ve spent more time with the platform, there are definitely things I like about it. Mostly, it’s given us an area to discuss what we find valuable when looking at our performance metrics for websites and content performance.
Our approach has essentially been to have the team drive the discussion around critical changes, review how these changes will affect monthly reporting, and then to create explanations for clients as to why reporting will look different going forward, and what new benefits they’ll gain from those changes.
We made sure that all new metrics in our reporting are clearly defined to help them understand the value, and as we have since the very beginning of Formada, will continue to make sure that these data points are those that matter to them and their businesses vs. focusing on vanity metrics.
Speaking of, let’s quickly go over some of the biggest changes we’ve observed.
How Google Analytics 4 Is Impacting Our Reporting
While many of the metrics are not changing between the two methods, there are some new terms that Google is prioritizing over older terms. For example, “goals” will now be referred to as “conversion events.”
Having been involved in several projects over the course of my career, I have no doubt that a great deal of thinking and work went into these changes, and while the updated terminology will no doubt become the norm someday, these changes often feel like unnecessary hurdles to jump over while you’re actively building a business.
And really, the biggest philosophical change I’ve come to notice is really where GA4 is focusing on engagement and user activity when counting any success metric. There is also a greater emphasis on multi-device and entry points. It’s an analytics tool meant to be used for web, apps, and more devices than just websites.
One of the hardest changes we faced as a team was rethinking the way that the default dashboards present themselves in Analytics. For most of our careers, we’ve gone to the same place in the platform to access the same information. We’ve grown quite accustomed to it, and while it might seem small, it’s enough of a shift to make you feel like a stranger in your own home.
With GA4, the standard views and dashboards have been mixed up significantly. While this created a little discomfort for the team, it also spurred some deeper concerns — would all of the data that we were not only accustomed to seeing but needed to see still be accessible? Would we be able to access it at all?
For the most part, the answer is yes, which was a relief. However, in some instances, we had to rethink our approach altogether.
When Change Is Unavoidable, You Have To Look On the Bright Side
The optimist in me hopes that GA4 will help us create even more success for our clients and for Formada.
There’s a certain amount of change management that you have to build into these transitions, on an operational and on an emotional level. We’re used to what we’re used to. You get comfortable. When that comfort gets disrupted, it makes sense to react negatively.
But our team is so good at adapting. They’re so good at seeing the possibilities. Their ability to get their GA4 certification while doing effective client work was nothing short of impressive. That’s just how they operate.
They learned the platform. Earned certification. Secured historical data. Made every update. Did everything necessary to maintain their level of expertise. And at the end of the day, that’s what ultimately matters: our team having the tools to do great work for our clients.
So, while we say farewell to Universal Analytics, I look forward to seeing what the team can accomplish with GA4. If the past is any indication, then there’s a very bright future ahead.