Google Universal Analytics is being replaced by Google Analytics 4. On July 1st 2023, Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data and some time after that, (probably around Dec 2023) these properties will be deleted. (Src. Google)
In the coming months, we’ll provide a future date for when existing Universal Analytics properties will no longer be available. After this future date, you’ll no longer be able to see your Universal Analytics reports in the Analytics interface or access your Universal Analytics data via the API. – Google May 10th, 2023
Google Analytics 4 is a significant reimagining of the structure, features and interface from Universal Analytics. It also introduces several new features such as event-based tracking, automatic data collection and machine learning-powered insights.
There is a wealth of articles, videos and Google’s own documentation to help Marketing and digital professionals make the transition. How that all works out; that’s still in the future.
Why the change?
There are a number of factors driving the change from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.
- Universal Analytics had a mostly website centric approach. This has changed in Google Analytics 4 to reconcile a customer’s multi-platform experience.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts and Blended Data).
- Cybersecurity and privacy. Google Analytics 4 is no longer storing IP addresses or relying on cookies. These solutions and controls are especially necessary for current international privacy rules. This is coupled with the cookieless options.
- IoT (Internet of Things). There are many more data streams/sources to take into account.
- Cloud computing and Big Data. The emphasis has moved to combining data to gain a 360 degree view of an enterprise.
Is Google taking the right approach?
Sounds great right? Google is removing some of the pre-calculated metrics and reports and making Google Analytics 4 more customisable and sophisticated for Marketing and Digital Professionals.
What’s the business landscape though?
In the 1990s, small businesses accounted for 70 percent of all businesses in Australia, making them the largest employer of Australians. In 2023, 98% of businesses are classified as small businesses. These small businesses account for 41% of the Australian workforce and contribute 32% to the economy. (Src Australian Bureau of Statistics and The Australian Banking Association 2023)
Of the 2.6 million businesses in Australia, the majority (98%) are small and medium enterprises. – Australian Banking Association
Is this an American thing? Is Google Analytics designed for a United States audience? No, the percentage of small businesses in the United States of America is 99.9% employing 47.5% and providing 44% of economic activity.
In the United Kingdom it’s 99%. In Europe it’s 99%. In South America it’s 99.5. In Africa it’s about 90%. (src World Bank)
If Google Analytics is becoming skewed further towards Digital and Marketing professionals, where does that leave small business?
Looking at those Digital and Marketing professionals, how satisfied have they been with Universal Analytics overall?
Well that’s interesting. Personally I love using Google Analytics, though I can see that it’s not like Microsoft Word where you don’t have to be a power user to use the basics. Even though Universal Analytics contains a lot of calculated and prebuilt reporting, it requires a fair amount of business analysis, marketing industry or data knowledge to get insight and action out of it.
What was in reach of many users is going to skew further towards the Marketing and Digital Professional end of the market. It might get more expensive to implement as well.
That has a double edge. On the one hand it is going to mean pain for businesses that don’t have those skills in house. On the other hand it should mean an uptick in demand for consultancy services, or to fill roles.
Almost a third of employing businesses (31%) are having difficulty finding suitable staff. Nearly half (46%) of all businesses experienced increases in their operating expenses. – Australian Bureau of Statistics June 2022
How many users is that?
Google has approximately 89% market share of the analytics market with the next closest competitors being Adobe Analytics, at about 1.5% and Tableau at about 1.12% (src 6sense 2023).
There are other alternatives such as Woopra, Clicky, Piwik, Mixpanel, KISSmetrics, Heap Analytics, GoSquared, Gauges or StatCounter.
The global web analytics market grew from $5.56 billion in 2022 to $6.74 billion in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.0%. The Russia-Ukraine war disrupted the chances of global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the short term. The war between these two countries has led to economic sanctions on multiple countries, a surge in commodity prices, and supply chain disruptions, causing inflation across goods and services and affecting many markets across the globe. The web analytics market is expected to grow to $13.92 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 19.9%. – Web Analytics Global Market Report 2023, The Business Research Company
Apps aside for the moment, let’s consider the number of websites globally.
This is the estimated number of websites from 3 data sources. I checked out six others, though they either pointed back to these stats or did not reference a source (no doughnut for them).
With the numbers of Google Analytics websites the sources ranged from 3.5 Million to 37 million. The sources did not specify whether the figures were global or local, and the numbers looked rubbery. Instead I decided to look at the number of detections from hosting.
Using the number of existing active sites, the result, approx. 140 million is way more than the maximum number of 37 million with the 3rd hand source. Though that percentage is based on actual Google Analytics detected on websites. Anecdotally then, there is a lot of Google Analytics out there.
Another reason for many of the changes in Google Analytics 4 is the amount of blocking and privacy concerns with Universal Analytics.
Several European Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) have effectively banned Google Analytics. The countries in question are Austria, France, Italy, Denmark, and Finland who have taken a stance against Google Analytics, and the Norwegian data protection authority also provisionally ruled in a still-pending case. (src. Simple Analytics)
The core of the complaint is that US intelligence agencies would have access to data, transferred from EU countries. It’s important to note that “due to a possible configuration error, the respondent did not activate the IP anonymisation function in all cases.”, so it’s also possible that Google could be in the hot seat for being the biggest.
In each country complainants claimed that:
“A website using GA transferred their personal data to the US without effective safeguards. The owner of the website protested that the safeguards implemented in the GA Terms of Service were sufficient. The DPA examined the safeguards and concluded that they were ineffective against State surveillance. The DPA ordered the website to stop using GA (or implement stronger safeguards).”
Technically PII (Personally Identifiable Information) should not exist in your Google Analytics, though it may be seen in events if users are signing up with their email addresses, or it can appear in unsubscribe URLs.
A better way to protect PII is through pseudonymisation, which involves replacing, removing or transforming the data so that it cannot be used to identify an individual. However, this may still not be enough as other data such as browser and operating system metadata may still allow for re-identification.
In China Google Analytics is not banned though the website analytics.google.com is, and a VPN is needed to access it, if you are there. The Chinese alternative is called Baidu Tongji (Baidu Analytics).
The figures on how many users are blocking Google Analytics specifically are rubbery as well, and it should be considered that it is third-party cookies (not created by the domain you are visiting) that are being blocked. You might know that a cookie in web terms is a small bit of data stored by your web browser when you visit websites. Anecdotally it seems that it could be 15-40%, though it’s not quotable.
Google Analytics uses a first-party cookie. Google Analytics 4 can also work in ‘cookieless’ mode. This is where Google Analytics 4 will use Machine Learning to fill in data gaps. Google is calling this ‘blended data’.
They also use FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) where Google simulates user data rather than using third party cookies. If you have enough data, you can connect the dots. This makes interest-based ad selection possible by assigning a user of a site into an ‘interest cohort’ with a large group of other users who have similar history.
If you’ve read Issac Asimov’s Foundation, it sounds a lot like Harry Seldon’s ‘Psychohistory’.
A concluding opinion
Google has created Google Analytics 4 properties for customers of Universal Analytics who didn’t get onto it by March 2023. There is an option to migrate settings and data from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics (or it has been done for you). If you are using WordPress you could also install the SiteKit plugin and automate some of the process.
Given the preceding information, none of these seem like a good option. Depending on the sophistication of your setup, too much could be missed from your previous setup.
Google Analytics 4 has at its heart a greater need for planning and strategy. If your business currently doesn’t, that’s not a good thing. Google Analytics 4 relies on exporting data and using presentation products such as LookerStudio rather than pre-calculated reports in Google Analytics. It requires more technical expertise. Google Analytics 4 is so radically different.
This might be a time to take a look at the things you want to measure in your business. Google Analytics 4 offers great opportunities to export data in combination with other business data, to give the best insights. Though it is not an out of the box solution and that may put it out of reach if you don’t have a plan.
No matter what the analytics or data solutions a business chooses, it will need to be treated as seriously as your accounting, business management, legal and taxation concerns. Help, either employed, or by consultancy, will be crucial to your business analytics.
I have written this series of articles to go deeper on the research into Google Analytics and Analytics in general. Please leave a comment or submit an opinion. I’d love to hear more opinions about what everyone thinks about the change to Google Analytics 4.
In the following article, Up the data stream without a paddle; I will discuss the differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 and why they may have been chosen.