With Google Analytics 3 Going Away, What Can I Do?
Ever since Google announced the upcoming July 2023 deprecation of Google Analytics 3 (also known as Universal Analytics or GA3), marketers who depend on the world's most popular web analytics platform have been scrambling. They’ve depended on the same set of reports in Universal Analytics for years and now they’re lost in a sea of new reporting capabilities and advanced configuration options in Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Also, the timeline for deprecating GA3 means that brands requiring year-over-year (YoY) reporting must complete their GA4 implementation by July 2022 which is only about a month away.
Velir's Data Activation team has been closely following these developments and has put together the following frequently asked questions (FAQ) to help you understand what options are available to you with Google Analytics.
What is Google Analytics 3? What is Google Analytics 4? How can I tell which one I'm using?
Google Analytics is the most popular web analytics platform in the world. When most people discuss Google Analytics, they’re likely referring to GA3, aka Universal Analytics, which has been around for about a decade. GA4 is Google's latest iteration of their analytics product which supports mobile apps, provides a more advanced data model, and includes better controls around data privacy. GA4 fully replaces GA3 and there is no automated migration path for data collected in GA3 to move to GA4.
The easiest way to tell which version of Google Analytics you're using is to navigate to analytics.google.com, browse through your Google Analytics account and review the IDs associated with your properties. Property IDs starting with "UA" are GA3 properties and property IDs that are entirely numbers are GA4 properties.
|Example GA3 Property ID||UA-1234567-1|
|Example GA4 Property ID||123456789|
What is Google changing about GA3?
GA3 will be deprecated starting in July of 2023. Specifically, GA3 properties will stop collecting data at this date, but reports will be available until January 2024 at which point the entire service will be shut down. As a result, if you depend on GA3 for reporting on website behavior, ad spend, SEO, or conversions you’ll need to develop a plan to migrate to GA4 or another service. If YoY reporting is important to your organization, that plan should be executed by July 2022 to provide one year of data collection before the GA3 data collection shut-off.
If historical reporting is important, you can export data out of GA3 into data warehouses using tools like Fivetran.
What are some of the benefits of GA4?
GA4 is a much more advanced analytics platform than GA3 and so it provides numerous new features and capabilities. Some highlights include:
- The ability to seamlessly blend data from mobile apps and websites
- Larger quotas and fewer restrictions on data sampling, custom dimensions, and conversions (previously "Goals")
- Richer reporting options through GA's new "Explore" feature which provides sophisticated funnel, audience overlap, and path exploration reports
- Free exports of all raw, unsampled data to BigQuery, Google's data warehouse solution, which was previously only available to paying GA360 customers
- Access to advanced machine learning capabilities that can identify users likely to convert or churn and that can fill in gaps for users who disable certain browser features
- A more flexible, event-focused data model that can handle a much richer event taxonomy
- A focus on data-privacy including the decision to avoid storing user IP addresses by default
- Better tracking for the time between events to better contextualize user behavior
What steps are involved in migrating to GA4?
A GA4 migration is typically broken down into three phases: planning, tagging and configuration, and reporting.
During the planning phase, you should audit your existing GA3 implementation and plan out what your GA4 implementation should look like. For instance, what events will be migrated over? How might you enhance those events? What account structure should you use? What reports depend on GA3 data? GA4 is a more complicated system than GA3 and may require more up-front planning than a typical GA3 project.
- Tagging and Configuration
During this step, you’ll implement the events you identified in the planning phase using either a tag management system like Google Tag Manager (GTM) or through custom code using Google's gtag.js library. Next, you should configure GA4 property settings such as filters and event transformations to match any requirements you gathered during the planning phase.
During the reporting phase, you should re-create any reporting systems that depended on GA3 data. This may simply require configuring standard GA4 reports to more closely match GA3 reports. In other cases, business intelligence (BI) systems like Tableau or Power BI should be updated to draw from GA4's reporting API, called the Data API. GA4 also provides a free export of raw data to BigQuery which may enable new reporting use cases not previously available to you in GA3.
Remember, there is no way to migrate data previously captured in GA3 to GA4. The steps above ensure that moving forward, your business will capture equivalent information in GA4 as it did in GA3.
Are there any drawbacks to GA4?
While there are a ton of great benefits to GA4, there are some drawbacks worth considering.
- GA4 is widely considered a more sophisticated solution that demands more up-front planning and thought in its implementation. Given its complexity, some businesses might consider moving to another vendor (like Mixpanel, Amplitude, or Snowplow) knowing that the cost of switching may be the same.
- The reporting options in GA4 are entirely different. This has caused confusion for those who have become familiar with GA3's simpler interface.
- Certain features in GA3 were not moved to GA4 such as the ability to create multiple, filtered reporting views that display different subsets of data.
- Product-scoped custom dimensions are missing (but on the roadmap) which may be a deal killer for certain Ecommerce businesses.
- There is less documentation and are fewer best practices surrounding GA4. By comparison, GA3 has had ~10 years of communal knowledge built up.
- User-level data (as opposed to aggregated data) can only be retained up to 14 months. Data can be exported to BigQuery to retain it for longer periods.
What if I want continuous reporting across my historical GA3 data and my new GA4 data?
While Google has not provided a direct migration path between GA3 and GA4, you can use tools like Fivetran to export data collected by GA3 and blend it with data collected by GA4. In fact, Velir has built a library of code built specifically for this purpose. Reach out if you're interested in this method of blending GA3 and GA4 data for continuous reporting.
Who should I talk to if I need help migrating to GA4?
If you’re looking for help migrating to GA4, our Data Activation team is happy to assist you! We can talk more about the benefits of GA4, and help you plan and execute a migration to it. Contact us to get started.