Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) has been a must have for any marketer in the last ten years
Since its introduction in 2012, the software has provided a solid foundation for many campaigns, and its accessibility has allowed brands to harness its power from their earliest digital days.
But a decade on from UA’s creation, the advertising world is a faster and more fragmented place. Real-time data is now a must have, while consumers browse on numerous devices and are increasingly privacy savvy. UA is struggling to keep up with these changes. For an industry in which data plays such a crucial role, this is not good news – it’s unsurprising that only 26% of marketers are fully confident in their user data.
Google has taken note of this, and in response, launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4). A direct replacement for UA; GA4 was first unveiled two years ago, while UA’s approaching depreciation is confirmed for July 2023. But despite this deadline in the near-distant future, marketers should be looking to make the switch much sooner – as soon as possible.
A Rapidly Evolving World
Ultimately, the reason UA is being shuttered is simple: increasingly complex consumer journeys have outstripped it. Shoppers are interacting with brands not only on multiple devices, but over multiple apps and browsers.
As the importance of these myriad touch points has grown for marketers, there has been an increased demand to track and quantify these interactions. However, UA’s session-based model for gathering data is unsuitable for this task.
The growing concern of consumers – as well as regulators and lawmakers – around data privacy has further hampered UA’s effectiveness. Alongside the implementation of legislation such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the phase out of the third-party identifiers by 2023 will further reduce the measurement ability of UA.
This trend of tightening data privacy is not likely to abate – despite Google repeatedly pushing back the deadline for the cookie phase-out. Apple has already removed third-party cookies from its browser Safari, while also making it harder for consumers to be tracked across apps.
Compounding this issue is the ever growing need for speed. Fingertip access to the latest data is key to rapidly pivoting campaigns, keeping a close eye on spend and making sure audiences are reached effectively. UA’s latency – processing data in 24 to 48 hours – is no longer viable to marketers today.
Ultimately, UA was built for a different time, when consumers shopped through desktop browsers that could be measured in independent sessions, and tracked easily via cookies.
Out with the old, in with the new
UA clearly needs more than a few updates; this is where GA4 steps in. With privacy built into its core, and designed to track users across platforms, this new measurement solution has been created with the future in mind. But why should marketers make the switch now?
Well firstly, GA4 moves away from UA’s more traditional session-based method of user interaction measurement, instead implementing a more flexible and ingenuitive events-based model. User-interactions are sent as standalone events, with 25 parameters available. These touchpoints can be processed across devices, browsers and apps, giving brands a better overview of their entire sales funnel through the three different Identity Spaces identifiers that link up user activity. And to satisfy marketers’ need for speed, these events are reported back to marketers in real-time.
GA4 also harnesses one of the most exciting emerging technologies – machine learning (ML). Though some machine learning-driven features have been integrated into UA in recent years, GA4 is super-powered by it. ML can be harnessed in GA4 to help produce more granular insights, as well as predictions on outcomes such as churn rate or revenue generation from specific customer segments.
In-built ML can also help tackle the cookieless future. To navigate the data scarcity that the removal of cookies will likely leave, GA4 leverages ML to repopulate data gaps, allowing for fuller insights.
Privacy is front and centre of GA4. The ‘Consent Mode’ provides marketers with separate consent options for analytics and for ads. Data deletion options have also been improved, while, most importantly, GA4 will not store any IP addresses.
To top it off, GA4 offers improved integration with Google Ads, allowing insights to be more easily acted on, and optimised across both web and apps. For example, GA4 may generate a predictive audience for a product over a week-long period. This segment can be exported to Google Ads and more precisely targeted.
No marketer wanting to gain an edge should wait until UA is phased out to switch to GA4; its impressive arsenal of tools offers greater insights into customer life cycles, allowing marketers to achieve better ROI from their ad spend.
GA4 has not just been created with the present in mind, but with the future as well, and adopting it early means reaping the rewards of its powerful features.
About the Author
Paula Gómez Anaya has more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing. Her main focus is data and optimisation, and has worked for companies such as Ticketea, MAKE Digital Marketing and Pull & Bear. Currently, Paula is Head of Data & Adtech at Making Science, an integrated technology and digital marketing consultancy with a national and international presence. She manages a team of more than 50 consultants and works for brands such as PSA, Carrefour and Banco Santander.