Navigating the Transition: From UA Sunset to GA4's Evolution

March 25, 2024 | Sara Hoffman
Navigating the Transition: From UA Sunset to GA4's Evolution

Google recently updated its Universal Analytics (UA) deprecation page, stating that the UA 360 sunset will terminate the use of the interface and delete data within a week of July 1, 2024. I first read this during a live training for Bounteous' public GMP training offerings, which wasn't a fun way to find out. Additionally, Google began deprecating UA features in March 2024, specific to the European Economic Area (EEA).

In June 2023, I also made a hyperbolic presentation about Universal Analytics' Greatest Hits at the Marketing Analytics Summit, mocking some of the mentality that "it's my data, I want it." The Universal Analytics '_ga' cookie lasts for two years, so why would you need anything longer than that because your attribution of users is different?

Why Not Download all Historical Data?

I'm a fan of the adage, "If the data collected isn't analyzed, was it ever collected at all?" You need a business purpose for collecting, storing, and processing data, and "just in case" isn't a purpose. In addition to the why of collecting data, the  '_ga' cookie only lasts two years; we now have a world with more privacy and protection regulations than ever, especially since UA's origination.

Many conditions of the data are different from what is happening today. What content management system was the site on in 2007? Is that the same one as today? Has your information architecture changed over the years? The odds are stacked against you in consistently measuring nearly anything without heaps of footnotes.

Recommended to download for trend only:

  • Traffic sources
  • Total sessions
  • Engagement time/Time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Conversion rate

What Should You Do Instead?

Configuration Documentation

Ensure you have a timeline of events and changes you've made to your site over the years. Previously, these should all have been in UA's Annotations, but that feature wasn't flexible enough to denote all the nuances of agile web development and marketing campaigns, and it doesn't yet exist in GA4. Ensure you have a system in place to record the cacophony of change that your digital assets, campaigns, and offerings go through regularly. 

  • Use Google Analytics Utilities (by Ben Kuehn and Pablo Gil) to inventory your Universal Analytics configuration and settings. 
    • It uses the APIs to extract Goals, Audiences, Users, View Settings, and more.
  • Export your GTM container and make notes about the UA/GA4 events that exist today. 
Optimization Process and Documentation

We've already said goodbye to Google Optimize, and you've moved on to another tool for your various testing methodologies to live. Your tests should have their own documentation home and place of record for how the user flows or how designs were modified. This will replace any need for historical time-series data for conversion flows or funnels. Do you truly need anything else, given all the changes your site and user experience have already gone through previously?

Past Performance Documentation

Do you have a monthly or quarterly report consistent with the sites' and/or apps' trends and performance? That is the reference material of the most significant value. This is through the requirements documentation that should already exist for your organization, outlining specific dimensions and metrics that are required for your objectives and key results reporting

  • Export and/or screenshot existing Looker Studio reports.
    • Document any calculated fields or custom metrics that were created within the interface.
  • Use the Google Sheets API, with caution. UA is sessionized, sampling will still apply, and exporting everything won't be worth the processing time.
  • BigQuery
    • If your UA 360 isn't connected to BigQuery, you can still connect by following the set-up instructions.
    • This is also your reminder to link GA4 to BigQuery ASAP.

The impending UA 360 shutdown emphasizes the importance of being prepared and adapting to change in the digital analytics world. Whether it’s navigating data retention strategies, the changing consent landscape, or ensuring your team’s readiness, the transition is here for transition, and knowledge and preparation are the keys. Bounteous has helped companies prepare for the upcoming sunset, equipping their teams with the latest skills and insights in the Google Marketing Platform through our offerings and comprehensive public training offerings.