What’s Going on with Google? Universal Analytics and Google Optimize Sunsets, and what they mean for you.

Google’s Universal Analytics is set to sunset in July. This is old news. However, earlier this year Google also announced that they will also be sunsetting their A/B testing tool, Optimize, in September. That announcement has many digital marketers in a tailspin. You may be wondering: What’s going on with Google? Why are they getting rid of their tools? What does this mean for my website? What should I do next?

Don’t worry, we will get through this together.

Let’s start with Google’s announcements regarding Universal Analytics and Google Optimize.

Universal Analytics Sunset:
Last March Google Announced that their website analytics tool (Universal Analytics) would be sunsetting in July. Google’s reason for this sunset is that “the internet of 2022 is very different from the internet of 2012”, the year that Universal Analytics (UA) was launched. In the same way that UA replaced Classic Analytics, Google has announced that UA will be replaced by a platform that is more inline with our current digital needs: GA4.

Google Optimize Sunset:
For those who knew of its existence, this A/B testing tool allowed for easy and accurate website testing that integrated seamlessly with Universal Analytics and AdWords campaigns. Though lesser known than other Google Tools, Optimize has been well liked by many marketers looking to add data to website design and marketing. This is why the Sunset announcement on January 20th took many website optimizers by surprise. Unlike the Universal Analytics announcement, the Optimize Sunset announcement didn’t include an internal replacement tool for testing services.

Google Optimize isn’t without any alternatives. We will touch on Google’s tool replacements below.

Universal Analytics to GA4:
Google has announced that Universal Analytics will be available until July 1st of 2023. On that date, Universal Analytics will no longer be tracking new data. However, historic data will still be available for six months. Users are advised to begin switching over to Google Analytics 4 (also called GA4) so make sure there isn’t a drop in data tracking. To make the process easier, Google has begun creating GA4 properties for current users. They will even copy over configurations from your UA property to GA4 so you don’t lose the work you’ve already put into your data collection.

GA4 isn’t an exact replica of Universal Analytics. This tool will serve similar functions to Universal Analytics, but with some updates and changes to reporting to fit our current digital landscape. Like UA, GA4 will still include customizable dashboards, filters, and visualization tools to help users understand their data. The biggest change is in how GA4 tracks and collects data. GA4 is less reliant on cookies, which allows for more privacy control. It also has the ability to collect both website and app data so you can follow users across devices, and focuses on event-based instead of session based data. Google is confident that these updates will enable users to gain a more in-depth understanding of the contemporary online shopper.

Optimize to Outsourced Tools:
Website data and testing data are two powerful tools for marketing, which is why Universal Analytics and Optimize were a powerhouse duo. Unfortunately, that relationship will not be the same moving forward into 2023. On September 30, 2023, Optimize will be sunsetting for good, with no internal replacement.  Google is encouraging users to download their historical data from Optimize before this date, as it will not be accessible in the future. However, Google Optimize is not leaving without an alternative!

Instead of creating a new testing platform, Google is collaborating with other providers to integrate other testing tools into GA4.

So far, Google has listed the following A/B testing platforms:

  • AB Tasty
  • Optimizely
  • VWO

All three tools are well-known in the website optimization industry, and have many of the same functions and features we are already familiar with. Unlike Optimize, these tools are not free to the public. Pricing will vary depending on your needs, so we recommend assessing your current testing strategy and budget to determine which tool is right for you. Regardless of which of these providers you choose, Google announced that they will make their APIs publicly available so anyone can integrate their new A/B testing tool with Analytics moving forward.

So what does this all mean for you?

In short, it means that there’s a lot of changes coming. You will have new tools and interfaces to get used to, and different datasets available for assessment. There’s a lot to think about with these changes, but you still have some time to prepare.

Here’s some ways you may need to reassess your marketing strategy:

1. Cross Device Strategy: Google Analytics has been allowing marketers to segment their data between desktop and mobile users for a while now, but cross-device tracking changes the game! Instead of treating a user who moves from their mobile app to a desktop computer as a different user, Google will be better able to track the same user across devices. Not only will this change the way events are counted on a user basis, but it will also change the way you think about desktop and mobile users as audiences. Instead of thinking of them as separate entities, you can now see how users respond and react throughout their journey. This means tailoring your campaign to think across multiple devices.

2. Customer Journey Focused Campaign: With the change to session-based tracking, your customer’s journey will be easier to follow and analyze. This means that instead of focusing on raw numbers that give you a bird’s eye view of your traffic in general, you can now learn more about your customers’ experiences. This goes deeper than knowing what percentage of your traffic is organic versus paid search, or what your conversion rate is. It means knowing how many touchpoints your users have before conversion, through which touchpoints those conversions occurred, and how much each touchpoint is attributed to the final conversion. This information can help you create cross-department campaigns, based on data and tailored for your unique users.

3. New Tracking Methods means new metrics: With GA4 switching from session-based tracking to event based tracking, your numbers are to change a lot. Traditional ecommerce Conversion Rates, for example, divides the number of transactions during a given time period by the total number of user sessions. With Google moving away from tracking sessions, special considerations will need to be made when analyzing new versus historic data. Special views and filters may need to be created to view the exact metrics you are used to tracking.

In Summary: Google is continuing to evolve its tools and services to meet the needs of an ever-changing internet. Universal Analytics will Sunset on July 1st, and Optimize will Sunset on September 30th, but new alternatives are available for those who wish to continue measuring their growing online presence. These tools will not be exact replicas of Universal Analytics and Google Optimize, but they are updated tools that reflect the current digital landscape.

Ashley Mae Biggerstaff