What the rollout of Google Analytics 4 will mean for the future of web analytics
For our Data and Privacy Deep Dive, Gartner’s Lizzy Foo Kune spells out the implications of the impending takeover of Google Analytics 4.
/ Myriam Jessier
Marketers breathed a sigh of relief last week when Google announced that it will postpone sunsetting the current version of its web analytics product, Universal Analytics.
Why the relief? Most marketers aren’t prioritizing the migration to the new product, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), even though failing to migrate will result in the end of marketers’ ability to track marketing and advertising efforts.
The implications of the migration are immense, even by comparison to other Google declarations, delays and revisions such as the phaseout of third-party cookies and the announcement of Google Topics. Estimates from BuiltWith of Google Universal Analytics adoption exceed 25m websites. Moreover, of 900 brands whose martech stacks were captured in Gartner’s 2021 Digital Performance Benchmarks dataset, 65% use Google Analytics.
In other words: Moving to GA4 entails an urgent overhaul to long-standing marketing data collection, measurement baselines and operational approaches – and deeper ties to Google’s ad ecosystem.
There are three key areas of impact that the move to GA4 poses to marketing leaders:
Marketers face operational resets as data collection, data processing and day-to-day analysis standards are flipped on their heads.
There will be a new advertising imperative to use Google Analytics to orchestrate paid media Google spend on search, display and YouTube, and for on-site and in-app testing.
Marketers will see the divergence of adtech and martech as the gulf widens between tech for anonymous audiences and tech for marketing to known and consented audiences.
Here’s a closer look at each disruption:
Operational reset of data collection
The current version of Google Analytics will stop processing data in July 2024. Because GA4 uses a new data model, marketers need to update their measurement plans and re-implement tracking.
Historical datasets cannot be converted or migrated into GA4, so marketers should update to GA4 by May or June of 2023 at the latest to ensure they have 13 months of data to compare with.
A new advertising imperative
GA4 will continue to be used for general-purpose web measurement and analytics. However, its data collection, reporting and exploration capabilities are especially valuable tools for brands that want to maximize the value of their Google ad spend.
Most notably, marketers will gain audience interoperability, as GA4 audiences are automatically made available across Google’s other software tools, including its products for search display and video advertising, site testing and e-commerce.
The divergence of adtech and martech
The shift to GA4 has a broader impact as well. It underscores the differences between advertising to anonymous audiences and marketing messages to known customers – furthering the divide between adtech and martech.
It also stands to help siloed advertising and marketing teams to integrate. Our clients tell us that their search, display, video and web analytics teams are decentralized across internal and agency teams. GA4 deployments represent a golden opportunity to remedy this constraint. As marketers define new data collection frameworks and audience segments, it's critical to examine how to cross-pollinate and innovate across the company's portfolio of Google investments.
The more ad dollars spent on Google, the stronger the case for GA4 investment. Gartner estimates that Google captures roughly 30% of all paid media spend globally, and that companies spend an average of 1% of their revenue on Google ads. GA4 is a key tool for managing and optimizing these budgets and should be valued accordingly.
Ultimately, marketers need to decide what the future of web analytics looks like for their organizations. Implementing a new analytics package is no small feat. It not only requires significant resource investment, but intense attention to detail to implement correctly.
Marketers should consider factors like Google ad spend, local market requirements and the implications of multi-vendor scenarios on their tech stack as they decide. Moments like this force marketers to choose whether to continue with an existing analytics package or evaluate alternatives.
Lizzy Foo Kune is vice-president, analyst, Gartner Marketing Practice at Gartner. For more on how the world of data-driven advertising and marketing is evolving, check out our latest Deep Dive.