The sun sets into a body of water amid orange, red and yellow tones

Google announced on October 27th that it is pushing back the sunset date for Universal Analytics 360 from October 2023 to July 2024.

The extension will only apply to Universal Analytics 360 (UA360) properties, as they have the most complex path to migrate to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

The Universal Analytics sunset date for all standard properties will remain July 1, 2023, including standard properties in accounts with 360 properties.

For CMOs and those marketers who use Universal Analytics 360, the delay offers nine additional months to manage the changeover to GA4.

Scott Sullivan, chief revenue officer at Adswerve, explained that while the shift takes some pressure off teams who have more complex UA360 implementations or are behind in migrating to GA4 360, it does not mean that momentum toward GA4 migration should slow down.

“Use this time to equip your analytics teams with training and resources, like engaging expert analytics partners, to handle GA4’s new data model,” he said. “Start dual tagging websites now to ensure historical data is available the moment GA4 goes live.”

Sullivan added that because GA4 is not backward compatible, it requires marketers to roll out new implementations, which takes ample time and resources to fully migrate and implement the new platform.

Additionally, GA4 is a totally different data model than GA360, the platform it is replacing.

“It has a ton of new features and capabilities that are different from those currently available on UA, meaning teams will have a learning curve to using these tools,” he noted. 

More Time for CMOs to Think Holistically About GA4

Eric Schmitt, senior director and analyst in the Gartner marketing practice, said the delay is sure to frustrate some brands that took Google’s original announcement in good faith and reprioritized budgets and resources to meet the deadline.

He added the extra time will allow marketers to think more holistically about how to deploy GA4 in the context of overall advertising and analytics business goals.

“It also buys implementation teams to work through the nitty-gritty of new data collection practices associated with GA4’s event-based data model and to come up the curve on features like GA4 audiences and explorations," Schmitt said.

From his perspective, too many marketers view the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4 as a typical migration exercise with the goal of simply replicating existing data collection, processing and visualization.

“Smarter organizations will take advantage of the longer timeline to re-imagine how they tag data, harvest insights and integrate GA4 into the context of other Google products," he explained. 

He cautions organizations that treat GA4 and web analytics as a silo risk losing ground to competitors who leverage it in concert with Google Tag Manager (GTM), Looker Studio, and BigQuery — as well as Google Ads, Search and Display & Video 360.

Related Article: The Switch to Google Analytics 4 Is Fast Approaching: Here’s What to Do

Switching GA4 Without Friction

Doron Gerstel, CEO of Perion, said GA4 will change the game in terms of being able to monitor and track not just Google properties, but non-Google properties including social, search and organic.

"To capitalize on this massive integration will require an entirely new interpretative toolkit that will need to connect GA4 and existing data architecture," he said. "This will require time, budgetary allocation and training.”

It will also require an even more intense focus on collecting first-party data, as GA4 is a cookie-less platform, which is in response to the rapidly growing macro privacy trend, and which Google referenced in its announcement as GA4 emerged from beta.

“This is a complex move,” he said. “Data won't be transportable from the legacy system to the GA4, so being prepared to make the switch without friction, and without damaging ongoing marketing and media efforts, will require an enormous amount of 'flip the switch preplanning' as both systems will be up and running in parallel.”

Best Practices for a Smooth GA4 Transition

Gerstel outlines three best practices to pave the way for a smooth transition to GA4: First, make sure your internal systems are built to accommodate the centralization of web, app and social data that will come at you from the GA4 firehouse. 

Second, also assure that you can take complete advantage of the full customer journey data flow — the entire lifecycle of acquisition, engagement, monetization and retention.

Gerstel said this will require tighter integration between marketing, media, finance and data science than ever before.

“It’s great that you will be able to assess the impact of advertising in a more detailed, robust and meaningful way," he said. “But you must be built to seize the opportunity; structure must respond to innovation or you will be left behind.”

Third, it's essential that you make every possible effort to understand where privacy-centric data resides in your organization.

“It's shocking how many companies are unaware of their non-compliance,” Gerstel said. “The new Google Analytics is designed to adapt to the new privacy landscape with more granular controls on collecting, retaining and analyzing user data.”

Related Article: Leveraging Google Data Studio as the GA4 Transition Looms

Start Collecting Data in GA4 ASAP

Schmitt said marketers using Universal Analytics 360 should aim to deploy GA4 against key site properties by June of 2023 in order to collect 13 months of parallel data for full-year comparisons of key metrics and performance indicators.

“Start with key outcomes and conversion funnels,” he said. “But don’t underestimate the work to be done.”

When retooling data capture, he said marketing leaders should leverage what they can from existing GTM rules and data layers to configure events, dimensions and conversions. 

He points out GA4’s new event-centric model includes automatic events (such as first visit), enhanced measurement events (such as video engagement), recommended events (such as for online sales) and custom events.

“Look for time-saving utilities like the GA4 GTM Migration Tool in GitHub, or similar third-party vendor tools,” Schmitt said. 

He also advised organizations to perform dual-track migration and innovation.

“To minimize disruption and encourage continuity, follow a structured audit process to migrate existing data collection and reports into GA4,” he added.

In parallel to operational migration, Schmitt recommended designating an innovation team to identify and implement new capabilities available in GA4.

Sullivan also recommended that if needed, organizations should be looking to vet partners who can help with the transition.

“GA4 is coming, and those who prepare for it sooner rather than later will be better off come July 2024,” he said.