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If we were to identify two of the most recurring themes in conversations with our clients over the past few months, we would have no doubt:

  • Timelines, methods, obstacles, and procedures necessary to deal with the demise of Universal Analytics;
  • How to behave regarding the position of the Italian Data Protection Authority (GPDP) and other similar authorities in other European countries regarding the transfer of personal data to the United States.

Let’s try to better understand together what we’re talking about…

The announced demise of Universal Analytics

Google has made it clear: on July 1, 2023, the servers that store and process information for the Universal Analytics service will no longer be accessible. This means that from that moment on:

  • It will no longer be possible to save measurements made with Universal Analytics;
  • It will no longer be possible to access the measurements made up to that point with Universal Analytics.

At first glance, it might seem like a mini apocalypse.
For years, Universal Analytics has been one of the most widely used tools for measuring the behavior of visitors and users on websites, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. This means that for years, millions of businesses, including many of our clients and ourselves, have pursued their traffic measurement plans on their websites using the tools offered by Universal Analytics and automatically saving the data from these measurements on Google’s servers.

Although the problem is serious and time is running out day by day, the apocalypse is avoidable. As usual, all it takes is a good plan.

So how do we prepare to bid farewell to the old UA? How can we continue to measure what happens on your site WELL while not losing the data you have painstakingly collected over the past years?

Let’s save our data

We know it and you know it, but it’s worth emphasizing again: data about visitors and users of our websites are very important. They allow us to acquire a lot of information that helps us understand and analyze better, among other things:

  • Visitor and user behavior,
  • Performance of published content,
  • Whether we have invested our money well in our marketing campaigns or wasted it,
  • Whether the changes we have made to the site have brought benefits or if we need to go back,
  • The funnels of our e-commerce.

All this allows us to understand if our activities are progressing and to identify, when necessary, the critical areas to intervene. To evaluate our progress, however, we must always have in mind what we have done in the past… that is, the data we have already collected, including the less recent ones.

The data about our activities are a real treasure. Losing them would be a problem, if not a disaster.

“Well, but just export the data from Universal Analytics and then import it into GA4, or any other product,” someone might say. Well yes, that’s true, but unfortunately, there’s no nice “Export all” button in Universal Analytics. And for that matter, there’s no nice “Import all” button in GA4 either :).

So what do we do? Well, it depends, let’s say you have four paths open up before you:

#1 Export everything manually, directly from the Universal Analytics interface.
You make a list of the reports you want to export, visit each one of these reports, select the desired time frame, and click on the “Export” button, selecting the preferred export format.
It’s a solution within everyone’s reach, you just need to know how to navigate the Analytics interface, but it can take a lot of time. You may want your reports, not weekly, but at least monthly, to have a more granular reading of the historical data. Already with a monthly scan, wanting to save say 10 different reports for 3 years, you would have to do 10 (the reports) x 3 (the years) x 12 (the months in a year) exports, i.e. 360 exports… 😨 And what if you wanted to have weekly data for a specific period? 😱

#2 Use a Google Sheets add-on
If you are a Google Sheets user, you may want to use the Analytics add-on for Google Sheets. The advantage is that you don’t have to log in to Analytics, so you could save all the time wasted navigating the Analytics interface. However, the advantages come at a cost… in terms of product complexity:
(1) first of all, you need to learn to use another interface;
(2) then it must be considered that while in Analytics we export already configured reports, with the Google Sheets add-on the reports must be built from scratch, choosing dimensions and metrics, so a more in-depth knowledge of everything that needs to be saved for the future is needed;
(3) last, but not least, it is not possible to configure the addon so that it delivers, with a single command, a report for each month of the last three years, but we still have to configure 36 reports.

#3 Use the Google Analytics APIs
If you have no idea what an API is, you can probably already rule this option out. In fact, the bar of technical difficulty is raised considerably, because it involves communicating with Google Analytics without using a ready-made interface. This requires knowledge of a programming language, such as Python for example, with which to write the code necessary to communicate with the different Google Analytics APIs (yes there are several and you may have to use them all). And obviously you also need to know the language used by these APIs to be able to communicate with them.
The reward for all this effort is the possibility, if you were good, to press the proverbial button and wait for all the reports you requested to be delivered to you, one after the other.

We have seen three possibilities, each with a different balance between the time required and the technical difficulty of the operation. If you have the right skills and the time to invest, you can also achieve the goal, but you may remain doubtful whether you have really saved everything you need and especially whether you have saved it in the right way.

Relying on competent professionals frees you from these doubts and from the need to choose the best solution on your own. A team of professionals is invaluable even when you don’t exactly know what needs to be extracted, what are the most important data, but also how to save them correctly, so that they can be easily retrieved in the future.

This way, you’ll have more time to dedicate to other important activities, such as figuring out what to do after the demise of Universal Analytics. Moreover, speaking of the successor to Universal Analytics, there is also the issue of tracking data that, according to various European data protection authorities, cannot be sent to the United States. Those data that Google itself sends to the United States when you use its traffic analysis products (yes, GA4, we’re also talking about you).

Solving one problem immediately raises another. So what do we do? Is there a way to continue using the new version of Google’s free suite, Google Analytics 4, without being outlaws? Are there alternatives?

We’ll see all of this in the next episode…