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The Past, Present, and Future of Google Analytics
by Adam Torkildson
July 6, 2022

Data analytics has slowly risen as one of the most important web markets. It’s expected that by 2028 the industry at large will be worth $550 billion. Millions of businesses globally rely on services like Google Analytics to look at their customers and to make their websites as functional and effective as possible. 

It all started a few years after the advent of the internet. People wanted a means to look at who was visiting their sites and to understand the logs their site was producing. This initially produced hit counters and then log analysis. Hit counters were very simple codes to be able to display how many people viewed a page. Log analysis was a more in-depth set of code that allowed site owners to analyze where traffic was coming from.

From there, the internet only began to become more and more complex. This meant a coevolution of log analysis alongside the internet was necessary. Sites were no longer simple and text filled, images, videos, audio, and various other complexities were all being added. So eventually, the first major analytic player arrived, Javascript. 

Javascript used a tag-based system that allowed the tracking of specific users and their tendencies. This allowed a deeper understanding of what people were specifically doing on websites, and was the beginning of marketing being introduced from analytics.

From here things only continued to grow and grow. Analytics now offered info on conversion rates, page performance, customer value, heatmaps, traffic sources, and session playbacks. This is around the time where Google entered the fray, buying out Urchin for $30 million, one of the top analytics providers in the U.S, in 2005.

This marked the birth of Google Analytics. A new, heavily quantitative, heavily marketed, tag-based analytic solution. Google Analytics only grew from there until in 2012 Universal Analytics was introduced. This enabled the tracking of users using user ID across platforms and devices. Universal Analytics gave much deeper customer data and even allowed offline behavior monitoring.

This is where Google Analytics exists today. Over 28 million active sites are predicted to use Universal Analytics. Although in October of 2020, Google Analytics 4 (G4A) was introduced. This is a new system that allows analysis of both the web and apps alike. It also prioritizes privacy as something that was somewhat disregarded in the move into the modern internet era. 

G4A has more detailed data on time between actions, tracks mobile apps and web data alike, collects more page hit types, and follows more strictly privacy guidelines. It also has predictive features, such as purchase and churn probability, as well as revenue predictions. Finally there are a slew of new options like access to funnels, a debug mode, real-time reports, and user exclusion.

It’s features like these that set G4A ahead of Universal Analytics. Unfortunately though because of Google’s commitment to G4A, Universal Analytics will be shutting down on July 1, 2023. The other unfortunate part is that Google offers no way to transfer historical data or to directly upgrade. 

This means that the future of some sites may be rocky. Although there is still time now, existing sites utilizing Universal Analytics will need to learn how G4A works, train with the new interface, recode tags to work with G4A, redo dashboarding, and rewrite data export. These are all potentially time consuming processes that many companies may simply opt to hire an analytics partner for.

It’s not all bad news though, this switch does present an opportunity for existing sites. On top of the better analytic data, the transition allows the clean-up of third party tags, a shift to more privacy oriented tracking, a data governance audit, and the opportunity to future-proof one’s tech stack. These are all non-essential but very practical processes to carry out in the cumbersome process of converting. 

This all is the future of Google Analytics. From an Urchin buyout, to Universal Analytics, to Google Analytics 4, Google has offered some of the best analytics solutions since the early internet. It’s certainly not the only option, especially in other countries. Chinalytics is the primary analytics platform within China. Internationally at large, Matomo is also one of the most used alternatives. 

Although Google Analytics still reigns as the most used analytics service globally. From the West to the East, Google has the strongest grip on the market. This only makes it more important for existing site owners, and future site creators, to know exactly what is going on underneath the hood. G4A is coming, it’s best to be prepared before Universal Analytics is gone forever.

History & Future of Web Analytics
Source: InfoTrust
About the author
Adam Torkildson
Adam Torkildson
Adam is a long-time resident of American Fork, UT. He serves in several local service organizations and advises several startups that he's invested in or founded.
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