For better or worse, Google has a long history of "optimizing" things. And not just on the tech side of the fence.
Consider how Alphabet – the publicly traded parent of the search giant – split its stock in 2022 to improve its market capitalization. The company has a market cap of over $1 trillion and is still considered one of the most valuable on the planet. But the move made it even more attractive to main street investors while enhancing its position on the exchanges.
On the negative side, the company recently "optimized" its workforce, cutting 12,000 jobs after what it called a "pandemic hiring spree." It plans to refocus its budget on AI initiatives, no doubt in response to the recent explosion of ChatGPT and the announcement from Microsoft that it will weave the bot's intelligence into its Bing platform. For reference, Bing represents less than 10% of the search market (Google owns almost all the rest).
When it comes to its products, Google is also wrestling with a bevy of optimization challenges, most notably the sunsetting of its eponymous Universal Analytics (UA) as of July 1, 2023. Companies have been scrambling to get its replacement, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), up and running. Despite its touted new features and "optimizations," many digital marketing and SEO professionals have confronted significant challenges with the new platform.
As if that wasn't enough, Google is now retiring two more of its products: Google Optimize and Optimize 360. The company recently announced that beginning September 30, 2023, users will no longer have access to either product and that it was “investing in A/B testing in Google Analytics 4."
How will these changes impact users? It's hard to say. But in a world where Google's grip over search and analytics is being threatened by fragmentation and competition – all ignited by advanced AI – there may be more "optimizing" ahead for everyone.
The dawn of a new A/B testing and personalization era
While Google Optimize and Optimize 360 have a strong and proven legacy, Google Analytics has long been the data source of truth for millions of websites. The upgrade was highly anticipated by marketing and SEO professionals, but there have been swelling questions about how the rollout would affect the broader ecosystem – including the interplay with the Optimize products.
As noted, the shift to GA4 has been fraught with controversy, particularly around the limitations of migrating historical data. To be fair, Google has been strongly encouraging customers to make the switch to GA4 as soon as possible, so they have ample time to build historical data in the new platform. But don't panic: your legacy data can be exported as CSVs, and UA will still be in effect until July 1, 2024.
Google said its rationale for sunsetting Optimize, a five-year-old product, was rooted in "developing something better" for customers. According to the company, many users were requesting features and services not currently available for experimentation and testing. Google said it wanted to invest in more robust and effective solutions to meet the evolving need – and no doubt, to compete with more expansive customer analytics platforms like Amplitude.
Optimize users are encouraged to download their historical data before September 30. For more information on how to access that data or how this will affect a current Optimize and Optimize 360 contract, visit Google Support.
“The Times They Are a-Changin’”
What Bob Dylan so eloquently penned in 1964 still holds true. The times are a-changin'. And like the musical poet of yesteryear, Google has withstood the test of time in our modern digital era and become a cultural icon. (Worth noting: a search for "Bob Dylan" returns over 122,000,000 results).
At the same time, Google is facing the fierce headwinds of change as an aging brand and ecosystem, one that has achieved a monolithic status in the tech stack. New and innovative products are forcing the company to evolve, and that's good. But change – as Dylan would agree – is like a hard rain falling.
As Google executes its sunsetting and upgrading, we're already getting a glimpse of how analytics will look in the future. The field of data science is exploding, and analytics have become more important than ever. At the same time, measuring across different platforms and applications has become exceedingly more difficult.
Google Optimize and Optimize 360 will be remembered as transformative tools in the A/B testing and experimentation narrative. While we're not expecting any love songs to be penned for their eulogy, they have impacted how marketers think about testing and its scalability. Google has indicated its lofty ambitions to incorporate more of these personalization functions into GA4, but when?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
Get GA4 up and running! You have time to download and export your legacy Optimize and UA resources, but GA4 really needs historical data to thrive – so set it up ASAP. Just a reminder: Google has remained firm on not making any extensions for the programs they are retiring. That could change, but it's best to assume the worst.
It's likely that GA4 will introduce its new A/B testing features in 2023. But if you don’t like the idea of “wait and see,” there are also other platforms to explore:
Optimizely is choosing to celebrate the news by offering Google Optimize customers a special deal for keeping their experimentations running smoothly.
Adobe Target is another leading product that has similar functionality to Google Optimize, but with more features. It predictably integrates with Adobe Analytics, rather than Google Analytics.
Visual Website Optimizer, AB Tasty and Dynamic Yield are also good options to explore, even with smaller market share in this field.
With just a few months left to use Google Optimize, it might seem daunting to consider a new alternative, but it’s also nice to have options. Not to get too poetic (though we have already mentioned Dylan), but each sunset does bring the dawn of a new day. And it looks like we’ll just have to wait and see what Google shines a light on next.