How To Switch to Google Analytics 4
Universal Analytics has been a staple of digital marketing analysis for nearly a decade. It’s helped millions of us better understand why people use our websites and how we can improve their experiences.
However, tracking and measuring user engagement is going to change for good, and soon. By July 1st, 2023, you’ll need to learn how to use a whole new system, Google Analytics 4 – and more tools, reports, and interfaces.
Moving to GA4 means more than just having to learn a new system. What does the switch mean for your existing data, reports, and goals? How long will it take in practice?
Don’t panic because, in the following guide, we’ll:
- Help you understand why Google’s shutting down UA
- Share the benefits of moving to GA4 early
- Show you how to switch to Google Analytics 4 without hassle
Want to skip straight to switching from Universal Analytics to GA4? Here’s the quick link.
An Introduction to Google Analytics 4
Before Universal Analytics disappears, let’s say hello to GA4 (and what you can do with it).
What is Google Analytics 4?
Analytics 4 is Google’s flagship website visitor-tracking software, which uses machine learning algorithms to predict:
- How long users will stay on your website or app
- When users are likely to make purchases
- When users may return to you
Google Analytics 4 first launched in October 2020, developed to support:
- More accurate forecasting
- Smoother Google Ads integration
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities
- Simpler cross-platform journey tracking
It’s the most powerful and user-friendly tool for tracking web visitors, and how they engage with you. With Google’s web analytics, you can monitor hyper-specific user engagement metrics, helping you improve visitor experiences.
GA4 follows a global trend towards data-driven web design or websites built around user behavior analysis. It collates data to help make website experiences more satisfying.
What’s happening to Universal Analytics?
Google is closing down Universal Analytics, mainly because:
- It was built for tracking desktop web visitors (whereas most browse via mobile now)
- It’s not user-friendly for measuring data across multiple platforms
- It’s reliant on cookies and cookie privacy standards have evolved since its release
This impending shutdown means users need to move over to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible.
Universal Analytics will no longer provide data to users from July 1st, 2023. If you’re a Universal Analytics 360 user, you have until October 1st, 2023.
If you don’t move to GA4 by the deadline, you can still download your UA data to a third-party program or warehouse.
Okay – a data warehouse doesn’t look quite like this, but your data will appear just as well-choreographed. More on downloading and archiving later.
Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: What’s changing?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between GA4 vs UA and how they affect your visitor metrics.
|Feature||Universal Analytics||Google Analytics 4||Benefit from switching|
|Data model||Sessions and page views||More detailed events (such as scrolls, searches, and video views)||Deeper analysis for more detailed visitor tracking|
|BigQuery connection||N/A||Free connection to BigQuery (allows speedy queries on big and complex data)||Quicker and easier to analyze complex datasets|
|Data limits||10 million hit limit per month||No hit limit (replaced with event limits of 500)||Broader analytical scope|
|Reporting||Limited reporting across devices||Fully open cross-platform reports||Easier to track visitors across different channels and platforms in one place|
|Enhanced measurement||Complex tracking||Simple on-off switch tracking||More straightforward to scale your analytics when needed|
|Events||Session grouping||Session grouping and individual events for specific breakdowns||Easier to identify specific behaviors|
|Attribution||Rule-based, data-driven||Cross-channel, data-driven, reporting, ads-preferred||Easier to customize how you track visitors|
|App and website tracking||Separated||Unified||Simpler for tracking sites and apps in the same place|
|Data privacy||Manual anonymizing||Anonymous by default||Greater privacy protection for customers and simplified compliance checks for you|
The pros and cons of GA4
While the table above explores the features of Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics in a nutshell, it’s important to consider potential learning points when moving to GA4.
Here are a few quick “pros” and “cons” of switching:
- GA4’s deeper event tracking enables you to measure for more custom events than ever before, streamlining the analytics process.
- Google Analytics 4 uses machine learning to make predictions and fill in gaps that user privacy might leave behind.
- GA4 allows you to track users across different devices and platforms they may use to access your services.
- GA4 is one of the most user-friendly analytics systems of its kind online. It presents users with all the tools and reports they need in one place.
- You can migrate audiences over to GA4 and set up data streams, but you’ll need to set up custom metrics from scratch. However, this can help ensure hyper-specific measurement.
- With GA4, you can no longer retain information indefinitely. While a big change, shorter retention periods may support your localized compliance needs.
- GA4’s tracking is event-based, which can take time to master. But it’s all for the better, as GA4’s event tracking empowers you to understand customer behaviors more deeply.
- Some UA features are unlikely to return in GA4. For example, GA4 doesn’t track bounce rates (users leaving your site). Instead, it tracks engagement as a broader metric. You can now apply greater context to moments in your visitors’ journeys.
How To Switch to Google Analytics 4 in 6 Steps
Nobody likes switching over to a new system – doubly so when it comes to technology. But no worries; we’ve got a step-by-step guide to get you through the switch without any headaches.
Here are six steps we recommend to help you set up Google Analytics 4.
|1. Set up a GA4 property with GA4 Setup Assistant||Create new properties for your existing website using Google’s setup wizard|
|2. Start migrating your items and goals||Convert your old UA goals into new GA4 “conversions” with Google’s goal migration tool, and manage new events with Tag Manager|
|3. Test and track your properties and items||Test-drive your items in GA4 before your official transfer date, so you know if anything needs troubleshooting|
|4. Move users across||Export user profiles from UA to GA4 with the migration add-on for Sheets|
|5. Decide your official transfer date||Establish a firm transfer date to help keep your tracking in order when porting across|
|6. Download and archive your old UA data||Back up all your UA data before the January 1, 2024 deletion date|
1. Set up a GA4 property with GA4 Setup Assistant
Google’s GA4 Setup Assistant helps to simplify the process of building new tracking metrics from scratch. You can start tracking items within 30 minutes of setup.
Here’s how it looks:
It carries over data such as:
- Property names
- Currency details
- Timezone data
It also moves configurations from UA to GA4, enabling your new GA4 property to pull data from any existing Google tags.
However, GA4 won’t port historical data. It’ll only measure data from here on out.
You’ll need to boot up your UA account and “Export” any older data you wish to retain. We’ll speak more about this in the sixth and final step.
Before you start setting up a GA4 property, we assume you already have a website from which you want to track properties. Here’s how to build properties from there:
- Make sure you’re an “Editor”. Head to “Admin” and check the “Account” column, selecting the account under which you want to build your property.
- Provided your UA account is connected, you’ll see a property already collecting data. Click “Setup Assistant” and “Get Started” when prompted to create a new property.
- Choose whether to create a new Google tag or reuse your old UA tagging.
- If you’re using an old UA tag, we recommend selecting “Use a Google tag found on your website”. This is the quickest way to detect existing tags without editing code, or confusing them with tags found off-site. View the details and click “Confirm” to build your property.
- However, there are two other routes. If you choose “Use a Google tag you already have”, you can review your existing tags, select and proceed.
- “Install a Google tag”, meanwhile, lets you create new tags through code or via website CMS (e.g., WordPress or Drupal). We recommend using the “Builder Approach” – choose your platform and follow the instructions.
Once your new property is live, you’ll get a success message. Give your property a name, and it’ll take 30 minutes for data to appear.
Next, rename your property (if you’d like) and wait for up to 30 minutes for data to appear. You can use the “Realtime” report to verify data is being collected correctly.
After setting up your account, you can return to the “Setup Assistant” to create data streams to monitor traffic across multiple domains. For example, you can start collecting data from your Android and iOS apps as well as from your web property, as shown below:
Another option for easily adding tags to your properties is Google Tag Manager (GTM) . GTM tags let you track code from your website or app to monitor how they’re used by visitors. Here’s a quick diagram of how the process works in practice:
2. Start migrating your items and goals
Before switching, look carefully at your historical UA property data and list items you want to recreate. Doing so can help make switching smoother.
Important items and goals you may wish to recreate include:
- Duration goals (e.g., how long visitors spend on specific pages)
- Destination goals (e.g., how many users land on a specific page)
- Event goals (e.g., how many clicks or video plays you receive)
The items most important to you depend on your individual long-term goals. For example, has tracking landing page numbers helped you fine-tune content and increase conversion rates in the past?
Sometimes, you can import old goals for your events from UA over to GA4 using the goal migration tool.
GA4 measures in “Conversion Events” rather than goals, meaning while you can expect to see the same data (e.g. video plays or landing page clicks) tracked over time, how you handle it will differ. We’ll explore how you can train on GA4 easily a little later on.
However, you can’t automatically move duration goals, smart goals, screens, and pages per session, and regular expression goals.
Here’s how to migrate automated goals across to GA4:
- Under “Admin”, select the account you wish to use.
- Select the property you want to collect data through, and then select “Setup Assistant”.
- Head to “Conversions” and “Import existing goals from your connected Universal Analytics property”, then “Get Started”.
- Choose the goals you’d like to import automatically under “Import existing goals from your connected property”.
- Select “Import selected conversions”. You’ll then get confirmation that your selected goals have been imported.
- Look for your new events in “Conversions” under “Configure”.
- In time, you’ll also be able to edit and update rules for events you convert. You can also delete rules altogether and import events into Google Ads.
You can also use Google Tag Manager to migrate event goals over, either through:
- Using Google’s proposed “best practice” model” (this lets you restructure UA events as GA4 events)
- Creating an event tag in the Tag Manager and then migrating over
- Migrating and collecting data with GA4 later on in time.
3. Test and track your properties and items
Be patient, as it will take time for events and tags to start working. Creating events can take 30 minutes to process, and it can take up to 24 hours for conversions to start tracking correctly.
Google recommends two separate reports within your GA4 dashboard to see if data is collecting successfully:
- Use your “Realtime report” to check if data is pulling from web and app visitors
- Use the more advanced “DebugView report” to track if data is pulling via mobile app or browser (recommended for web developers)
If data doesn’t appear to pull through as expected, you’ll need to refer to Google’s troubleshooting processes.
It’s worth using Google’s Tag Manager to test your items. Try importing more goals and creating new properties with new data streams, tagging them to establish your ownership.
Testing and tracking with Tag Manager long-term can help you improve user experience elements such as web load times. Here’s how Google breaks down the benefits further:
4. Move users across
You can use the GA4 Migrator add-on for Google Sheets to help manage users you want to move over. Here’s how to get started:
- Install the add-on and set yourself as an administrator. You’re now going to export the permission settings for each user into the GA4 property of your choice.
- From Google Sheets, choose “Extensions” from the top menu, hover down over “Add-ons”, and then “Get add-ons”. See below:
- Search for GA4 Migrator for Google Analytics. Install it from the add-on’s main page, and follow the process until it completes.
- Start a new Google Sheet and head back to “Manage add-ons” through the “Extensions” menu.
- Select “Migrate users to GA4” and select an account under the drop-down “Google Analytics account”.
- Choose “Universal Analytics property” and the dataset you wish to import from. You’ll then see a report filled with users:
- You can use this to decide which roles you want to associate with imported users. Tick and untick the boxes that apply until you see “Ready to migrate” in each “Action” column for each user.
- Head to the migration dialog and select “Google Analytics 4 property”, where you choose your target export destination. Click “Migrate”.
- A “User migration complete” dialog box opens, informing you that your users are now active in GA4 – like so:
5. Decide your official transfer date
Choose and set your “official” data transfer date – the date you intend to begin using GA4 in earnest.
Think of the transfer date as your “hard” deadline for getting everything ready to move across. You can use the time ahead of this date to carefully prepare (and not scramble to complete your migration by June 30th).
Many people will set June 30th, 2023, as their transfer date (as UA becomes obsolete on July 1st). You’ll cease being able to track or use data in the old interface after this.
However, it may not be wise to follow the pack here. It’s arguably worth setting your transfer date ahead of the final cutoff where possible.
If you set May 30th, 2023, as your transfer date (for example), you’ll have an extra month to fall back on in case of technical difficulties. You can also use this time to refer back to UA further before you leave it behind for good (therefore making the switch less abrupt).
6. Download and archive your old UA data
You can’t automatically move your historical UA data to GA4. You’ll need to download it from UA before its shutdown.
You can export data from UA directly by opening and clicking “export” from the upper menu in your report.
Consider which datasets are most important. Archiving lots of data through UA can be tricky, so do so in priority groups.
If you analyze monthly, you may wish to download and archive information for each 30-day period.
Consider using Google’s analytics spreadsheet add-on to help pull data via sheets. Try and pull data in small chunks – as you may risk Google sampling (or condensing) the information.
If you want to wait to move information to GA4, you can use data warehouses or third-party storage systems to manage this information while you migrate across. For example, BigQuery is an excellent choice as it integrates into GA4.
Download and archive all UA data before January 1st, 2024. After that date, it’ll be gone for good.
5 Best Practices For Your Google Analytics Upgrade to GA4
While migrating to GA4 may seem difficult, it’s necessary. After all, using analytics effectively is a crucial step in optimizing your website for leads.
We’ve got a few tricks to share that can make the switch easier.
1. Start your Google Analytics 4 migration as early as possible
Starting your migration as soon as possible means more clarity when you tie up UA and move across to GA4.
The earlier you move, the more time you’ll have to archive your UA data and start planning for goals and events you want to start tracking again.
Start by setting a clear transfer date. Decide when you will move to GA4 for good, and create a schedule for each process step.
For example, you could create checkpoints for:
- Downloading all of your old (relevant) reports from UA
- Learning how to use GA4 (e.g., how to convert goals into conversions)
- Closing down UA altogether
- Measuring and testing your new events and conversions
Try and schedule some time to learn about GA4 step-by-step. We’ll cover this in more detail below.
If you leave moving over to the last moment – i.e., June 30th, 2023 – you won’t be able to access or manage your UA data.
2. Migrate in parallel
While it may sound complex, running data analytics on tags in UA and GA4 simultaneously (and on the same properties) is possible. There are a few benefits – you can:
- Move smoothly across from UA to GA4 without giving up UA completely
- Create a clear history for tags across both UA and GA4
- Get used to GA4 gradually while comparing tracking with UA simultaneously
- See where UA starts and GA4 ends, and what limitations and enhancements are available in the newer model
- Build a more reliable “baseline” forecast for the year ahead
Google recommends “dual tagging” for the smoothest parallel migration, accessible through the G4A Setup Assistant. If you’re more confident using the suite, you can add new configuration commands.
Here’s how Google visualizes dual tagging in practice:
Regardless of how you parallel migrate, ensure your UA setup uses “gtag.js”, which lets you dual tag either through the GA4 Assistant or by adding new “config” commands. If this sounds a little confusing, Google has a full support guide for parallel migration.
3. Keep optimizing and stay up-to-date
Google is always improving GA4. It’s good practice to refine your analytics as you get used to GA4 and generate more reports.
Always keep track of Google’s latest releases of GA4. Google makes it easy to check previous releases and updates, as below:
We recommend setting up custom and automated insights via your home page to keep track of data changes.
Automated insights alert you when there are movements in your data that GA4 thinks you need to know about.
Custom insights let you create triggers based on what you want to know. For example, you can choose metrics such as active user numbers and set up email alerts to advise when visitor values go above or below a specific threshold.
4. Take time to learn the new setup and terminology
UA and GA4 can differ wildly in their approach to analytics. By scheduling time to train in GA4, you can ensure you have a good foundation of knowledge when your transfer date arrives.
For example, big changes on board GA4 include data retention timescales. In line with changes in data privacy compliance, GA4 only holds information on visitors for up to 14 months max.
By default, you’ll be retaining data for two months (but you can change this by heading to “Admin”, then “Property”, before “Data Settings” and “Data Retention”).
We recommend using Google’s official YouTube playlist on property building as a launchpad for learning GA4’s new principles.
Beyond the basics, use Google’s introduction to Google Analytics 4 when you’re ready to start migrating in parallel. Google’s official guide goes in-depth, so schedule some time to read and practice before your transfer date.
Advanced GA4 users can also study for qualifications in analytics recognized by Google. Google provides a series of courses over at Skillshop, with free certifications and video modules. You can learn everything you need to know in less than seven hours.
Here’s just a sample of what’s on offer:
All of the above can help you build a Google Analytics 4 setup checklist that suits your needs and experience – there’s no set path to follow.
5. Plan for third-party integrations
Ensure you check third-party application compatibility with GA4 before you move across (as some UA integrations may not work the same in GA4).
While many third-party platforms integrate happily with GA4, only a handful are considered “native” at the time of writing. That means they were designed with GA4 in mind and are likely to be the most intuitive (and therefore guaranteed to run smoothly).
Additionally, GA4 doesn’t yet support importing costs data from platforms such as Supermetrics, a key difference from UA.
It’s safe to assume many external Google services will integrate with GA4 – Ads, Search Ads 360, Search Console, Merchant Center, Optimize, Ad Manager, and BigQuery all already connect directly to GA4.
Third-party data platforms such as Firebase and Salesforce Marketing Cloud seamlessly (and continually) provide data via GA4.
It’s possible to integrate more than the above into GA4, and this list will likely grow in time. However, you may need to experiment and create an action plan for managing data from third-party providers if they’re not supported by GA4.
The first step should be to consult support from the third-party providers themselves. Sometimes, they may suggest workarounds if their software isn’t native.
Ready to Move to Google Analytics 4?
It’s time to start making a move toward data-driven web design.
Google Analytics 4 will change the way you manage your visitor insights for good. It’s going to be a major undertaking, but remember that moving to GA4 will help you:
- Understand why your visitors keep coming back
- Create more effective and better value marketing campaigns
- Build visitor journeys via different devices, browsers, and platforms
However, even if you know how to switch to Google Analytics 4, you don’t have to go at it alone; StateWP is on hand.
We’re moving our clients over to GA4, too – so we can help you build a Google Analytics 4 setup checklist that’s easy to manage.
Don’t let Google’s lengthy guides make things more confusing. Get in touch today, and let’s make maintaining your website and its analytics a breeze.