Time’s running out. Universal Analytics (UA) is bowing out, with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) stepping into the spotlight. You might be wondering if migrating to GA4 is truly urgent or even necessary. (Hint: yes, it absolutely is that important.)
With the curtains closing on UA and GA360, migrating has become less of an option and more of a mandate.
To sum it up, UA stopped processing data on July 1, 2023. However, users still have access to reports – for a while. New data will only flow into GA4 properties. UA accounts will remain open with access to all historic data through June 30th, 2024. On July 1, 2024, all users will lose access to the UA user interface and API.
But this change represents more than a countdown. The transition from UA to GA4 signifies a major shift in how we understand and use digital analytics.
In this blog, we’re going to explore why migration is non-negotiable. We’ll navigate you through the what, why and how of your transition, ensuring your business is on board and equipped to face the future of analytics head-on.
Understanding GA4: The next chapter in analytics
Here’s what sets GA4 apart from its predecessors, UA and GA360:
- Event-based tracking: Unlike UA, which focuses on session-based tracking, GA4 is constructed on event-based tracking. This shift provides a more detailed view of user behavior, from specific clicks to scrolling behavior.
- Enhanced reporting: One of the standout features of GA4 is its enhanced reporting capabilities. It offers more personalized reporting options, enabling businesses to customize dashboards and gain insights tailored to their unique needs.
- Cross-platform measurement: GA4 is adept at measuring user interactions across a range of platforms — be it websites, mobile apps or web apps. It provides a cohesive view of the user journey, regardless of where they interact.
- Data integration and interoperability: GA4 has improved data integration capabilities, ensuring smoother syncing with other platforms and tools. This feature is crucial for businesses using a suite of digital tools, ensuring data consistency and ease of access.
- Predictive metrics: At the heart of GA4 is its ability to offer predictive metrics. With machine learning, GA4 can forecast potential trends, helping businesses stay ahead of the curve.
- Audience building: GA4’s audience-building features allow for more precise targeting, ensuring that marketing efforts are directed efficiently.
- Machine learning and automation: GA4 is not just data-rich but also intelligent. Its machine learning algorithms provide anomaly detection, alerting businesses to outliers and potential points of interest.
- Emphasis on user privacy and data security: GA4’s user-centric privacy features ensure businesses remain compliant without compromising on data insights. While many of the new features are designed with user privacy in mind, they also contribute to a more secure environment by reducing unnecessary data collection and storage, and by ensuring that businesses have the tools they need to comply with global data protection regulations.
These improvements include:
- User-centric data: GA4 focuses on collecting data based on user behavior rather than just sessions, which aligns with the industry shift towards user privacy.
- Data retention: GA4’s enhanced data retention controls allow website owners to decide how long user-level and event-level data is held before automatically deleting it.
- Event editing: In GA4, you can modify and create events directly within the interface without having to adjust tracking codes. This can reduce the risk of collecting unintended data.
- Cookie-less world ready: Built for a future without third-party cookies, GA4 places greater emphasis on first-party data collection.
- Consent Mode: GA4 introduces a feature called “Consent Mode,” which allows for better integration with user consent platforms. It can adjust data collection based on user consent choices for ads cookies and analytics cookies.
- IP anonymization: While IP anonymization was also a feature in UA, it continues to be an essential part of GA4, ensuring that user IPs are not stored in raw form.
- Granular data controls: Site owners gain more precise control over what types of data are collected, allowing for better adherence to various data protection regulations worldwide.
Google’s full transition to GA4 is a testament to its commitment to cater to the evolving digital needs of businesses. As the web grows in complexity, GA4 serves as a beacon, guiding businesses through the vast seas of data, ensuring they can navigate with precision and foresight.
Overcoming challenges in the transition to GA4
Transitioning to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) represents a fundamental change in how data is processed and interpreted. Despite the advantages of upgrading to GA4, migrating to the new platform isn’t as intuitive as we would like. The difficulties surrounding migration have caused a lot of businesses to drag their feet. Let’s look at what they are and how to address them:
- The learning curve: The jump to GA4 comes with a revamped interface and a fresh approach to reporting. For many, this can introduce a steep learning curve and hold up a necessary transformation. Fortunately, there are training resources to bring you up to speed. These include Google Analytics Academy, Google Analytics’ YouTube channel, Google Skillshop, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning, to name a few.
- Migration of data and functionality: The underlying data models between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 are different. As a result, there’s no direct route to migrate functionalities. This presents a bit of a hitch, especially for businesses with vast data or intricate configurations. (In the next section, we discuss workarounds for this issue.)
- Data preservation: Here’s the crux: you can’t migrate historical data from UA to GA4 directly. With UA ceasing data collection after July 1, 2023, and the user interface and API becoming inaccessible after July 1, 2024, safeguarding your historical data becomes pivotal.
- Configuration challenges: Transitioning to GA4 may introduce complexities in settings and configurations. It’s structure and focus differ from UA, so marketers and data analysts must ensure that GA4’s tracking settings are optimized to align with their specific business goals and objectives.
- Different metrics and tracking methods: GA4 introduces a slew of new metrics and places an emphasis on event-based tracking. For professionals who’ve been deeply rooted in UA’s methodologies, this can initially seem like venturing into unfamiliar territory. As we discussed in the above section, this provides a granular look into user interactions.
- The impending loss of third-party tracking cookies: Beyond the confines of migration, the digital landscape is undergoing another momentous change: the phasing out of third-party cookies. As the last holdout, Google Chrome is the only major search engine to still use third-party cookies—Mozilla and Safari phased out third-party cookies years ago. This change will impact how data is captured and utilized in GA4. GA4 is built for a world without third-party cookies, emphasizing first-party data and alternative tracking methods.
The move to GA4, while peppered with challenges, is a strategic one that arms businesses with modern analytics, providing deeper insights into customer behavior, and supercharging data-driven decisions and strategies.
Comprehensive guide to GA4: Your migration checklist
Migrating from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is more than just a routine upgrade—it’s an opportunity to utilize a new analytics platform built for the modern web. Here’s an in-depth guide to ensure a smooth transition:
- Assess UA: Start by understanding your existing UA setup. Note metrics, events, goals and KPIs that have been crucial to your business decisions. UA and GA4 have structural differences, meaning not all data or configurations can be directly transferred. This assessment will help you recognize what information goes missing and may need to be manually recreated.
- Create a new GA4 property: Depending on the age and configuration method of your UA account, decide whether to establish a brand new GA4 property or link it with the existing UA property. You can initiate this process in the admin section of your UA dashboard via the GA4 Setup Assistant, and potentially copy over data if you’re using the latest gtag.js script.
- Establish data streams: These direct how GA4 collects data. You can add streams from websites, iOS apps or Android apps. For web streams, provide your website URL and determine domain settings. If you’re using Google Tag Manager (GTM), configure it to initiate data flow into your new GA4 property. Ensure that tracking codes are appropriately placed. Avoid code duplications that can skew your data.
- Reimplement KPIs: Unfortunately, you’ll need to set up each of your KPIs one by one. While this can get complex depending on your data and custom configurations, it should be made slightly easier by the assessment and notations you made earlier.
- Event mapping and custom events: Transfer any custom events from UA to GA4 to ensure continuity in event tracking. GA4’s flexible event tracking makes this an opportune moment to reassess how you’ve structured events in UA. Some events manually set up in UA might now be default in GA4. Streamline to avoid repetitive tracking.
- Migrate goals and conversions: Use the GA4 Setup Assistant to transfer your goals and conversions, or if you prefer, set them up manually. Some goals in UA might not have direct GA4 counterparts. This might necessitate redefining certain goals. Additionally, complex goals might not have automatic migration routes, requiring manual setup.
- Migrate users: Add user roles and permissions to your GA4 setup. This can be done manually or through the user migration tool.
- Activate Google Signals: Enable Google Signals to augment data collection regarding user demographics and interests. This paves the way for richer cross-device reporting, shedding light on more comprehensive user journeys. As you activate Google Signals, be mindful of privacy regulations like GDPR or CCPA to ensure compliance.
- Set up integrations: To benefit from integrated tracking, you’ll need to connect your ad platforms, such as Google Ads, AdSense, Google Optimize, etc. After merging accounts, ensure that conversion tracking aligns between UA and GA4 for consistent data.
- Validation and bidding in Google Ads: Make sure to validate and bid to conversions in Google Ads after migration. Post-migration, you’ll need to closely monitor your ad performance metrics. Expect data to vary slightly due to the platforms’ differences. Adapt your bidding strategies based on GA4’s data.
- Test thoroughly: Prior to fully launching your GA4 property, run tests to ensure its functionality. After activation, closely monitor your data for accuracy. As you adjust to GA4, periodically compare its reports against UA’s to ensure no crucial data is missed and to confirm the accuracy of your new setup.
Remember, while GA4 is a robust and modern platform, migration is not just about replicating your UA setup. It’s an opportunity to redefine how you use analytics to drive business decisions. Properly migrated, GA4 can become a potent tool in your digital arsenal.Top of FormBottom of Form
Additional pro tips
Get started now: The earlier you shift to GA4, the more acclimatized you’ll be when UA is phased out.
- Parallel running: Consider running UA and GA4 simultaneously. This strategy, known as parallel tracking, allows for data comparison and ensures no loss of crucial information during the transition.
- Archiving: Ensure you have a strategy for archiving historical data, especially with Google’s plan to delete UA data by December 2024.
- Use templated reports: One of the biggest challenges around migrating to GA4 is that reporting isn’t intuitive. It’s more difficult to access and visualize important data. A simple workaround is to adapt templated reports to meet your needs.
- Leverage dual-tagging: You won’t lose data if you use dual-tagging. Dual-tagging involves including both GA4 and UA tags on your site. This allows you to transition at your own pace, using UA until GA4 has everything you need.
- Export or back up historical data: Because you can’t migrate historical data from UA to GA4, you’ll need to export your historical data to a data warehouse or back it up using Google Analytics Reporting API or Google BigQuery Export for GA360.
- Leverage tools: Make the most of tools – like GA4 Setup Assistant – that are designed to facilitate a smoother transition.
- Stay updated: GA4 is dynamic, with regular feature updates. You’ll want to watch for these to make full use of the platform.
Ready to migrate? Our GA4 experts can help.
Transitioning to GA4 might seem like a daunting task, given its nuances and intricacies However, you don’t have to master the process by yourself. Our digital marketing experts are here to guide you every step of the way.
From ensuring that your data is accurately represented, to optimizing reporting capabilities and integrations, we’ll make the migration seamless. Beyond just the setup, we’ll also empower your team with the training they need to harness the new platform effectively.
Don’t let GA4’s complexity hold you back; with expert assistance, the transition can be smooth and advantageous. Reach out to us today and let’s make your GA4 migration a success together.