Google Analytics 4 is here, and from July 1st 2023, the free version of Universal Analytics (AKA Google Analytics 3) stopped collecting data after more than decade as the default standard.
If you’re using UA to collect data on your websites, that means it’s time to learn all about GA4 migration — and fast.
Our Google Analytics 4 migration guide is here to help. With a complete how-to on how to migrate to GA4, some of the pitfalls you might encounter during GA4 transition, here’s a breakdown of what you should know about Google Analytics 4.
What is Google Analytics 4?
GA3, more commonly known as Universal Analytics (UA), launched in 2012 and has been collecting analytics data on web properties for over a decade — but its days are numbered.
The new version is Google Analytics 4. But what is GA4, and how is it different from GA3? Understanding the difference between the two is a good start to migrating to GA4 and ensuring you continue to get good, usable data in your analytics dashboards.
Googling the differences between GA3 and GA4 surfaces a long list of metrics and technical terminology differences — classic Google, really. Fundamentally, the key differences in the tracking model are:
- GA3 tracked interactions in hit types such as sessions, page views and transactions
- GA4 tracks users by events and parameters, which did exist in GA3, but now instead of category, action and label, we have event parameter (additional pieces of information about the tracked event/action). This gives you closer control over your tracking.
Other differences include:
- app and web tracking in one place
- sessions calculations and terminology
- supercharged custom reporting
- BiqQuery exports
- change in traffic attribution
- advanced machine learning integration.
Some technical SEO knowledge is needed to take advantage of the full GA4 features (custom events/dimensions), but the initial setup is relatively straightforward. Once it’s up and running, your data should give you even better insight into how people move around your website.
The importance of a smooth GA4 transition
First of all, it’s essential to understand why migrating to Google Analytics 4 is important. The short answer is that after July 1st 2023, Universal Analytics properties configured to use GA3 are not migrated over to GA4 and no longer collect analytics data.
If you want to know how many people are visiting your website, how long they stay, what pages they view and which of your goals they complete, you’ll need to update your tracking code to GA4.
But it’s not just your tracking code that needs to be updated. It’s also important to make sure your analytics reports are migrated, including any custom conversion events, so you get good, usable data in the coming months.
Tips to help you effectively migrate to GA4
If you were running GA back in 2012, you may have already migrated from GA2 to GA3. This new migration is a little more complex, but it’s nothing to fear. With this in mind, let’s run through some of the top tips to help you migrate to GA4 as smoothly as possible.
Correctly set up your GA4 property
It’s crucial to set up your GA4 property correctly in the first instance. That means implementing the GA4 tracking code (Google Tag Manager is a relatively easy way to do this) and checking the property is collecting its first analytics data.
List your key items
Unfortunately, newly created GA4 properties will not automatically inherit key dimensions and metrics from their GA3 predecessors. That means now is the perfect time to reassess the data you are collecting and redefine any priority items you want to track for the future.
Give some time to this. Think about the data you have been collecting — events, goals, custom metrics and so on — and cross off anything irrelevant. Then look for gaps in your list and create new items that could give you important insight into your users’ behaviour.
Migrate all individual items over to GA4
Once you have all your key items listed, it’s time to start migrating over to GA4 — that means setting up those goals and events in your dashboard.
It’s worth noting that where GA3 had a limit of 20 goals per reporting view, this raises to 30 conversions per analytics property in GA4. You have 50% more scope to define your reporting goals.
Events can be configured easily using Google Tag Manager, but check what’s included in GA4’s reports by default. For example, scroll depth was a custom event in GA3, but is now a standard item in your analytics data, so there’s no need to recreate it from scratch.
Goals are now called ‘conversions’, and are based on users completing events. In general, conversions fall into two common categories:
- Destination-based goals – the user visits a specific page or item of content.
- Engagement-based goals – the user meets a specified behavioural criterion.
Engagement-based goals will need you to specify an audience, so make sure you’ve defined your demographics to create engagement conversions in GA4.
If you’ve already used custom metrics in the past, you can continue to do so in GA4. Just set up the relevant dimensions in your GA4 property to collect and analyse the data correctly, and follow our guide if you need to create custom conversions in GA4 from scratch.
Audiences are an important part of GA4 migration to understand who is visiting your website — and if you want to set up some engagement-based conversions. If you run campaigns on Google Ads, detailed audience data will also help you to target your ads to the most relevant users.
Much of the terminology has changed in GA4, so it’s worth reading Google’s own Audience Creation Guide for this part of your Google Analytics 4 migration process.
Ecommerce tags will unfortunately not migrate to GA4 automatically. However, much has remained the same in this area, making the GA4 transition relatively painless. It’s best practice to create a separate set of ecommerce tags for your GA4 tracking, even though the old GA3 tags are theoretically usable in GA4 — Google Tag Manager once again is an easy way to do this.
How content groupings are defined has changed and is no longer set up via the Google Analytics interface. Instead, you’ll need to tag your pages directly to group them. If you rely on content groupings a lot for your analytics data, this might feel like a lot of admin. But you should only need to do it once when migrating to GA4, with minimal burden in the future.
If you have Google products linked in your analytics, these must also be set up from scratch in GA4. The good news is you can use your existing links, and there’s no problem with having them associated with your pre-existing GA3/UA property and your newly created GA4 property.
Product links should be easy to find — they’re now listed up top in the ‘Property’ navigation. Again, it should be a one-off process to reconnect your links to Google Ads and other such Google-owned products.
Check everything is tracking properly
Anytime you make major changes to your Google Analytics settings, it’s worth checking that your tracking code is still working. Make this a core element of your Google Analytics 4 migration.
You should check your data several times after your initial GA4 migration. Don’t assume that, because your main dashboard is displaying data, everything is working correctly. Check your custom metrics, goals/conversions and events individually.
If anything looks wrong, double-check your implementation of GA4’s tracking code and tags. But remember, it takes some time to collate a good amount of data, so if you’re starting to see some initial conversions, you should check back in a day or two.
Choose a final migration date
Specifying a fixed and final migration date is best practice — it can get unwieldy trying to use two different versions of any analytics dashboard simultaneously, and you’re unlikely to get better results by doing so.
You might be reluctant to wave goodbye to UA after a decade of familiarity, but once you make a clear-cut transition to GA4, you’ll become familiar with it. You’ll likely find new options and new reports that make it easier to visualise your analytics data, so wave goodbye to the past and embrace the new potential.
Consider any integrations
If you use any third-party tools, such as for marketing automation or to measure your Web Vitals, give some specific thought to integrating these into GA4. Any essential tools will hopefully be supported or at least compatible with a temporary workaround until their developers can update them.
If this isn’t possible, check with the third-party developers. They might have a how-to guide on their blog, or you can contact their helpdesk directly. As a last resort, you might want to look for a close equivalent that will allow you to collect usable data going forward.
Archive your Universal Analytics data
GA3/UA data won’t disappear overnight, but it will only be available six months after July 1st 2023. Google says: “We know your data is important to you, and we strongly encourage you to export your historical reports during this time.”
There are several ways to do this:
- Google Analytics Reporting API
- Export to BigQuery (for Google Analytics 360 customers)
Individual report data can also be exported to various formats, such as Excel (XLSX), Google Sheets, CSV, TSV, and PDF. The Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-On for Google Sheets is a fast option if you want to ensure you have exported your data ASAP during your hectic GA4 migration.
Common GA4 migration challenges
GA4 migration has been underway for months — and only some are happy about it. Even experienced industry professionals have encountered challenges during the GA4 transition process – so if you hit an obstacle, don’t panic. Just reassess what you’re trying to achieve and how to do it in GA4, try it again, and verify that your data is collecting correctly.
Any major update comes with its share of usability problems, which all go back to that issue of familiarity mentioned above. You’re used to using UA, so GA4 will look and feel strange by definition.
Some users have already complained to Google that the data and reports they are used to seeing in GA3 are now much harder to find. GA4 has been called “unintuitive”, and while that may be true, it’s all the more reason to get to grips with your implementation upfront.
Custom metrics — and custom reports — have got some users confused. If you’re struggling to navigate the GA4 interface on the first attempt, try customising one of the default report views rather than creating your own from scratch.
Again, it’s a learning process. As you learn what’s available in GA4 custom reports, you’ll naturally develop your ability to create new reports. But on day one, it’s a case of ‘walk, don’t run’.
Setting a date
Letting go of your GA3 data can be a challenge in itself, but running multiple analytics dashboards just adds to the admin burden. As mentioned above, set a final migration date and, after that, only log into your UA property if there’s a good reason to do so.
- fully configure your new GA4 properties, conversions and reports
- check that GA4 is generating tracking data correctly for all reports
- export historical data from GA3 for future reference.
Once you’re done with all that, it’s time to make Universal Analytics a thing of the past.
Whether you love or hate UA, it’s been the go-to analytics tool for Google users for over a decade, so saying goodbye won’t necessarily be easy. But, realistically, we all need to get on board.
If you’re struggling to complete your GA4 migration in time, your data doesn’t appear to be compiled correctly, or you’re concerned about your Web Vitals, contact SALT.agency. We’ll be happy to arrange a technical SEO audit to fully get your Google Analytics data and other aspects of your website up to standard.