Universal Analytics is going away–poof, gone, see ya never! But don’t worry, it’s being replaced by the newer, shinier, more robust GA4 which launched back in October 2020.
Before you go looking for a Google Analytics guru, check out this easy-ish-to-digest breakdown of how to switch from Google Universal Analytics (UA) to GA4. As I get ready to make the switch for my employer, there are a couple of things that I’ll need to keep in mind to ensure a successful migration–we’ll talk about them here.
In this article, we’ll go over why you need to make the switch to GA4, the benefits of doing it yourself, and the steps to make it happen.
How Do I Know if I’m Using Universal Analytics or GA4?
To get started, you need to figure out what you’re using: Universal Analytics or GA4.
If you created your property before October 14, 2020, you’re probably still using Universal Analytics. If you created your property after that date, you’re likely using GA4 and you don’t need to worry about doing anything further (lucky you!).
To confirm whether or not you’re using UA or GA4, log in to your Google Analytics account and find the admin gear on the bottom left side of your screen. Navigate to your property ID.
If it starts with “UA” followed by numbers, you’re using Universal Analytics and need to migrate. The property IDs for GA4 are only numbers, no letters included.
Why You Need to Ditch and Switch
According to Google, on July 1, 2023 all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. That means no new data, forcing you to move to GA4–whether you like it or not. Furthermore, we still don’t know exactly when Universal Analytics properties will be gone for good, but Google will be sharing more details directly with us over the coming months via email.
The switch to GA4 can happen two ways: you do it yourself or Google does it for you.
Sure, you could wait until it makes the switch for you, but the sooner you do it, the more data it will be able to collect before the mandatory shift happens after July 1, 2023.
Making the switch now also allows you to become more familiar with the interface. That way you won’t be up the creek without a paddle when the auto-switch happens.
Benefits of GA4
Compared to the previous version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics), GA4 uses a different data model that is more event-driven and focused on user interactions, rather than just pageviews. This means that it is better suited for tracking user behavior across different devices and platforms, and for providing more detailed insights into user engagement and retention. A marketer’s dream.
Some of the key features of GA4 include:
Improved cross-device tracking: GA4 can more accurately track user behavior across devices and platforms, even if the user is not logged in.
Enhanced machine learning capabilities: GA4 uses advanced machine learning algorithms to help identify user patterns and trends, and to provide more personalized and actionable insights.
Privacy controls and compliance: GA4 provides more granular controls over data collection, retention, and deletion, to help businesses comply with data privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.
Simplified integration with Google Ads: GA4 is designed to work more seamlessly with Google Ads, allowing businesses to better measure and optimize their ad campaigns.
Overall, GA4 is a major upgrade over previous versions of Google Analytics, and is well-suited for businesses looking to better understand and optimize their digital user experiences.
So, go export your data, and read on for how to make the switch to GA4.
How to Make the Switch
Start by pulling data. Use the export function of your Google Analytics account to download your file in whatever format suits your needs. You can choose PDF, Sheets, Excel, or CSV. Keep in mind that by exporting it this way, you are limited to a maximum of 5,000 rows. If you’ve got a busy site with thousands of hits a day, you may need to find another alternative.
Pulling your data from Universal Analytics is important for a two main reasons:
Once you move to GA4 and UA properties are no longer accessible, your historical data is gone forever. And without historical data, you’ll lose the ability to refer back to past performance.
It gives you a way to refer back to your data outside of using Google’s paid BigQuery cloud-based data warehouse, which they’re obviously pushing for. I’m not sure about you, but learning code isn’t on my immediate to-do list, and I need to be able to use my historical data now.
Where you put your data for manipulation will depend on whether or not you have a paid GA360, and if you want to use BigQuery. My employer uses the entire Microsoft suite and we’ll likely be using Power BI to house and manipulate this data somehow. There are plenty of other low-cost third party apps you can utilize as well to store this data and integrate with your current systems.
Once you’ve got your data safely exported and stored, you can move on to migrating to GA4.
How to Migrate to GA4
Migrating involves several steps. Here's a general overview of the process:
Set up a new GA4 property: First, create a new GA4 property within your Google Analytics account. This can be done by clicking on the "Admin" button, selecting the "Property" column, and then clicking on the "Create Property" button.
Implement GA4 tracking code: Next, implement the GA4 tracking code on your website. This involves updating your existing Google Analytics tracking code with the new GA4 code. You can find the GA4 code snippet in the Admin section of your GA4 property.
Create data streams: After implementing the GA4 tracking code, you'll need to create data streams to collect data from your website, mobile app, or other sources. This involves specifying the data source (e.g., website, iOS app, Android app) and configuring the data stream settings.
Set up events and conversions: With GA4, you'll need to set up events and conversions separately from pageviews. This involves defining the specific actions you want to track on your website, such as clicks on buttons, form submissions, or video plays.
Create custom dimensions and metrics: GA4 allows you to create custom dimensions and metrics to track additional data points beyond the default ones provided by Google Analytics. This involves defining the custom dimension or metric name, type, and scope.
Review and configure data settings: In GA4, you have more control over how data is collected, processed, and retained. Review the data settings in your GA4 property and configure them according to your needs.
Compare data between GA4 and Universal Analytics: Before fully switching over to GA4, compare the data in your new GA4 property with your existing Universal Analytics data. This will help you identify any discrepancies or issues that need to be addressed.
Test and validate data: Once you've compared the data, test and validate your GA4 implementation to ensure that the data is accurate and reliable. This involves reviewing reports and dashboards, and validating data using other tools or methods.
Fully transition to GA4: Once you're confident in the accuracy and reliability of your GA4 data, you can fully transition to GA4 and start using it to track your website and app performance. You can also start taking advantage of new GA4 features such as machine learning, cross-device tracking, and more detailed data insights.
Move it or Lose it
I know it sounds like a lot to do, but moving through the migration yourself rather than waiting for Google to do it will only benefit you and your business in the long run.
If it all feels too overwhelming and you need an expert eye in your GA4, the team at Hire a Writer is ready to help. Let’s work together–we want to see you succeed. Contact us today.