How to Quickly and Easily Migrate from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

As announced in March 2022, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing Universal Analytics (UA). The new tool offers a different data model and navigation that differs from the previous version. That’s why it’s crucial to act now to ensure your business is prepared for when Universal Analytics goes away.

The current version of Google Analytics, known as Universal Analytics or UA, will be replaced by a new version called GA4 in June of 2023. It was also announced that any data already collected in Universal Analytics would be removed about six months after. If you’re a GA360 user, you will have more time to prepare for the migration, but you’re only getting a few extra months.

This short guide is for marketers and website owners looking to quickly and easily migrate from UA to GA4.

To migrate from UA to GA4: plan, review the current setup, document required changes, implement, get used to the new interface, start reporting, export data.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 is an analytics solution that allows for data tracking and analysis from websites and apps.
It is Google’s answer to the changes in the market and the increased number of mobile apps. As you can use the same data model for websites and mobile apps, you can analyse the data from both using the same dashboard. It also relies more on machine learning to offer its users better anomaly detection and user behaviour predictions.

When do I have to migrate to Google Analytics 4?

It would help if you kept in mind a few key dates when planning your migration to Google Analytics 4. Remember that those dates are for free Google Analytics users-for GA360 dates; please refer to Google’s official documentation.

July 1st, 2023

Universal Analytics stops collecting new data.
The tool will still be available to review historical data, but they won’t track any new user interactions. For users that use dashboards reporting year-on-year performance, June 2022 is when you must have Google Analytics 4 implemented. This way, when June 2023 comes, you’ll be able to report year-on-year.

December 2023

December 2023 is when Google will remove all collected data from Universal Analytics.
The date isn’t confirmed yet, but the announcement suggests users will have at least six months from July 1st to migrate their data. In the coming months, a more accurate date will be provided.

Moving away from Universal Analytics

You may be asking if you should stop using Universal Analytics now and focus on Google Analytics 4.
If you have UA implemented, don’t give up on it yet. It’s recommended to use what’s called “dual-tagging”, and it means running Universal Analytics and GA4 simultaneously.

If, however, you’re starting with web analytics, it’s best to focus on Google Analytics 4. There is little value in investing time in setting up tracking and reporting on a tool that can’t be used next year.

The benefits of dual-tagging

By running Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 at the same time on your website, you can:

  • Use any dashboards you have already created using UA data
  • Experiment with GA4 knowing that you have access to clean data in Universal Analytics, so no mistakes you make at this stage matter
  • There is no way of importing UA data to GA4, which means any user segments needs to be built from scratch and data collection can take time
  • Slowly easing yourself and your team into the new system – knowing Universal Analytics still exists gives you peace of mind
  • You get to compare the metrics between the two versions, which helps with debugging new setup and understanding how data models vary

Migrating to Google Analytics 4

Users who want to ensure they have enough data when Universal Analytics goes away should start planning now.
If you need a year-on-year comparison, June 2022 is when your GA4 needs to be set up and collected data. For users who only run month-on-month reports, start as early as possible, as it may take a few months before GA4 becomes your primary data source.

Planning

Think of the migration as a chance to clean up your analytical setup.
It’s also a good idea to think of it as introducing a new product, rather than replacing an already existing one. There are many differences between GA4 and UA, so you might not be able to replicate everything in the new version.

Consider the data you need to make critical business decisions.
What tracking do you need to report on performance efficiently? If you’re dealing with custom event tracking, prioritise the work – determine high and low priority tracking. During this phase, you also get to decide what tracking you remove. We have all set up tracking we thought we needed and never used it, and now’s your chance to get rid of it!

Review Google Analytics 4 to ensure this is the right product for you.
When Universal Analytics started, there weren’t many web analytics products around. There are now many free and paid solutions that offer different reporting methods on user behaviour. Google Analytics 4 uses a different data model, and perhaps it doesn’t meet your requirements – it’s crucial to review product documentation.

Decide on a migration timeline and key dates.
Google gave us deadlines, so your team needs to be ready for them. If you’re working with an agency, make sure they can implement GA4 in your timeline.

Review the current setup

If you created your Universal Analytics property years ago, there are likely elements of the original setup you no longer remember.
By auditing your current property, you can better understand any filters or settings and if you have to be replicate them in GA4. List any events, custom dimensions and metrics, filters, or calculated metrics you can find.

Document required changes

Review the tracking you identified as a priority.
Create documentation for your developers or agency with instructions on what data you want to collect and what format. As GA4 moves away from ‘Event Category – Event Action – Event Label’ and focuses on parameters, you must create a new event hierarchy. You need to ‘translate’ any custom dimensions or metrics to the GA4 language.

If your current setup uses goals, mark any critical events as conversions.
GA4 moves away from the concept of goals, and it now lets users select which events should count as conversions.

Fillers and custom settings might use different names in GA4.
There are several filters that no longer exist in the new version. For example, so far, GA4 does not offer a hostname filter. You will need tho create those filters at the code level or via Google Tag Manager.

For e-commerce websites, it’s also essential to correctly implement new e-commerce tracking.
This is probably the most time-consuming process, but it’s also the most important one as it reports on crucial business data. Setup and testing requires time, and once data is collected, you will also need to recreate your current e-commerce dashboards.

Implementation

Start with the high priority tracking to ensure you collect critical business data.
If you use Google Ads or rely on user segments, set them up. It guarantees enough data is collected to use user segments when you move away from Universal Analytics.

Mark relevant events as conversions. You will also need to register event parameters and custom metrics and assign them to specific events. The whole process might take a few days, so get comfortable with having ‘dirty data’ at the beginning.

Get used to the new interface

GA4 uses different navigation, so it may take a few weeks or months to get used to it.
Most UA reports use different names than GA4, so focus on what data you’re looking for instead of what the report was previously called. GA4 also offers a ‘reporting centre’ where dashboards can be built. You may think it’s the same as Custom Reports in UA, but it’s more advanced and offers more ways of visualising the data. It lets you create funnels, journeys, easier comparisons, etc.

Start reporting

The dashboards you currently use will need updating.
You will need to change the data connector, and you will also have to review dimensions and metrics as they have most likely changed. This is also where it’s essential to slow down and review new metrics definitions. Session in UA doesn’t necessarily use the exact meaning as in GA4.

Another excellent example of ‘same metric, different definition’ is bounce rate.
GA4 moves away from bounce rate and engagement rate. So we’re no longer looking at users who left without engaging, and we’re looking at users that engaged with the website. This means we now want the metric to be high, not low, like we used to with the bounce rate.

Data export

About six months after Universal Analytics stops collecting new data, it will remove all its existing data.
There aren’t many solutions to data export – there isn’t a magic button that moves all UA data to GA4. You most likely won’t be able to download and store all the data – you must decide what metrics are most important to your business and how much historical data you require.

List all the key metrics and data intervals you usually look at.
Some might require a daily count of users broken down by exact device type, while others might only need a monthly number of visitors. The amount of data you need to export depends solely on the required data.

Download the data manually or using API

You will have to download the reports using the UA interface – saving a file into Excel, Sheets or CSV. You can also use GA API – either by writing code yourself or using some GA plugins. For example, Google offers a Google Sheets plugin that lets you schedule data downloads.

Final thoughts

Google Analytics 4 is a relatively new product.
When the news of replacing UA with GA4 came out, it took us by surprise. We all knew Google was investing in GA4. But no one expected they would giving us less than 18 months to migrate. That’s why you may feel a little lost—we all do.

Throughout this post, I kept on suggesting you start the migration now.
It lets you experiment and make mistakes when you can still rely on Universal Analytics data. You get to set up wrong event tracking, forget about essential filters, or not understand what some metrics mean. And as you experiment with it, you will learn how to use the tool confidently and how to report using data you trust.


And if that doesn’t work out, it gives you enough time to hire a professional who will help guide you through this migration process and train your team to use the new version of Google Analytics.

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