If you are a Google Analytics user, then you’ve likely heard of the major upcoming changes to the platform– the switch to Google Analytics 4.
This switch, which officially occurred on July 1, 2023, means users must migrate from Universal Analytics (GA3) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Unlike the last major change, the switch from GA2 to GA3 in 2012, this migration will require a bit more effort.
Despite the many differences between the new GA4 and the old Universal Analytics (UA), Google is forcing users to move to the new platforms quickly because UA data will cease to exist 6 months after the switch. That means users will need to start planning on how to switch crucial data tracking onto the new and improved platform, as well as back up any past data they wish to keep.
In this article, we’ll go over the following essential topics:
- Understanding the GA4 Migration
- GA4 Migration Timeline
- Common FAQs About GA4 Migration
- Best Practices for a Successful GA4 Migration
- Outsourcing help to the experts
Continue reading for everything you need to know about the upcoming changes in Google Analytics.
Table of Contents
Understanding GA4 Migration
GA4 migration refers to the switch from Universal Analytics (UA) to the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) platform. Users of Google Analytics must migrate their data properties from UA to GA4 in order to continue collecting data for their apps and websites.
GA4 is the first major upgrade to Google Analytics in over 10 years. It is a necessary change to adapt to the evolution of the Internet that has occurred in the past decade, resulting in user data becoming more complex. For example, many users now interact with a brand on a variety of channels and devices, such as switching between their phone and computer to view a website.
GA4 can now account for this complex data, shifting to tracking “events” rather than “hits” for each property. The change from session-based to event-based analytics is a major one, and businesses will have to rethink how they collect, analyze, and react to data on the new platform.
The new Google Analytics API will also:
- Collect both website and app data
- Include new privacy controls like cookieless measurement, behavioral modeling, and conversion modeling
- Have predictive capabilities for guidance
- Offer direct integrations to media platforms to grow website and app interactions
Overall, the migration from UA to GA4 will look like:
- Adding GA4 tracking to existing UA properties OR creating new GA4 properties (i.e. websites, apps, etc.)
- Backing up data from UA if desired
- Familiarizing oneself with the new GA4 layout and tools
- Creating new strategies for how one’s business uses Google Analytics
The need for migration depends on when you created your Google Analytics property. If you created your property before October 14, 2020, you’re likely using a UA property, and you will need to migrate to GA4. If you created your property after October 14, 2020, you’re likely already using a Google Analytics 4 property, and no action is required.
GA4 Migration Timeline
Users of Google Analytics should consider switching to GA4 as soon as possible, ideally before July 1, 2023.
As of July 1, 2023, UA properties will no longer collect new data. If you miss the cut-off date, there’s no need to worry. You can still start using GA4 at any time; you will just have a gap in your data records and will need to catch up with the rest of Google Analytics users.
However, it’s important to remember that your UA data will disappear 6 months after the switch. Thus, make sure to externally back up your data if you wish to keep it for your records.
So, how can you migrate to GA4 in time? To migrate from UA to GA4, you need to:
- Add GA4 to an existing UA site using the GA4 Setup Assistant
- Create a new GA4 property on your Google Analytics account, and add the GA4 tracking tags to your website’s code in this order:
- GA4 Configuration tag
- GA4 Event tag
To make the process of adding tags easier, you can use the Google Tag Manager.
Once a Google Analytics property is added, it will take 24-48 hours for data to appear on your Google Analytics dashboard.
Common FAQs about GA4 Migration
If you’re feeling confused about the upcoming migration, you’re not alone. Let’s go over some common questions about the shift.
What is the difference between GA4 and the previous version?
GA4 will be significantly different from UA. While the user interface of the Google Analytics dashboard will look familiar, GA4 will feature numerous new data points, as well as lack some old ones.
The main difference between GA4 and UA is that GA4 will showcase event-based data rather than session-based data. Whereas interactions on a site with UA were captured as “hits” characterized as page views, events, transactions, exceptions, etc., all interactions with GA4 will be characterized as “events.”
Additionally, GA4 and UA share key differences in these areas:
- Hit types
- Event tracking
- Pageviews and screenviews
- Custom dimensions/metrics
- Content grouping
- User ID
- Client ID
- User property
- Data streams
- New data collection settings
For specifics on the changes in these categories, you can visit Google’s article comparing the UA and GA4 data models.
How does GA4 affect my existing data and tracking?
GA4 will affect your existing data and tracking because tracking will cease on all UA properties on July 1, 2023. Additionally, tracking and metrics will be event-based on GA4, which may take some adjustments and learning curves.
If you have current properties being tracked with UA, make sure to add GA4 tracking to these properties. This way, new GA4 tracking will continue once the old Universal Analytics property tracking stops. If you do not commence GA4 tracking before July 1, you will have gaps in your data collection and begin to lose data.
Additionally, remember that you will only have access to old UA data until December 31, 2023, so make sure to save it to your records if desired.
What are the potential challenges during the migration process?
As UA has been the norm for 10 years, it will be a challenge to make a major shift to GA4. One of the biggest challenges will be adjusting to the major differences between UA and G4, which may result in gaps in tracking, unprecedented investment in training, prolonged learning curves, and more.
The technological side of implementing the new GA4 tracking may also pose a challenge for some users. Luckily, Google offers a Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant tool to guide users through the process. Businesses can also seek out expert assistance from digital marketing agencies with Credo.
Can I still access historical data after migrating to GA4?
After migrating to GA4, you can still access historical data from UA / GA3. However, this data will disappear after December 31, 2023. Those with a premium UA 360 account will be able to access their data through July 1, 2024.
Whether you have a paid or unpaid Google Analytics account, it’s essential to back up your data now. Additionally, it’s important to know that GA4 now only saves data for 14 months, whereas UA allowed you to save data indefinitely.
Also, note that the default data-retention period for GA4 is 2 months, and you will have to manually switch your settings to 14 months if desired.
How much does migration cost?
The migration to basic Google Analytics is completely free. However, businesses may want to make smart investments in training, data storage, and migration assistance services.
A paid option, GA4 360, will also be available for larger organizations, such as those that receive over 1 million page views per month. This monthly paid subscription allows businesses to collect data on more properties.
Benefits of Migrating to GA4
Though the migration to GA4 may be complicated, the benefits of the new tools make it worthwhile. The benefits of migrating to GA4 include:
- Enhanced tracking capabilities: Event-based tracking allows for more robust session tracking and user behavior insights, such as eCommerce tracking and cross-device reporting.
- In-depth data collection: GA4 collects data across multi-device app and website channels. GA4 also offers Explorations that let you access in-depth data analysis and guidance.
- Data control and privacy: GA4 aligns with new data privacy laws, allowing users to customize data controls.
- Integration with other Google tools: GA4 can more successfully integrate with BigQuery, Google Ads, and Google Data Studio.
- Machine learning capabilities: GA4 uses machine learning, which analyzes trends in user behavior to provide predictive analytics.
Best Practices for a Successful GA4 Migration
To keep up with the top players, you should understand the best practices for migration. Google offers standard guidelines that all individuals and organizations should be aware of and follow.
According to Google, the steps for migrating to GA4 are:
1. Consider whether you need GA4 or GA4 360, the paid subscription for managing larger data collection
2. Create a new GA4 property OR convert a UA property to a GA4 one AND data stream
3. Add tracking tags to your Google properties and collect raw data from websites and apps
4. Activate Google signals
5. Set up conversions
6. Add users who can access your GA4 account
Advertisers using Google Analytics should then follow these additional steps:
7. Migrate Google Ad links to your new properties
8. Migrate audiences by manually recreating them in your GA4 property
9. Validate your conversions
10. For bidding, import conversions into Google Ads
11. For remarketing, add Analytics audiences to a campaign or ad group
Reference Google’s migration guide for more information on these crucial steps.
Credo for Top Support During GA4 Migration
Google Analytics 4 migration is coming up fast, but you don’t need to navigate it alone. Credo can bring you top support during your GA4 migration by connecting you with expert digital agencies. We help you match with the perfect partner, no matter your business size or budget. Get matched with top talent today to ensure your GA4 transition is worry-free.