What Every Business Needs to Know about Migrating to GA4

Google has announced that the version of Google Analytics that we’ve been working with for nearly 20 years (commonly referred to as Universal Analytics, UA, or GA3) will no longer work as of July 1st, 2023.  It has been replaced by an entirely new product, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

GA4 is not an upgrade to UA as many have assumed. It uses a completely different data model from earlier versions of Analytics. Since UA data is measured using a different data model you aren’t going to be able to access your existing UA data with GA4.

ga 4 logo

Google has announced that the version of Google Analytics that we’ve been working with for nearly 20 years (commonly referred to as Universal Analytics, UA, or GA3) will no longer work as of July 1st, 2023.  It has been replaced by an entirely new product, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

GA4 is not an upgrade to UA as many have assumed. It uses a completely different data model from earlier versions of Analytics. Since UA data is measured using a different data model you aren’t going to be able to access your existing UA data with GA4.

Why is this happening? GA4 represents Google’s need to modernize analytics to address privacy-driven changes to industry standards that UA can’t keep up with.

For example, with legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), we’re in an era where there’s ever-increasing concerns about privacy. Data collection practices that used to be OK are now considered unethical (and in some cases illegal).

Any cookie-based analytics tools, like UA, are already headed toward extinction with fewer users permitting cookies and there’s also a need for more sophisticated analytics capabilities than UA can offer.

GA4 has many advantages over UA. Some features that you may care most about include:

  • Customer-Centric Measurement: Measuring, unifying, and de-duplicating the interactions your users have across their devices and platforms. This will give you a more complete understanding of how your users move across their customer journey. This can help marketers and website owners develop better interactive content and track what works and what doesn’t for the different pages of their website.
  • Customer Life Cycle Reporting: Reports organized around Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization and Retention make it easier to drill down into customer journeys, such as by identifying which channels drive new customers, what actions they take, and how much retention there is after a conversion.
  • Data controls: It’s more privacy focused (GDPR and CCPA compliant) and therefore more future-proof than earlier versions of Google Analytics.
  • Free data export to BigQuery: This is something previously only available to GA 360 enterprise accounts. This allows everyone to access their raw GA data and run SQL queries on it. This is useful, for example, to connect your GA4 data with another external data source, like other marketing or CRM tools. You only pay for your data storage and data querying limits if/when you exceed the limits of the Google Cloud free tier.
  • Uses Machine Learning: Applies artificial intelligence to look for patterns of data that an algorithm can use to come up with an accurate view of how users behave and make predictions. Another reason to set up GA4 on your site ASAP is to start feeding data to Google’s AI.
  • Ads Personalization: Personalize ads based on user behavior on your site.
  • Data Gap Modeling: In moving away from cookies, Google is leveraging machine learning and other protocols they call “blended data” to fill data gaps where data may be incomplete.
  • GA4’s Measurement Protocol Requires an API Key: This is one feature we’re quite happy about. This will prevent junk referral data getting inserted by spammers into your analytics data and skewing your numbers.

 

Transitioning to GA4 also presents us with these additional challenges:

  • By far the greatest challenge will be the learning curve that comes with a new data model along with the lack of familiarity with the GA4 User Interface.
  • There will be growing pains. GA4 is still in development as a beta product. On one hand, people criticize GA4 for its lack of features when compared to what we’re used to with UA. Yet on the other hand, the rapid pace of development with GA4 makes keeping up with new GA4 features as they are introduced presents a bit of a challenge. As we’re familiarizing ourselves to a completely new product, it is undergoing changes while we’re using it.
  • No spam bot filtering like we have with UA (yet). However, as mentioned earlier, at least the GA4 measurement protocol uses an API key to prevent referral spam.

 

As you can see GA4 presents us with many more advantages than shortcomings even if some of those pitfalls are rather daunting for some. We urge you to make plans migrate to GA4 – especially if you use any Google Advertising products.

What should you do regarding migrating to GA4?

Install GA4 right now & track both UA and GA4 simultaneously until you’re ready to completely transition to GA4. UA and GA4 won’t interfere with each other. The sooner you have GA4 in place to start data collection, the better.

Back up your UA historical data. We know UA won’t work as of July 2023, and your UA historical data will only be available to you for the next 6 months beyond that – unless you export it.

Search Engine Journal published a nice article titled, Getting Ready For GA4: Saving Your Historical Data that explains the different options currently available for exporting your UA historical data (and there likely will be more information available from 3rd parties and Google about exporting historical data to come before July 2023).

Their article also offers tips on how visualize your historical data using Google’s Looker Studio (fka Data Studio). Keep in mind that the differences in how the data is organized and calculated in GA4 makes comparing UA reports to GA4 reports somewhat like comparing apples to oranges. It would not be unusual to see anywhere between a 1% and 5% variance when comparing your UA and GA4 data.

Have a GA4 migration plan that includes auditing your UA account set up and reports. One of the positives that comes with planning a GA4 migration is it presents the perfect opportunity to evaluate what data is truly meaningful to your business. Don’t feel obligated to recreate everything you have in UA in your GA4 account, just what’s important. You can view this as a rare opportunity to do some “Spring Cleaning” with your analytics.

Overall, we think GA4 is a necessary improvement and presents a great opportunity as we move into a more privacy-focused world.

Need help migrating from UA to GA4? Learn more about our GA4 migration services.