Although Google plans to phase out its Universal Analytics (UA) tool in favor of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in July 2023, if you’re like most companies, making the switch to GA4 isn’t high on your priority list.
That might be a mistake.
Because UA and GA4 operate from very different frameworks, your GA4 migration isn’t going to be a quick and easy one-for-one shift. Companies will find significant differences in how data is tracked and measured, which will impact existing tags, metrics, KPIs, and reports. These differences take time and planning to work through successfully.
Making the switch to GA4 might be something you can handle with your in-house data, IT, and analytics subject matter experts. But depending on the complexity of your current UA setup and the role analytics plays in your digital strategy, you might need a more strategic plan to get the GA4 transition right.
How to switch: setting a realistic roadmap for your GA4 migration
1. Audit your current Google Analytics usage and metrics
2. Stand up your new GA4 property
3. Map your previous metrics to new GA4 options
4. Create, customize, and integrate dashboards
5. Train and explain to get your team on board with the change
6. Iteratively improve
Step 1: Audit your current Google Analytics usage and metrics
Before you start your GA4 transition, you need a clear view of what you’re collecting now, and where and how you’re using your UA outputs today. First, list the metrics you track in UA. Survey business units with access to find out how your organization uses those metrics, particularly where metrics influence KPIs.
Your audit should also include the other systems and tools that connect to your UA account, such as Google Ads, Google Search Console, Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio), and the like.
Be sure to map functionalities, customizations, or enhancements your organization has developed for your UA instance over time. You may not be able to reproduce them exactly in GA4, but you’ll need to understand the use cases so you can replicate the results.
The audit may also be a good time to evaluate the processes your company has in place around tracking, measurement, and analytics in general, as well as the dashboards you use. Any dashboard that relies on UA will shift with GA4, so it makes sense to take the time up-front to identify any other improvements or efficiencies that might advance your business goals.
Step 2: Stand up your new GA4 property
Google provides detailed instructions for setting up a new GA4 profile and connecting it to your website. Once your profile is established, begin connecting the other systems and tools you identified in Step 1 of this article.
You’ll also need to convert your UA goal metrics to GA4. In some cases, this is as simple as figuring out different naming and labeling conventions – for example, if you tracked Signups in UA, you’ll set up the same thing as Conversions in GA4 – while in others you might need to create something new in GA4 or add custom functionality.
Because GA4 is still evolving, new developments and features are added regularly. Look for ways to replicate the customizations you rely on in UA and be aware that you might need third-party help to identify or develop workarounds. Depending on the complexity of your current analytics, customizing your GA4 account could take considerable time, so be sure to leave enough of an overlap with UA in your roadmap and timeline.
Step 3: Map your previous metrics to new GA4 options
Allow 3-6 weeks for your new GA4 instance to collect and measure data before you compare it to your UA results. Due to the significant differences between UA and GA4, be prepared to see differences in the type of data collected and the ways key factors are measured. You may not be able to compare the results in a 1:1 fashion, but mapping out the differences can help you to refine your customizations and ensure that you have time after your GA4 migration to mitigate or explain discrepancies.
Your team is probably used to analyzing UA data to determine the reasons behind significant changes: launching a campaign, a spike in bot traffic, differences in browser and device use, and so forth. The same factors impact GA4 information. By comparing your metrics over a few months, you’ll be better prepared to understand those impacts when Google sunsets UA.
Step 4: Create, customize, and integrate dashboards
With a robust internal report builder comparable to more sophisticated third-party tools, GA4 offers more options for business reporting, automated reports, and dashboard creation. While the enhanced functionality will be helpful, you’ll still need to analyze and customize every dashboard and report you rely on, whether basic internal reports or external tools like Looker Studio, to map to GA4 data tracking.
Remember that the UA to GA4 transition is not a 1:1 switch. Not all UA measurements are available in GA4 and others can be extracted but require updating and customizing your reports.rs can be extracted but require updating and customizing your reports.
KEY NOTE: Since GA4 is still in beta, be sure to keep an eye on the updates Google continues to make to features and functionality. As recently as July 2022, Google announced conversions, bounce rates, and UTM parameter tracking — none of which were originally part of the beta platform — will be a part of the new update although not in exactly the same UA form.
At this stage, comparing reports between UA and GA4 for a longer period of time will be helpful. You’ll see measurement differences as GA4 becomes your new source of truth but look for indications that trends or analyses aren’t mapping between your profiles. That could be an indication that you need to do more in-depth work on data collection, goals, and reporting.
Because you will not be able to access your historical UA data after December 2023, you must build in time for this comparison sooner rather than later. Once Google officially sunsets UA, you won’t be able to see your UA reports in the dashboard or access your historical UA data via the API. Build in time to do your analysis before the end of 2023 – and consider downloading your UA history to keep as a reference.
Don’t rush this step. Being able to trust your data is critical, and while you will see differences in numbers during your GA4 migration, it’s important to ensure that you replicate business reporting requirements so that your metrics yield reliable and actionable insights.
Step 5: Train and explain to get your team on board with the change
Throughout the process of migrating to GA4, keep your end-users informed. Effective change management requires more than a heads-up about a dashboard change. Your training and communication plan should include:
- An overview of the timing and requirements associated with the move from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.
- A tutorial on new vocabulary, especially as it relates to changed metrics.
- An explanation of how different metrics can be used to find the insights teams rely on.
- A tour of dashboard changes, with step-by-step instructions as needed.
- A presentation of the parallel reporting analysis you conducted during Step 4, so that your team understands trade-offs, replacements, what the new numbers mean, and how to conduct their analysis differently in the new GA4 environment.
Step 6: Iteratively improve
As GA4 continues to evolve, be prepared to continue optimizing your data collection, reporting, and dashboards to be sure you’re collecting accurate information and getting the most out of your data.
And since GA4 is still a beta platform, it's important to stay on top of the new add-ons, features, and changes so you can adjust your measurement strategies accordingly.
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Feeling stuck with GA4? We can help.
Wherever you are in your switch to GA4, you can always get back on track. Our team helps organizations with end-to-end GA4 migrations, but we also step in for more tightly scoped problem-solving like custom integrations, dashboard creation, and training. Let us know what you’re dealing with, and we can set up a free discovery call to help you work through it.