Happy New Year! 2023 is the year that GA4 will officially become Google’s main analytics product with Universal Analytics scheduled to be sunset. On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. If you haven’t taken the leap yet, now is a good time to start thinking about getting on board with GA4. New year, new start, new GA4 property…
We know it can be a little bit daunting trying to learn a new tool so below, we’ve listed six key steps to ensuring a seamless transition from UA to GA4.
1. Measurement Planning for GA4
Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4 are different tools – there is no way to ‘upgrade’ your existing UA property and change it to GA4. This is primarily because the two tools use different measurement models. The UA data model is based on sessions and pageviews – GA4 is more focused on users and events.
You can find out more about the differences between the two models here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9964640?hl=en#zippy=%2Cin-this-article
With this in mind, you’ll need to re-tag your website to collect data – based on the new measurement model – to be sent to your new GA4 property. Before you jump straight into tagging, we’d recommend taking the time to put together a Measurement Plan for GA4.
One of the key differences between UA and GA4 is the naming convention changes for Event Tracking – the hierarchical Event Category, Action & Label is no longer relevant, having been replaced by Event Parameters.
Any event that you track can have up to 50 Event Parameters (+ 25 User Parameters) – and you can call them whatever you please. For the full details about the Event collection limits, refer here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9267744?hl=en
This is a big change, so it’s a good time to sit down, document what you’d like to track – what additional parameters you’d like to collect with each event – and make sure everything is aligned and collected in a way that will easily allow you to group and/or segment data in your reporting later on in a way that works for you.
You can find out more about Event tracking in GA4 – including how Event Parameters work and how to find them in the reporting interface here: https://www.glowmetrics.com/blog/ga4-event-tracking-via-gtm-where-are-my-event-parameters/
2. Implement New Tagging for GA4
GA4 is effectively starting from scratch again, collecting data for a brand new GA property – and to do so, also requires a whole new set of tags. As with UA previously, there are multiple ways to go about collecting data in GA4…
If you’re not so technically minded, you can use the GA4 Setup Wizard from within the interface to get started using gtag.js: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9744165?hl=en#zippy=%2Cin-this-article%2Cinstall-a-google-tag
We prefer to use Google Tag Manager for all of our tagging so we would recommend you do the same. You can find detailed instructions on how to do so here: https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/9442095
Whichever route you decide to go, once you’ve got your Measurement Plan finalised, the second step is to ensure the tagging is in place to start collecting data in your new GA4 property.
3. Set Up a Big Query Account and Connect it to GA4
Connecting to Big Query was only an option for GA360 users in UA, however, one of the biggest changes in GA4 is that it is now possible for free users to connect their GA4 data to Big Query.
This recommendation is more important now than ever due to recent GA4 API quota limitations that have been enforced since November 2022, especially if you intend to use Looker Studio to build reports.
At the time of writing, if you use the native GA4 connector for Looker Studio (formerly Data Studio), you’re very likely to find your reports are (at best) very slow or (more likely) mostly broken. Read our blog on GA4 API Quota Limits and get some tips on how to solve this issue.
The best way to solve the quota problem is to send your GA4 data to Big Query, and then connect Big Query to Looker Studio. Your reports will also be much, much faster. Yes, there might be fees involved if your data storage or queries exceed the free tier – and yes, you might need to actually learn how to use Big Query – so add that to your to-do list too.
4. Build New Reporting Connected to GA4
Once you’ve tagged your site with GTM, you’re collecting data in GA4 and you’re sending it to Big Query, the next logical step is to start using it to build meaningful reports.
Looker Studio is still our tool of choice – but again, because you’re starting afresh with GA4, your data is collected in a different place (i.e. new GA4 property and/or BQ project), using a different data model – you’ll need to build a brand new set of reports (based on your Measurement Plan!), connecting to the new data source, considering changes in nomenclature and so on.
5. Export your Old UA Data
Google has said that although UA will stop collecting data on 1st July 2023, the reports will still be available within the interface for at least six months after the fact.
If you want to continue to access your old UA data beyond that, you’ll need to find a way to back it up and store it elsewhere.
You can read Google’s official advice on how to export your Universal Analytics data here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/11583528?hl=en#zippy=%2Chow-can-i-export-data-from-my-universal-analytics-property
To summarise, you have a few options:
– Export individual reports (CSV, TSV, XLSX, Google Sheets, PDF)
– Use the Google Analytics Reporting API
– Use a third-party connector such as Supermetrics to export historical UA data to BigQuery
– If you’re a GA360 customer, you might already have your data in Big Query (you’ve also got until October 2024 before you have to transition!)
6. Sign up for a GA4 Training Course
2023 is shaping up to be a year of transition and a year for learning, with GA4 top of the list. If you’d like support understanding the mechanics of GA4 – from data collection via GTM, to analysis within the GA4 interface and building reports in Looker Studio – consider signing up for the Glow Analytics Academy – our six-week training course in both Belfast, Northern Ireland & Dublin, Ireland starting in April 2023!
Alternatively, we offer bespoke corporate training (both in-person and online), so feel free to get in touch to discuss.
Finally, good luck with your transition from UA to GA4! Keep an eye on our blog for more detailed guides on all things GA4 – and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin to keep in the loop.