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Universal Analytics to GA4 migration – What to do, when and why?

Universal Analytics to GA4

If you already know about it, then great. And if not, that’s not a problem, but this is your final call:

In July 2023, the plug will be pulled on Universal Analytics. This means that you will no longer be able to collect and evaluate your data in the same way as before. So now we can say farewell to Universal Analytics (UA), which represented a genuine milestone in terms of data tracking at the time. After all, it enabled us not only to track website data but also offline and offsite data – a universal data collector that quickly became the standard for many companies.

But Google wouldn’t be Google if they hadn’t had a successor tool up their sleeves for a good while. Now the stage is clear for Google Analytics 4 (aka GA4). 🎉

“Although both tools are from Google, they are so different from each other that we are actually talking about a tool replacement.”

However, the existence of a new tool also means dealing with new data models, metrics and changed reporting. So, if you’re still familiar with Universal Analytics, it’s now time to get to know GA4 and make the changeover.

What is Google Analytics 4?

GA4, the official successor to Universal Analytics, which is now eight years old, offers many new features that make it even easier and – above all – more flexible to analyze and optimize websites. Now, website visitor tracking, keyword research and detailed performance monitoring are all part of the simplified daily business. The official launch of GA4 was back in October 2020, ensuring plenty of time for a smooth transition. What is changing and what do you need to know?

GA4: What do website operators now have to do?

As already implied, you will need to familiarize yourself with Google Analytics 4 sooner rather than later and collect your data by “double tracking” on both platforms. Why is that? Quite simply because your entire data collection from Universal Analytics can’t be transferred to the new platform easily. Although both tools are from Google, they are so different from each other that we are actually talking about a tool replacement. Double tracking has the specific advantage that you can familiarize yourself with the new interface and features one step at a time.

How to set up GA4

It is actually very simple to set up GA4:

  1. Create a GA4 property in the Analytics interface at “+ Create property” and follow the instructions of the setup assistant wizard.
  2. Then, connect your GA4 property to your Universal Analytics property using the “Assistant for setting up a GA4 property”.
  • On the UA level, select your newly created property at “I want to connect to an existing Google Analytics 4 property”.
  • Click on “Connect” so that UA and GA4 are connected to each other.
  • You’ll then be redirected to your GA4 property, where you’ll find a variety of options for migrating the configuration settings and tagging.
  • You can then customize your tag structure in the Google Tag Manager via the path “Tags > New > Tag Configuration > Google Analytics: GA4 configuration”.
  1. From now on, whenever you conduct an analysis in Universal Analytics, you will also create another in parallel in Google Analytics 4. This will allow you to compare both tools directly and get yourself prepared for GA4.
  2. If you want to make sure that your data has been collected correctly, you can go to different pages of your website and select the “real time” function in the report navigation. The real-time report should now show the activities.

Testing GA4 and training the team

Once you’ve set everything up correctly, keep a close eye on your setup and run regular tests. This way you can be sure that you will be able to continue working with GA4 in the future without any problems. You should also remember to train your team to use the new tool.

When should you start working with Google Analytics 4?

Timing is of the essence for ensuring a smooth transition from UA to GA4. As you must already know, Universal Analytics is due to be shut down for good on 1 July 2023. That means it’s best to start parallel data collection straightaway, so you don’t risk a cold start in GA4 and for you to establish a solid data foundation. This is because tracking in Google Analytics 4 can only begin once it has been set up. You won’t be able to transfer or feed in your data from Universal Analytics.

GA4 timeline
You need to collect your data by “double tracking” on both platforms

What will change with Google Analytics 4?

As already mentioned, Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are very different from each other. However, the changeover will provide a number of benefits:

  • Improved compatibility of all Google products, thanks to the uniform tracking code structure
  • More accurate tracking of your conversions
  • Much lower error rates at the technical level

We’ve summarized the most important changes for you in a little more detail here:

Interface and Account Structure

Both have been redesigned from scratch for GA4 so that all data is now found on the Property level. This has been done so that the data can be obtained in raw form and individually sorted (also with other systems), analyzed and processed.

Questions can be answered directly using the new and practical search bar, while the integrated AI automatically presents the most frequently used reports on the home page.

Machine learning

With the integrated AI, more accurate forecasts can be made of the probability of purchase and migration (‘churn’) and the expected turnover.

The automatically created and optimized analyses represent another new feature. User behavior like page views, clicks on external links, scrolls, video playback, and so on is now measured as an event and not as a standard user interaction.

PageViews and Events

No longer is any distinction made between these two KPIs. In the future, everything will only be measured in events, so that a large number of dynamic parameters – instead of event categories – can be collected at the same time.

Cookieless tracking

GA4 is no longer exclusively dependent on cookies; instead, data can be collected without these or comparable “identifiers”.

Anonymization

Using machine learning, IP addresses of all the visitors to the website are anonymized automatically, giving users more control over their own data on the Internet. Certain data can also be collected anonymously without consent with Google’s own “Consent Mode”.

Visualization

GA4 improves the quality overall. Instead of standard reports, you will now receive individually tailored Custom Reports. This way, you can focus on the metrics and measured values of relevance to you, and present and adjust reports, tables, and graphics accordingly. This also applies to real-time analyses, which are much more detailed with GA4. You can have your user data analyzed in detail, based on the last 30 minutes.

We have also recorded and uploaded a video webinar (in German) about ‘Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4’, in which our CEO Oliver Moser compares both tools in detail and demonstrates the market alternatives.

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Alternatives to Google Analytics 4

Even though Google Analytics 4 does offer a number of benefits, it is by no means the only option that allows you to process your data in a targeted way. Here are a few alternatives to GA4:

Plausible

  • Open-source web analytics
  • No need for cookie banners or GDPR permission
  • Tracking of events, goal conversions and campaigns
  • Compliant with GDPR, CCPA and PECR.

Matomo

  • Transfer from Google Analytics is possible
  • User privacy and data security
  • Tracking despite cookie rejection
  • Compliant with GDPR, CCPA and PECR

Get us on board

PiwikPro

  • Web and mobile analytics
  • Analytics for the product team
  • User privacy and data security
  • Sharepoint Analytics
  • Collect data easily and flexibly
  • Customer segmentation
  • Compliant with GDPR, CCPA and PECR

eTracker

  • GDPR-compliant
  • Tracking despite cookie rejection
  • Cookie based on consent
  • Opt-in freedom
  • Shop analysis
  • UX analysis
  • Tag configuration without coding
  • Google Ads & Bing Ads
  • Auto tracking

Your tech stack for optimal data analysis

For many companies, the numerous extensions provided by Google are often the first port of call when it comes to data tracking and processing. But it’s also worth keeping your eyes open in other directions, depending on what you actually want to do with your data. For example, powerful tools in the field of data visualization such as Tableau, Python or Power BI are available, which can help you track the customer journey in detail, enabling you to run targeted and effective campaigns.

Of course, we are well aware that it’s not always easy to find the right tools for your own objectives and purposes. That’s why we’ve written this guide for you, outlining three simple steps to an optimal MarTech stack. The guide lets you proceed with confidence when selecting tools and helps you put together your tech stack individually in a well-thought-out way.

We help you keep track of your data all the time

Have you still got any questions about Google Analytics 4, or would you like to know why double tracking doesn’t work as it should or do you need any help in choosing alternatives? Don’t worry: as tool experts, we will navigate you safely through the tool changeover process and advise you if you are unsure about something. You can reach us easily via our contact form or by phone.

Until then – good luck in making the switch. And once again: better to do it soon than too late! 😉

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The Author

Bibiane Zimmermann @advalyze

Bibiane Zimmermann

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