Google is retiring the version of Google Analytics we have all been using for years and requiring us to move to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Because GA4 is built on an entirely new data model, we need to set up GA4 from scratch. This post is intended to highlight a few topics for consideration as you manage this upgrade from Universal Analytics (UA).
What is different about GA4?
Mobile First: GA4 is built around an event-driven data model that tracks user interactions across different platforms and devices, providing marketers with a more holistic view of user behavior. UA, on the other hand, is pageview-based, meaning it tracks website pages' interactions and doesn't provide insight into user behavior outside the website. Additionally, GA4 uses machine learning to analyze user behavior and provide deeper insights into audience demographics, interests, and behaviors.
Events First: In UA, Goals were the focus of any conversion-related analysis and were set up in Google Analytics. Not in GA4. Everything is an Event and there are four type of events. Events can be marked as Conversions in GA4 for use in funnel reports.
To get the most from GA4, you will want to configure the events in Google Tag Manager although you can define up to 30 custom events in GA4 directly. Instead of a few pre-defined parameters (Label, Action, etc.), events can have multiple custom-defined parameters to align with how they are used.
Google offers a Goals Migration Tool that can be used for Destination Goals and Events, but they recommend restructuring your events to match the GA4 data model.
Goodbye Views, Hello Data Streams: GA4 maintains Accounts and Properties, similar to UA, but the concept of views is gone. Views were often used to filter your data to focus on a subset. In GA4, each data is collected from one or more Data Streams (websites, apps, or other digital properties), and any filtering must be done in Google Tag Manager.
Farewell Bounce Rate, Welcome Engaged Sessions: Because page-oriented metrics like Bounce Rate don’t translate to a mobile app, GA4 is focused on session metrics. One casualty is Bounce Rate. The closest approximation is an Engaged Session which attempts to determine whether the user interacted with your content. It’s similar in that 2 or more page views should count as an Engaged Session, but it also works on mobile. If the numbers surprise you, remember that it translates more closely to 1 - Bounce Rate.
Built on Big Query: Google’s Big Query underlies GA4, giving you improved access to the underlying data for querying or use in Google Data studio.
How does my workflow change?
Google is attempting to clarify the workflow around analytics by breaking it into separate pieces handled by distinct applications. Many of us already use Google Tag Manager and Google Data Studio, but GA4 encourages or even requires some of the work to be done in those tools.
Conversion Setup in Tag Manager: As mentioned earlier, you no longer set up Goals in Google Analytics directly. Instead, you set up anything you want to track as an Event, and then you can mark some of your events Conversions in Google Analytics. Many activities you probably thought of as metrics in UA (e.g., Page Views) are automatically tracked. For custom events tied to your conversion funnel, these need to be set up in Google Tag Manager, including things like reaching a specific thank you page or submitting a form, or viewing a video. This gives you tremendous flexibility but requires more forethought in your setup.
Reporting in Google Data Studio: Google envisions Analytics as a tool for Analysis or asking questions about the data. They are pushing pure reporting functions to Google Data Studio. The idea is that you probably have some users who will be overwhelmed with the complexity of analytics (not to mention they might break something in the process) and would be better served with a Dashboard from GDS.
There is configurable reporting in GA4, and one of the first things you may want to do is set up a Library that mimics the reports found in UA to make the transition easier.
Linking Google Ads: GA4 can still be used to power your Google Ads conversions, but you will need to reconfigure your setup to make sure this happens.
First, you need to take the existing conversions from Universal Analytics and make them Secondary Conversions, so Smartbidding does not consider them. Then you will import the new GA4 Conversions by selecting New Conversion Action from Tools > Conversions. Once there, select Import, and you will be able to import any events that are marked Conversions in GA4. Once imported, these will be available for Smartbidding optimization.
Improved Analytics: This migration presents an opportunity to review your Analytics setup to ensure it is up today with the needs of your business. It’s easy to have your analytics on autopilot, even as your website, app, and go-to-market motions change. Take the opportunity to audit the events you want to track, the audiences or segments that are important to you, and the report your stakeholders need. Of course, you want continuity with your existing data, but don’t miss the chance to improve things.
What about historical data?
There is no migration of historical data from UA to GA4. Google has stated that historical data will be available in UA for 6 months, but after that, there is no guarantee that you will have access. This is why it is important to set up GA4 tracking as soon as possible if you have not already.
UA’s reporting tools If you work with a 3rd-party PPC platform such as MarinOne, you should be able to import your conversion data as far back as needed
This article isn’t intended to be a complete guide to making the migration, so it barely scratches the surface of what’s possible with GA4. If you find yourself in need of additional bandwidth or expertise, our team of analytics ninjas are ready to help. Click here to set up a free consultation.