June 8, 2023

The GA4 Transition: 6 Steps for a Smooth Transition

Ever since Google announced the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA), the digital marketing world has been frantically making preparations for the switch, trying everything in their power to tell businesses still using UA to stop what they’re doing and take the time to upgrade to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). 

For a lot of businesses, the GA4 transition isn’t high on your priority list. We get it. As we head into Q4 and the start of the holiday season, we know everything can feel a little crazed. Even with a little push from your friendly neighborhood marketers, it’s easy to brush the GA4 transition under the rug. But this is even more of a reason to make the switch now. 

In order to reap the benefits of GA4, you need to take the time to migrate accurately and thoroughly to the new platform. With richer automated insights about the customer journey, as well as huge opportunities for better marketing ROI, making the GA4 transition will make your marketing efforts easier and more insightful later down the road. 

When Should You Upgrade to Google Analytics 4?

Earlier this year, Google announced the sunset date of Universal Analytics. All UA properties will stop collecting new hits on July 1, 2023, and all 360 UA properties will stop processing hits on October 1, 2023. Likewise, users will lose access to all historical UA data by the end of 2023. In short: the sooner you migrate, the better! 

With the holidays just around the corner, you want to make sure you’re taking advantage of GA4’s better predictive capabilities now so you’ll have enough historical data from GA4 to inform next year’s holiday campaigns.

Despite the name, Google Analytics 4 operates in a fundamentally different way from previous iterations of Google Analytics. With a new measurement model, machine learning capabilities, and updated user interface, GA4 performs, reports, and feels very different from past software. 

GA4 is fully replacing UA, and to prepare for the switch, it’s important to understand all of the added benefits of GA4 and the urgency to upgrade to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible. 

How Do You Transition to GA4?

Didn’t think we’d leave you high and dry to figure this out on your own, did you? The following six-step process gives you tips and GA4 best practices to help guide you through the GA4 transition to make your process as smooth as possible. 

1. Conduct a Current UA Audit 

Like we mentioned earlier, GA4 is a fundamentally different tool from UA with a completely new data model. The metrics and configurations you use for UA will not easily translate over to GA4, so it’s important to start your migration process with an audit of your existing UA properties. 

List out the metrics you currently use in UA and how your organization uses those metrics to inform strategy. Alongside these, make a note of all other systems that connect to your UA account, like Google Ads, Google Search Console, etc. It’s also a good idea to map out the different customizations, functionalities, and enhancements you’ve developed in your UA property. Even if these factors cannot match a perfect one-to-one translation in GA4, having this audit of how UA serves your organization will make it easier to map these metrics into GA4. 

2. Set Up Your New GA4 Property

Because your UA properties won’t roll over historical data into the new GA4 property, it’s important to get GA4 set up as quickly as possible to have enough benchmark data to reference in the future. Luckily, adding a GA4 property to an existing UA property is the easy part. 

Using Google migration tools like the GA4 Setup Assistant allows users to collect data from both their new GA4 property and their existing UA property simultaneously. It’s recommended to run this parallel tracking for several weeks for richer data collection. Setting up a GA4 property with Setup Assistant does not change your UA property, nor does it backfill your new GA4 property with data from UA. All of your historical data remains in your UA reports (until the end of 2023). 

3. Map UA Metrics to GA4

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Depending on the complexity of your analytics, it may take some time to accurately map each of your UA metrics to GA4. Unfortunately, many of the names of metrics we’ve gotten used to using in UA mean different things in GA4. “Events” are a great example of this. In UA, an event represents a specific behavior, whereas in GA4, an event signifies any action taken on a page (clicks, scrolls, downloads, etc.). 

Remember, this is not a 1:1 transition. Instead, it will take time to accurately map your metrics over. That’s why we recommend getting started as soon as possible to be able to map out the differences in the ways UA and GA4 process your goals. Luckily, we have a new convenient Google migration tool that assists users in mapping UA goals into GA4. 

4. Set Up Custom Dimensions and Metrics

After running parallel tracking for a few weeks, you’ll start to see some of the measurement differences between UA and GA4. This is where your UA audit comes in handy; take a look at all of your UA goals and decide if they should be recreated as conversions in GA4. 

Because the data collection models differ between UA and GA4, you’ll want to analyze and customize each dashboard in GA4 you rely on. Take your time through this step, because you want to make sure your data is accurately represented in GA4 just as it was in UA. Our team is here to walk you through this process to ensure you get the most out of GA4.

5. Educate End Users

GA4 may be the most robust and sophisticated digital analytics tool to date, but it’s much more efficient with users who are knowledgeable about how to update and customize reports. The Google Skillshop certification on GA4 is a great step to take to better understand the ins and outs of the new system and make sure your team is up-to-date with current knowledge of GA4 best practices.

6. Optimize and Improve

Google is still updating and optimizing its software as we speak. As recently as July 2022, Google added new metrics of conversions, bounce rates, and UTM parameters back to GA4. The GA4 transition is an ongoing process, and it’s important to understand this new age of digital analytics is constantly updating and improving. It’s only natural to build in some time for you to optimize your use of GA4 as well.

The GA4 transition varies based on the complexity of your current UA setup, as well as the extent to which digital analytics plays a role in your general marketing strategy. But no matter how you use analytics, the Marketwake team will help walk you through this process and customize your GA4 property to meet your needs. Drop us a line to get started with your GA4 transition today.

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