Many of you out there have been putting off making the switch to GA4, even in the face of increasingly urgent appeals from Google to do so. Well, folks, the time has come to get it done, and we’ve prepared a short guide to help you get moving. In it we provide answers to some of the questions you may be asking as you plan to make the transition, including:
- What is GA4?
- When is the deadline for making the switch?
- How can I determine if my GA property is affected?
- How do I switch from UA to GA4?
- What happens if I don’t switch?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks to switching to GA4?
- Are there alternatives to using GA4?
Let’s get started.
1. What is GA4?
GA4 (Google Analytics 4) is the latest iteration of Google Analytics. GA4 is a completely updated version of Universal Analytics (UA) which offers new features, including machine learning capabilities and a more user-friendly interface.
One of the main changes in GA4 is that it uses an event-based data model rather than a pageview-based data model like UA. This means that all interactions on a website or app are considered “events.” Events include things like page views, clicks, video plays, and other user actions. GA4 also provides more detailed data on user behavior and engagement, allowing marketers and website owners to gain deeper insights into how users interact with their content.
Other features of GA4 include improved data privacy, more advanced audience segmentation, and simplified integration with Google Ads and other Google marketing tools.
2. When is the deadline for making the switch?
As soon as possible, and no later than June 30, 2023.
Why the hard deadline? From July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) properties will no longer process data. While you can still view your existing UA reports for a limited time after July 1, 2023, new data will only be collected and processed by Google Analytics 4 properties. If you haven’t already upgraded to GA4, it’s important that you do so before the deadline to ensure that you continue to receive accurate and valuable data about the performance of your website or application.
3. How can I determine if my GA property is affected?
Before we go into the process of transitioning to GA4, let’s determine if your GA property is affected by this change. Simply speaking, all Universal Analytics (UA) properties need to make the switch to GA4.
If you recently set up a new GA property, it’s likely already using GA4. To check if your property is using Universal Analytics, go to your GA admin panel, click on the property settings, and look for a field called “Measurement ID.” If the ID starts with “UA-“, it means you’re using Universal Analytics (and that it’s time to switch).
4. What happens if I don’t switch?
Google will automatically migrate your UA property to GA4 for you if you do nothing, but, as they mention in this article, it is strongly recommended that “you manually migrate your Universal Analytics settings to GA4 prior to auto-migration to ensure the quality of your data.”
Opting out of the auto-migration process is an option, it seems (see the link above), if you decide to make the move to another platform.
In the event your property is auto-migrated, you’ll want to have a close look afterwards and confirm the settings, keeping in mind that only the basic features will have been configured. Anything more interesting above and beyond that will be up to you.
5. How do I switch from UA to GA4?
The process of transitioning from Universal Analytics to GA4 involves creating a new GA4 property and linking it to your website. We’ve broken this down into three steps and provided links where you can learn more.
Step 1 – Create a new GA4 property:
Select the “Admin” tab in Google Analytics and click “Create Property” under the “Property” column. Follow the prompts to set up your new property, including providing a name for your property, selecting your time zone and currency, and linking your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts (if applicable).
Tip: Use the ‘GA4 Setup Assistant’ for a quick set-up. More details at Add a Google Analytics 4 property (to a site that already has Analytics)
Step 2 – Add the GA4 tracking code to your website:
Once you’ve created your new GA4 property, you’ll need to add the GA4 tracking code to your website. You can find the tracking code by clicking on the “Data Streams” tab in your GA4 property and selecting “Web.” Follow the prompts to set up your data stream and get the tracking code, which you can then add to your website’s header.
Tip: Use Google Tag Manager to deliver code to website, read more at Configure Google Analytics 4 tags in Google Tag Manager
Step 3 – Configure your tracking settings and events:
Once your GA4 property is set up and your tracking code is installed, you can start configuring your tracking settings and events. This includes setting up conversion tracking, creating custom events and parameters, and configuring user and event properties.
You can access these settings by clicking on the “Events” tab in your GA4 property.
Tip: Use the Setup Assistant. More details at Get started with Google Analytics 4 using Setup Assistant
6. What are the benefits and drawbacks to switching to GA4?
There are several advantages that GA4 offers over Universal Analytics (UA), such as:
User-centric data model: GA4 focuses on individual user behavior across multiple devices and platforms, providing a better understanding of how users interact with a website.
Enhanced tracking capabilities: GA4 offers automatic event tracking and custom event/parameter support, allowing for more granular data and deeper insights into user behavior. Also, with UA you needed to configure Event Tracking manually. GA4 does this automatically.
AI-powered insights: GA4 uses machine learning and AI to provide more intelligent insights and recommendations. For example, it can help marketers identify patterns in user behavior and suggest optimization opportunities based on that data.
Cross-domain tracking: GA4 allows tracking user behavior across multiple domains and subdomains, eliminating the need for Google’s Firebase SDK and platform-specific tracking setup (required with UA). This feature is particularly useful for businesses operating multiple websites or with complex web ecosystems.
Privacy-focused data collection: GA4’s use of first-party cookies addresses privacy concerns associated with third-party cookies. GA4 also includes features for privacy-focused data collection, such as automatic data deletion and user consent management. This helps businesses stay compliant with privacy regulations.
While GA4 offers many benefits over Universal Analytics (UA), there are also some drawbacks to be aware of.
Customization options: GA4 offers a more limited set of customization options compared to UA, which may not be ideal for businesses relying heavily on custom tracking and reporting. For instance, GA4 lacks support for custom reports and dashboards.
Historical data: Moving to GA4 means starting with a fresh data set, which implies losing access to any historical data collected in UA. While old UA data can still be accessed in the UA interface (for a limited time after July 1, 2023), it will not appear in the GA4 interface.
Limited integrations: GA4 has limited integrations with other Google products such as Google Ads and Looker Studio, which could be a disadvantage for businesses that heavily rely on these tools.
Familiarity: The GA4 interface differs from UA, so marketers familiar with UA will need to spend some time learning and getting used to it.
7. Are there alternatives to using GA4?
There are many non-Google alternatives to GA4, and we have shortlisted two here. Both are open source platforms that use session-based tracking models just like UA. In addition, these two analytics platforms support GA data import and are privacy-friendly.
Matomo is a good choice for those wanting to continue using features similar to those offered by UA. Matomo’s On-Premise (paid version) gives you control over where your data is stored. In short, this service is best suited for content, marketing and e-commerce websites.
Plausible Analytics is a privacy-oriented platform that you can install on your server and host yourself. It tracks only basic website metrics such as page views, session duration, and referrer information. As such, it is best suited for content and marketing sites that require lightweight website analytics.
In this blog we have provided a comprehensive guide on what GA4 is and how to transition to it from UA. We also covered the advantages and drawbacks of GA4, alternative data tracking options, and tips on how to make the switch as smooth as possible. We hope that you are now ready for the switch!
It is important to remember that the deadline for making the transition is June 30, 2023. By following the steps provided in this post, you will be able to continue collecting data and monitoring your website’s performance.
Of course, if you have any questions or need help with the transition please feel free to reach out. Contact us here.