On July 1st, the Google Universal Analytics that we know so well will be replaced by a new tool called Google Analytics 4. This means that, in order to continue to get the most out of your metrics, it will be essential to perform a complete migration, in an ordered and responsible way.
Although it is not yet 100% finished and is constantly in a process of evolution, something that may put some people off, it is undoubtedly the next step for digital marketing in companies.
That is why in this article we will explain not only the main differences between this tool and its predecessor, but also the step-by-step to migrate safely and effectively, delving into everything you need to know about GA4.
Differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4
The truth is that, more than an update, Google Analytics 4 is essentially a new tool.
This is because it uses, unlike its predecessor, a unified measurement: from a single interface you can view the analytics of both websites and apps, being able to subsequently pour them into comprehensive reports.
Until now, this was not possible, as Universal Analytics was limited only to the web part. To develop more integrated strategies that also included app metrics, it was necessary to complement your Analytics with other tools such as Google Firebase.
In GA4, this is achieved by using a new data-driven model. By transitioning to naming conditionals and functions as events, they can be referenced with greater ease and simplicity anywhere in the code. GA4, then, is able to recognize any event.
About Google Analytics 4´s UI
Regarding the user interface of this new tool, there are also many changes compared to Universal Analytics:
Although the color and design are practically unchanged, there is a reduction in the number of reports that can be seen at first glance.
However, this does not mean that this tool has less capabilities than its predecessor, quite the contrary: all kinds of customized reports can now be created, with various templates ranging from segment exposure and cohort scanning to user behavior and more.
In Universal Analytics we could already access the measurements of all kinds of parameters by simply installing the corresponding code on our website. Well, Google Analytics 4 is not going to be less, because it introduces a considerable evolution:
Not only will we have automatic measurement, but also new enhanced and automatic measurement events are added to the traditional parameters, including scroll, site search, document download and forms. The measurement of all these variables can be activated and disabled at will.
Analytics 4 also implements an extremely powerful Debug View tool, which will help us to see how the GA4 itself is receiving the data that is sent from both websites and apps.
In this way, you will be able to check if the formats and weights of the files are within the desired parameters, and if not, you will be able to modify them in time.
It is also worth mentioning that the measurement of URLs with history change can be done directly from Google Analytics 4.
Google Analytics 4 and historical data
This is, without a doubt, one of the main drawbacks for users when it comes to migrating from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.
GA4 will not have historical data, which means that, when migrating, all data from Universal Analytics will eventually disappear. This is why it is crucial to prepare your information and save it correctly.
This does not mean that the data will be deleted as soon as you migrate: you will have a period of time until that moment arrives. But this period will not be very long, so you must be careful and not lose a second, because any slip could cause you to lose a large volume of data.
By default, the timeframe is set to two months, but Google Analytics 4 allows you to extend it up to 14 months. We strongly recommend doing so.
At the same time, it is recommended to download and migrate only the data that is really indispensable. That is, the data that you use in the day-to-day running of your company. This is because downloading and migrating all your data from Universal Analytics will make the process of migration extremely expensive.
Ways to recover your data before migrating to Google Analytics 4
- Downloading your reports manually from Universal Analytics. This method is simple and free, but the fact that it is manual can be a bit of a hassle.
- Synchronizing your Google Sheets with Google Analytics through the corresponding API, and transferring the desired data into spreadsheets. This solution is also not very complex and can be automated, but it requires organization and time to program everything correctly. Having knowledge of Google Apps Script can make this solution even more powerful and effective.
- Other external tools that connect to Google’s own API can also be used: this solution is recommended for large corporations wishing to migrate large volumes of data.
- BigQuery is ideal for those Universal Analytics users who handle 360 data and wish to store it so as not to lose it.
Having mentioned BigQuery gives us the opportunity to mention a key tip for Google DataStudio users that want to migrate to Google Analytics 4:
Data migration from Google DataStudio has proven to generate certain quota errors, due to the fact that the allowed limits are too low. Luckily, this can be easily solved by using BigQuery, where you can store your data for free for up to two months until you fix the situation.
Automatic migration to Google Analytics 4: a double-edged sword
When migrating from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, we recommend, at least initially, not to use the automatic migration option provided by Google.
This is for the simple reason that, as we have already seen, the differences between the two tools are substantial: performing an automatic migration could lead to compatibility problems and other inconveniences both now and in the future.
However, this will depend on how you have been using and/or plan to use your analytics tool. If you are looking to start from scratch or if you don’t have a lot of data to migrate, this can be a good option to save time and resources.
Other considerations when migrating
- Google Analytics 4 introduces a new account structure, in which the views disappear and make way for the aforementioned flows.
- At least for the moment, its way of measuring data is different from the one in Universal Analytics. This can lead to confusion when comparing, analyzing and using the data collected.
- The tool does not have the possibility of entering filters, so it will be necessary to discard those used in Universal Analytics. The only filter that will be shared between both tools will be the internal traffic filter.
Once the data is ready, it’s time to migrate to Google Analytics 4
Now, if your idea is to migrate manually, here are the steps to follow to get the best results:
- Since views no longer exist in Google Analytics 4, you will need to plan a new strategy for your accounts based on the new data flow system.
- Regarding the latter, you will have to create as many as you consider necessary, associated to all the websites and apps you wish to link.
- This time prior to migration is ideal to analyze and customize the tool´s capabilities, adjusting the data you want it to collect according to your needs.
- Then, you just need to install the corresponding code in your websites and apps.
- After this you will have to extend, as we have already mentioned, the period of time during which the migrated data will be retained. This will give you time to do all the corresponding downloads and backups. It is also extremely important that you activate Google Signals.
- Transform all the goals you had in Universal Analytics into events, in order to make them compatible and traceable in Google Analytics 4. Afterwards, you will have to create the new conversions, which will be used for certain reports and in attribution.
- You will also have to migrate your audiences and your e-commerce metrics (the latter only in case you work with E-Commerce).
- You will have to recreate your custom dimensions and metrics (if you have them).
- With all of this ready, the only thing left to do is to create the corresponding users and configure their respective permissions.
- Don’t forget to filter internal traffic and apply the referral exclusion!
- Last but not least, it is also important that you remember to correctly configure the time zone, currency and domains.
Do you have any doubts?
Do not hesitate to contact us!
At MKT Marketing Digital we have a team of SEO and SEM specialists with extensive knowledge in Google Analytics 4 and many other metrics analysis tools.
We can help you get the most out of this new tool to take your business to the next level.
Don’t wait any longer!