Migrating to Google Analytics 4: A Short Guide for Marketers

By Emma Barnes
6th January 2021

About
Emma

In October 2020, Google Analytics announced a new version called Google Analytics 4 (GA4), so we’ve put together this short guide for marketers looking to accurately migrate their existing web properties over to it.

GA4 is due to replace the current version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics or UA) in the coming years, although there’s currently no date for when Universal Analytics will stop being supported by Google Analytics. This means that you’ll eventually be using GA4 regardless, and it’s important your data is migrated carefully to avoid any loss.

You may be seeing prompts to upgrade to GA4 when you log into Google Analytics, if you go to the admin section you will see a GA4 Set-Up Assistant. If you’re an experienced GA user, following the assistant should be enough for you – however, it doesn’t cover everything and could lead to you missing data that you had before.

Key changes to be aware of before migrating

 

You can read the full extent of GA in Google’s announcement as well as some resources at the end – but here’s a summary of some core things to note before migrating: 

  • GA4 uses a brand-new type of measurement based on events, as opposed to the previous page-view measurement (which used events as a custom tracking option)
  • If you are using Google Tag Manager – the tags are different to before
  • You will need a new Google Analytics property to store the data in
  • The interface is totally different to what you have previously been using
  • Some data doesn’t (currently) exist in the same way you can currently see it in Universal Analytics

Don’t worry: Your data and reporting are currently safe and will not go anywhere. The majority of data that you currently acquire from UA will be available in GA4.

Migration phases

Migrating to GA4 is a lot more work than “change the old code to the new code”. Due to this, we would recommend approaching a GA4 migration in phases, as different types of data are now collected differently. This includes – but is not limited to:

  • Pageview tracking
  • Event Tracking
  • eCommerce Tracking
  • Inter-platform integration

For a phased approach, we would recommend:

Phase 1: Create a GA4 property that tracks pageviews and “standard” events.

Phase 2: Implement KPI related events (e.g. form fills)

Phase 3: Implement e-commerce events

Phase 4: Implement other custom tracking (e.g. non-KPI events, custom dimensions, integrations)

Phase 5: Once data is collected – full implementation audit, and adjustments as required.

Once implementation is completed, GA4 will now be running alongside UA and ready for you to report from should you wish to.

We would recommend collecting data from GA4 for at least a year before switching any reporting (including but not limited to custom reporting, dashboarding) from UA to GA4.

Below we’ll give an overview on what actions need to be taken to complete each phase.

Note: If for any of your GA tracking, you use a plugin (e.g. WordPress, Shopify, etc) – research how these can be integrated to GA4. It may be that there is an option to run GA4 concurrently with UA, however some plugins may be limited. I would recommend contacting your plugin provider regarding GA4 migration, or trialling GA4 integration via Google Tag Manager.

Standard tracking (including pageviews) in GA4

To begin your migration, create a new web property in GA4. This can either be done via the Upgrade Assistant or clicking the “+Create New Property” button in the admin section.

Select all the “standard” event tracking options for your website that are relevant to you.

Standard Tracking

  • Page views
  • Scrolls
  • Outbound clicks
  • Video engagement
  • File downloads

If you’re using Google Tag Manager: create a new “GA4 Configuration” tag to fire on all pages.

If you’re hard-coding: add the GA4 gtag to all pages of your website.

Once this has been set up, you will begin to receive some core data into your new GA4 property.

Event tracking in GA4

Events have changed from the old “category, action, label” configuration and will need to be re-scoped according to your measurement plan.

Event Name effectively replaces “Event Category”, however, any granular details (that were previously housed under action and label) are now determined by you as an event parameter. This is more flexible for you, however there are more steps to creating event tracking than before.

  • Determine what “core” events you need to track e.g.
    • Clicks
    • Form submissions
    • Enquiries
    • Web Errors
    • Downloads
    • Any goals that were previously “destination” goals should be recorded as events in order to be measured as a goal
  • For each core event, determine what parameters are needed to help differentiate between them. Note: The parameter name must consist of letters, numbers or underscores, and it must start with a letter e.g.
    • Click_Type (KPI, Nav, Text Link)
    • Form_Name (Contact Us, Job Application)
    • Enquiry_Method (Form, Email, Phone)
    • Error_Message (page not found, invalid input)
    • File_Type (PDF, MP3, DOC)
    • File_Name (Q1_Performance_Update_2020, Order_Spreadsheet)
  • For Google Tag Manager:
    • Create a new “GA4 Event” tag using the chosen event and parameter names
    • Use the same triggers as you have previously been using, as well as any additional triggers required for new events
  • For hardcoding: follow the GA4 Event Measurement protocol
  • In Google Analytics create the events you want to capture (either in admin or in Events > All Events)
  • In Google Analytics, add the names of the parameters you want to capture, this needs to be done for every parameter under “manage custom definitions”

Now all the events you want to track should be pulled into your new GA4 property.

Ecommerce Tracking in GA4

Ecommerce tracking in GA4 is similar to Event tracking but there are specific parameters that Google Analytics uses by default that means data will be pushed to an ecommerce report:

  • Tag on site: Work with your developers to implement the ecommerce tracking code measurement
  • Tag via GTM:
    • Work with your developers to implement the updated dataLayer schema for ecommerce
    • Create an event tag for Event Name:purchase and Parameters
    • Create any event tags relevant for any other relevant ecommerce events (e.g. view_cart, refund) with any relevant parameters
    • Full list here
    • Use the same ecommerce triggers as before

Once this has been created, data should be sent to the report called “Monetisation > E-commerce purchases”.

Post-Migration Steps

Now that everything is tracking, here are some final steps we would recommend:

  • Debug everything, ensure the data you expect is going to the right places
  • Review all your Google Analytics settings for your new GA property
  • Enable any KPI events as goals
    • Go to Events>All Events and mark as conversion
  • Compare the data in GA4 to the data in Universal Analytics to understand the data differences
  • Make a note of any integrations that will need updating in the future (dashboarding, databases, marketing platforms, plugins, etc)
  • Create data review points – especially since GA4 is new and some of this may have changed in six months’ time!
  • Plan how to integrate GA4 with the wider business (training, reporting, etc.)

 Other Resources

Here are some other useful guides and further reading to help fill in the step-by-step gaps.

 

The importance of migrating to GA4 in the right way

You need someone with specialist GA knowledge to migrate so you don’t lose data – once Google phases out Universal Analytics (the most recent method for processing data), your current data will no longer be collected, and you will need a GA4 property instead.

Because of the difference in data collection, there are a lot of changes to implement and test before you will build a like-for-like replica of your current dataset.

As well as this, the reporting interface is new, so it will take time to familiarise yourself with it. If you do a side-by-side migration this allows you to navigate your way through GA4 with the familiarity of Universal Analytics while you are building knowledge. The sooner you begin, the more back data you will have before migrating entirely to GA4, and the less chance of data loss.

If you’d like some more advice or support on migrating over to GA4 before Google does the switch over, please get in touch for a chat.

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