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UA to GA4 Migration – Why, how and when you should make this move?

by | Jun 8, 2022 | Analytics

Digital marketers who have been around a few years might remember Google releasing a beta version named App+Web property for Google Analytics way back in 2019. This was officially released as Google Analytics 4 in October 2020, and since then, every new account has been automatically switched over to a GA4 property (though you can additionally create a UA property as well for now.)

However, Google’s March 2022 announcement says that it will be sunsetting Universal Analytics from July 2023 for free Analytics properties and October 2023 for Analytics 360 properties. Previously processed data will be available for a few more months for late bloomers to get things in order before Google completely shuts Universal Analytics down.

That means everyone needs to start planning for the move over to GA4 from now to be avoid any confusion and loss of data a rushed or incomplete transitioning can bring in this case.

The reason why I’d urge you to start taking this seriously from now is primarily because this transition is not going to be like we did for Classic Analytics to Universal Analytics – even if you did not make any changes, Google updated the backend for you then.

In GA4, the new data measurement model has introduced structural changes that will need you to start re-think your entire analytics strategy. The way you have got your different views set up, how you have defined events and goals, how your custom reports are built – all of this will need to be re-worked when you move to GA4.

This has expectedly raised an uproar in the digital landscape given the massive workload that is coming our way to ensure this transition goes smoothly. There have been a ton of questions folks have been asking, ranging from the ‘why’ behind this move from Google, to how the migration is actually supposed to be done at our end.

In this blog post, I have rounded up the most important of these questions, and have tried to provide a comprehensive answer for each of them. This is going to be a long article (there’s just so much to talk about!), so I would suggest grabbing a coffee before sitting down to read through the next sections.

    1. Why is Google moving from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4?
    2. What is the difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4? What are the benefits of GA4?
    3. Bonus: How is data reporting going to change in Google Analytics 4?
    4. What are the issues one might currently face with Google Analytics 4?
    5. How to know whether I’m using a UA property or GA4 property?
    6. How to start migrating my website to Google Analytics 4?
    7. How will my existing GTM configuration get affected by this?
    8. What else should I keep in mind while planning this transition to GA4?

As I said, there is a lot of ground we are going to cover in this post. I have tried to add in as many details (and relevant links) as I believe are required to have a basic understanding of what is going on with GA4 and how to plan for it. Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!


Why is Google moving from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4?

Universal Analytics was launched back in 2012, when tracking user activity was required to be done mainly on websites. There were a couple of updates to integrate Google Tag Manager and Google site tags in the years since, but no major overhaul was made to integrate experiences across websites and applications.

Fast-forward to 2018 where mobile phones have ensured an unprecedented growth in application-based usage. Universal Analytics is not equipped to correctly track and measure user actions this way when a user can easily jump between a website, Google search, retail and aggregator apps. We also saw increased awareness about user privacy and ensuring compliance with the new policies. To follow suit, Google tried revamping the entire way experiences were being measured with UA, unifying measurement metrics across platforms through a structurally new model – which is now know as Google Analytics 4.


What is the difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4? What are the benefits of GA4?

The differences listed below are what I understand to be the primary ones that one should be aware of before you move to GA4. Some of absolutely essential as your new strategy will depend on how well you appreciate these differences, and some are good to know as these might not directly impact you at this moment but are still huge enough to be mentioned here.

I’d personally term most of these as direct benefits of upgrading to Google Analytics 4, however as it is highly controversial issue amongst marketers right now, I figured terming them as differences would probably be more helpful at this stage.

1. Different Measuring Models

The biggest difference hands-down. Universal Analytics has a model based on measuring sessions and hits. It structures user activity around multiple hit types and groups it using sessions (which are time-based).

In contrast, Google Analytics 4 simply does not have either of these concepts. It works using an event-based model with supporting parameters, and maps all user interaction to these. 

To understand this in a bit more detail, let’s see what is meant by sessions and hits v/s events.

Hit types is basically how data is sent to Google Analytics when a user interacts with your website. These can be page hits, event hits, ecommerce hits or social interaction hits. A session is used to group these hits over a particular time period.

Events in GA4, on the other hand, are used to capture any user interaction that happens. These are not grouped under sessions, but are standalone variables with multiple supporting parameters. This would entail that all UA hit types can be effectively translated to GA4 events. Here is a quick look into how this will actually work out in real-life scenario:

ua to ga4 - events

It should be noted that the format for events itself has changed from UA to GA4:

  • UA events were defined using Category, Action, Label and Value. Label and value are optional.
  • GA4 events are defined using Event Name, Parameter 1, Parameter 2, Parameter 3… Parameter 25. All parameters are optional.

Thankfully, this does not affect GTM triggers and variables – these can be used as is with the new GA4 tags.

Similarly, on the reporting side, scope from Universal Analytics defines which hits will be associated with a custom dimension or metric. Under GA4, parameters take up this role and are used to add relevant information to events. These are currently limited to a max of 25 parameters per event, and can be mapped as below:

ua to ga4 - custom dimensions and metrics

Event Categories in GA4

i. Automatically collected events: as the name suggests, these are automatically collected by Google, and include events such as page view, first visit and session start.

ii. Enhanced measurement events: these are also automatically collected, however, these can be enabled/ disabled with GA4’s setup assistant as and when required. These include events such as scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement and downloads.

iii. Recommended events: If your requirements are not covered in the above event categories, you should check if what you need is included in these Google-recommended events (for eg, signup, share, login, purchase, etc). This will ensure the events you create are fully compatible with all future GA4 releases.

iv. Custom events: Be extra careful if you decide to create your own events and make sure you are following Google’s developer documentation so that there are no compatibility issues later on. Please note that this is entirely different from custom triggering of an existing event.

2. Engagement Metrics

This is another major change you will notice when moving from UA to GA4 – there is no bounce rate metric in GA4 anymore. GA4 has introduced new metrics that focus on engagement compared to UA’s bounce rate, avg. session duration and pages per session metrics. An engagement is considered when a user actively spends 10 or more seconds on your website or app in the foreground. This is starkly different from how UA works as session activities were recorded regardless of whether your website/ app was in the foreground or background.

Out of all the GA4 engagement metrics, perhaps the most valuable one is going to be engagement rate. This tells you how often a user is actively interacting with your website/ app, as compared to just knowing how many users are bouncing off. When combined with the entrance source, it can provide insights to how much are the user journeys being meaningful (for eg, a campaign might result in a lot of engaged sessions and high engagement rate).

3. Integration of Consumer Behaviour with Analytics Data

There has been a brand new section named Life Cycle introduced in GA4, which is further divided into customer behaviour-driven segments. These are Acquisition, Engagement, Monetisation and Retention that directly translate to the popularly used RACE framework.

ga4 lifecycle section

This is a significant diversion from how analytics data was converted into insights in Universal Analytics. We had to work with multiple custom segments reports to work the data into relevant RACE stages to be able to match it up to our customer funnels. GA4 comes preloaded with these segments (not to mention the inherent capability to create new segments based on events), and while I’m yet to fully explore how accurately it is able to differentiate and bucket data under these, I still think it’s such a huge step-up!

4. Intelligent Cross-Platform Tracking

Google has switched to tracking users by their User IDs in GA4, replacing the UA way of tracking them through devices and platforms. The need for cookies for tracking will disappear along with this move, and so will the compliance concerns with privacy laws across the . It will also ensure that the data is fully trackable and measurable without any loss due to device/ platform transition.

Website and application data will be tracked and recorded separately for simplified understanding of user journeys. This will definitely impact attribution models as well – GA4 defaults to the data-driven attribution model when you first create a property, and has even begun automatically transitioning existing accounts (that qualify) over to this model.

5. Advanced Analysis & Forecasting Capabilities

Definitely my favourite GA4 upgrade! The analysis tools have been given a complete make-over, building in tons of user-defined customisations and configuration choices. For those who enjoy filtering data, finding patterns and working out predictive user behaviour strategies through the Acquisition and Behaviour sections in Universal Analytics – you are going to really love the new interface. Admittedly, it is taking me some time to get used to it as often the same terms actually mean different things in GA4 (because we have moved from hits to events, so the meaning of a particular dataset/ dimension changes on a conceptual level). However, I firmly believe it will end up being extremely insightful (and a lot of fun) once I get fully comfortable with pulling up reports in GA4.



Bonus: How is data reporting going to change in Google Analytics 4?

If we were to compare the standard set of reports with UA, GA4 does have some direct similarities that users will find very relatable to start with under GA4’s Explorations section:

ga4 reporting

i. Funnel Exploration: See user journeys broken into multi-step funnels through custom segmentation. It is way more comprehensive than the funnel visualisation under Goals in UA as it lets you segment and analyse data based on events, and not just user interactions toward website goals.

ii. Path Exploration: This is generated in tree-graphs format, and lets you discover user journeys through your website or app by tracking user interactions that result in defined triggers. It is similar to Behaviour Flow under UA.

iii. Segment Overlap: This can be employed to understand how different user segments are overlapping based on factors such as demographics, pages/ sections, devices, actions, and so on. It is also available in UA, so should be quite simple to use.

iv. User Explorer: Again, this is available in UA as well and follows the same working principle of understanding user behaviour based on drilling down their activities. As would be obvious by now, it will be much easier to grasp this in GA4 considering we will be working with events instead of sessions/ hits.

v. Cohort Exploration: Being able to form user cohorts and analyse their behaviour over time is nothing new for UA users. It helps in identifying logical weak links by tracing behaviour of majority users toward a particular goal. The same is available under GA4 with the usual differences now.

vi. User Lifetime: This lets you analyse the entire life cycles of users on your platforms, and is similar to the Lifetime Value reports in UA. It can inherently provide valuable insights toward user engagement and retention.

vii. Free-form: If what you are looking for does not fall under any of these above options, or if you wish to play around with the Exploration tool for a better grasp, this is probably going to be where you land at. Free-form reports open up all the filters available and lets you customise to your heart’s fill.

GA4 has also introduced new Predictive Metrics that brings Google machine-learning into the picture. It lets you forecast user behaviour through metrics such as purchase probability, churn probability and predicted revenue. There is also an option to have Google send out alerts when it learns of significant data trends in your account. Please note that you will need to have benchmark settings turned on for higher accuracy through aggregated and anonymous data usage. More on predictive metrics can be found here.


6. No More Limit on Monthly Hits

GA4 has removed the limit on monthly hits that can be collected – it used to be 10M hits per month in UA – effectively clearing the way for us to be able to use unsampled data without any restrictions. While this will not have a big effect on small or mid-sized players, it is definitely a winning point for the bigger sharks, especially those in ecommerce.

7. BigQuery Connection Open For All

The above difference has led to the next natural thought – connection to BigQuery has now been made available to free users. As BigQuery can work with large and complex data sets (without UA’s sampling constraints on custom segments), this is a very helpful addition to make Google Analytics holistically valuable to the open market. This was previously available only for 360 users.


What are the issues one might currently face with Google Analytics 4?

I’m sure people reading this would have realised by now that my views toward GA4 are highly favourable. However, as is the case with any ground-breaking upgrade, GA4 has its own bag of issues – some of which are more on the lines of us needing to get acclimatised to operational variations, while others are genuine lack of features and will hopefully be fixed by Google sooner than later. Let’s go through the major ones:

1. No Views & Filters

This is the biggest (and most unpopular) issue with GA4 right now – there is no option to set up different views (and as filters are set inside views in UA, these cannot be set in GA4 either).

In UA, it was a primary recommendation to create three views, a master view, a test view and a raw/ unfiltered view. You could also set accesses specific to views, along with enabling various available filters, including RegEx. None of this is available in GA4, and has been replaced by data streams instead.

A data stream is defined as: “A flow of data from your website or app to Analytics. There are 3 types of data stream: Web (for websites), iOS (for iOS apps), and Android (for Android apps).” It is definitely not the same as a UA View. It also does not allow creation of filters, restricting data filtering to internal and developer traffic.

At the onset, and especially for small and mid-size players, I think the immediate issue would be the inability to assign specific views to different users. In GA4, you can set user permissions at Account or Property level only (compared to UA wherein you could set permissions at Account/ Property/ View level). For the larger players, the lack of filters will have more significance, however Google has provided certain workarounds there. You can read more about how Google suggests to tackle this issue here, though I sincerely hope we will see an update on views or filters functionality soon.

2. New Interface & Customisations

The GA4 interface is drastically different than the UA one that everyone is so used to. In addition to the conceptual-level change in measurement model (or perhaps, because of that), the changing interface will introduce a sharp learning curve for marketers in the next few months.

In my opinion, the menu seems to have been simplified way too much – probably to make it easier for first-time or not-so-frequent users. A sub-menu opens up for each menu item, however, there’s no way to have them all showing up at the same time (like we could do in UA).

Creating dashboards has gone a revamp too in GA4. Now you can create customized overview and detailed reports that can be further grouped under topics and collections. Once published, these collections will show up under Reports in the menu and can be then treated as equivalent to Dashboards.

Another immediate concern, especially for agencies, would be the lack of custom alerts in GA4. This is a commonly used feature as it lets us monitor sudden spikes due to probably tracking faults or website/ app issues without having to manually check in every day. GA4 does have a new custom Insights feature which you can use to create such alerts and have it send out reports, but honestly, I do not think that is the intended use of this new feature.

3. Limited IP & No Hostname Filtering

To be fair, GA4 not having a hostname filter is not really much of a concern given the way data streams are set up. Limited IP filtering might be somewhat of an issue, especially as RegEx has been removed, but it is not a dealbreaker either.

4. Missing Recurring-Report Sending

We all have set up automated monthly reports for our clients or businesses, and this is sure to introduce a lot of work on a regular basis because reports will now need to be manually downloaded and shared. However, it is probably just a temporary issue and Google might have an update for us on this in their later releases.


How to know whether I’m using a UA property or GA4 property?

Google has made it really simple by changing the format for Tracking ID itself. For UA, the tracking ID is in the form of ‘UA-XXXXXXX-X’ (where X are numbers), and you can find it by going to Admin » Property (column) » Property Settings » Tracking ID.

For GA4, the tracking ID has changed to ‘G-XXXXXXXXXX’ (where X can be letters or numbers), and this can be found under Admin » Property » Data Streams. Clicking on a data stream will show its Tracking ID among other details.



How to start migrating my website to Google Analytics 4?

I will be honest – if you have a small company website, it is going to be a breezy affair. However, if you have a website or app with multiple events, conversion goals, ecommerce and tracking in place, it is going to be a complex task for sure. Don’t lose heart though, there are ways to ensure the migration is a success and there are no hiccups along the path.

Google has recently announced a migration tool that can help you make the transition from UA to GA4. All you need is to have ‘Editor’ access to be able to use it. It works by creating new events in your GA4 property based on the eligible UA conversion goals you select for migration.

Eligible goals include destination and event goals for now, so if you have got any duration, session, smart goals or any other goals using regular expressions set up, you will have to manually reconfigure them in the new GA4 property.

There is also a limit to creating custom conversion events – you can only create 30 such events per GA4 property.

Migration Steps: UA to GA4

1. Start with creating an Excel sheet with all your events and goals recorded. This may sound tiresome, but it will help ensure everyone on your team is on the page when the migration and testing happens. It will also act as a cross-reference tool when you are trying to figure out a new strategy for tracking certain actions in GA4.

2. In Google Analytics, you should see a notice right at the top for switching to a GA4 property. Click on ‘Let’s go‘.

Google's notice for switching over to GA4

3. It will open up the Setup Assistant for creating a new GA4 property. Click on ‘Get Started‘ and follow the instructions as they come. Make sure to have ‘Enhanced Measurements‘ activated when it asks for permission.

Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant

4. Once a new GA4 property has been setup, go back to the Setup Assistant (Admin » Property » Setup Assistant), and scroll down to the Conversions section. You should see an option to ‘Import existing goals from your connected Universal Analytics property‘. Clicking on it will let you select which goals you’d like to recreate as conversion events in your new GA4 property.

5. Click ‘Import selected conversions‘ to complete the migration. Once it is finished, you should be able to view them under Configure » Conversions.

6. Now if there are any other ineligible events or goals that did not transition through, you will need to manually reconfigure those (follow the below steps if you use Google Tag Manager to track and implement your events).

7. Once all your eligible goals have been migrated and others reconfigured, make sure to audit each conversion event to check whether it is collecting accurate data as per the Excel sheet you prepared at the start of migration.


How will my existing GTM configuration get affected by this?

You have three options for migrating event goals when if you use GTM on your site:

1. Restructure UA events: Have your existing events follow the data collection model for GA4 and set up conversion events accordingly. If you do this, you won’t need the migration tool at all because you have structurally upgraded how these events are being processed.

2. Create a new GA4 Event tag in GTM and then use the migration tool: This will ensure your migrated events are getting tracked through GTM in the correct format. Please note that you should also create a GA4 Configuration tag if that is not already in place.

3. Use the migration tool for now, and restructure events in GTM later: Of course, you can always migrate first and restructure later. This has the potential to create confusion, but if you have put in the work in that Excel sheet with events and goals we talked about earlier, you should manage to sail through. You can later refer to Google’s official documentation to properly configure the same.


What else should I keep in mind while planning this transition to GA4?

First and foremost – start from now. It is going to take a few months easy, and there will be a lot of back and forth that is bound to happen. So while there is a year’s time till UA is shut down, the earlier you start, the easier it would be for you (and your clients).

There are a few things I believe you should take into consideration while planning for this move to assist a smooth and hassle-free experience:

i. Training your team: Given the significant differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, your team is going to have to re-learn the tool to quite an extent. Have them start from now, so that they are comfortable handling it by the time you have GA4 properties rolled out for all your accounts.

ii. Integrate other media platforms: The way we define events and goals has changed with GA4. This will cascade into other media buying platforms as well, and to ensure complete data synchronisation, you will need to have your strategies and conversion events updated on these platforms too.

iii. Tagging standardisation: Tags across your mobile apps and websites will need to be reconfigured as per the new GA4 standards that will work across platforms.

iv. Historic data: You will need to figure out what to do about this based on your requirements. UA properties will carry read-only older data after you move to a new GA4 property, but it will not get imported to GA4. Additionally, it will be completely removed a few months after Universal Analytics is sunset, so you will need have a backup method ready.


At the end of this extensive post, I’d like to re-iterate how excited I am about Google Analytics 4, hoping some of it will rub off on you! It is a huge change from what we are used to for so many years, but I recommend you give it a fair try – after all, we do in fact think of user actions and experiences in terms of events. So it seems more like a natural upgrade to our analysis strategies. I bet a couple months in, you will realise just how powerful it is with its brand new way of analysing and unending customisation possibilities.

I would love to hear your thoughts in comments below! Feel free to drop in a message if you’d like to explore this together for your website or business.


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