An overhaul to Google Analytics 2, Universal Analytics first kicked off its operations in the fall of 2012. It offered tracking code for websites to monitor and measure viewer interaction and behavior. The collected data serves as an insight into the changes and existing features that users collectively find useful on your website.
However, after a long and extensive run of over 10 years, Universal Analytics will be sacked on October 1, 2023. As Google Analytics 4 took off on October 14, 2020, it was only a matter of time before we would bid farewell to Universal Analytics.
What this means for Universal Analytics users is that they need to switch to GA4 before October of 2023. There is a catch though; you cannot import historical UA data to GA4. Hence the sooner you migrate to GA4 the better. Since Google allows you to work on both your properties simultaneously until the deadline, the transition could be a lot less intricate than expected.
Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics has come a long way since Google first acquired it under the name of Urchin Analytics. Remember UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters? That’s where it comes from.
Universal Analytics has long been tracking pageviews and other traffic metrics leveraging a session-based model. GA4 builds on the insights of its precursor and switches to an event-based approach.
The overhaul that GA4 promises revolves around “Codeless Tracking.” Albeit better than the manual tracking modules, it necessitates Google Tag Manager making the setup a lot more complex.
Regardless, while not all updates can or should be viewed as an overhaul, it suffices to say that the codeless and automatic tracking does wonders at saving time and resources. Let’s first discuss how exactly -
Differences between GA4 and UA
Google Analytics overhauls a lot of key issues that users might have had with the former. Let’s first discuss how -
Universal Analytics offers 2 metrics for Users including ‘Total Users’ and ‘New Users,’ while GA4 brings in an additional metric called ‘Active Users.’ This new metric shows the number of active users within a period of 28 days. Another key characteristic of GA4 is that it focuses on active users instead of total users.
There aren’t many dissimilarities when it comes to Pageviews, only depending on the filters that you might use in the properties. However, Universal Analytics exhibits an additional metric called Unique Pageviews, a self-explanatory statistic.
While UA stores screen views in separate mobile-specific properties, GA4 integrates the web and app data into a single property. However, GA4 only allows you to filter out traffic from unwanted referrals and internal IP. UA, on the other hand, offers some additional filters that the former does not support (yet).
For instance, you might have geography or traffic source based filters set up in your Universal Analytics property. This could further widen their deviation.
Even the Sessions parameter doesn’t deter much between the two analytics tools. One slight difference is that UA starts a new session at midnight or when the visitor picks up a new campaign parameter. This isn’t the case with Google Analytics 4.
For any change in date or campaign parameter, GA4 retains the same session, without registering a new one.
GA4 further has a low error margin in calculating session count. By approximating the number of unique session IDs, GA4 more accurately determines the number of sessions that your website landed.
Both GA4 and UA define Conversion as an instance when the user has performed a particular action designated as a goal/conversion event. However, UA only accounts for conversion once every session.
Say, for instance, you define a product purchase as a ‘conversion.’ Now if a user makes two purchases within the same session, UA will register one conversion, while GA4 will count them as two separate conversions.
Furthermore, UA supports 5 goal types listed as conversions - destination, duration, session, smart goals, and event goals. GA4, on the contrary, doesn’t support smart or duration goals, making it hard to replicate.
BOUNCE VS ENGAGEMENT RATE
Bounce rate is a metric used by UA. It refers to the fraction of sessions in which there has been no interaction with the web page. Even if a user stays on your website for several minutes, but doesn’t click on any links, the session counts as a bounce.
On the contrary, Engagement rate is a GA4 metric and records every session that lasts longer than 10 seconds. The user need not click on any links or even trigger a conversion to record the session as an engagement.
Engagement rate is a more relevant metric judging by the norms today, when a user can indeed exit your website without much interaction. Say you have an educational blog or a website. It is unlikely that a visitor interacts with any ads or CTAs. A more probable course would be to extract the information they need and exit the page.
Event count in UA and GA4 accounts for different data models.
In UA, the Total Events metric has a Category, Action, and Label. An event can be registered with a Category of ‘CTA’, an Action of ‘Purchase’, and a Label of the ‘Product link.’ An event is also its own hit type.
GA4, however, supports a different scheme of Events. The Event Count registers all actions as events. Different events need not have different names. Those with the same names can be uniquely identified by their parameter values.
Think of subscribing to a newsletter as an Event. In UA, it would have a Category of ‘CTA’, an action of ‘Subscription’, and a label to a URL. However, in GA4, it will have a name along with different parameters. If the event is referred to as ‘Subscriptoin’, other similar events can have the same name throughout the site.
How to Migrate from UA to GA4: Step by Step Guide
A full migration from Universal Analytics to GA4 isn’t just steps and instructions, it needs more than that.
Depending on your enterprise, there are various default settings you might want to switch when migrating. Here are a few key points that you want to keep in mind while making the shift -
- Assess the metrics that you have been using in your UA property. Look for the ones that have been the most critical in predicting the trend. Note down the measurements that you would like to keep using.
- GA4 allows you to assimilate data from multiple web applications in a single property. Carefully strategize the statistics that you would want in a single property.
- When setting up data collection, enable enhanced measurement events including on-site search results and file downloads. Make sure you create a tag management plan to leverage the Custom Event tracking by Google Tag Manager.
- Although we have thoroughly discussed exporting data from UA property, leverage Google’s BigQuery data warehouse to get insights that might be elusive for Google Analytics. GA4 comes with a free integration with BigQuery, though you will need to pay for the data that you use.
- Aside from the insights and storage facility that BigQuery has to offer, usher your data to a Business Intelligence tool of your choices such as Tableau or Data Studio.
An upgrade from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 isn’t all that complicated, but only if done right. The tricky part is that it creates a second property that works simultaneously, alongside your Universal Analytics property. This is, however, only until the former is sacked.
Step 0: Before any other step, you first need to check whether or not you have already upgraded to GA4. The best way you can know that is by checking the number of columns; GA4 exhibits 2 columns, ‘Account’ and ‘Properties’.
UA has an additional column dedicated to ‘Views.’ So, if your Google Analytics property displays 2 columns, you haven’t much to do anyway. If you don’t, here’s how you can migrate.
Step 1: Click on the Google Analytics 4 setup assistant on the top row of the Properties column. You will see two options, “Create a new GA4 property” and “Connect to an existing one.” Choose the former.
The new property won’t inherit the historical data from UA, nor the customizations in the previous property. The migration will, however, trigger enhanced measurements, including users scrolling, clicking outbound links, downloading files, and watching embedded youtube videos among other actions.
Step 2: If you’ve been using Google Tag Manager, you’ll be prompted to install a new tag to start using the Google Analytics 4 property. In that case, you will need to install the tag.
However, if you’ve been using the gtag.js version of the tracking code on your website instead, you will automatically be able to send data to your GA4 property without making any changes.
Step 3: Click on ‘Create New Property.’ You should now be able to view your new GA4 property. The property will prompt you to install the tag on your website. For this, select Tag Installation. The GA4 setup assistant automatically creates a data stream, very similar to the tracking code on Universal Analytics.
Step 4: On selecting the data stream, the Measurement ID will be pivotal to the migration. Located on the top right corner, copy the Measurement ID. It bears semblance to the tracking ID from Universal Analytics. Now going to the Google Tag Manager, you might find the Universal Analytics tag added to your website.
Step 5: You will need to create a new, updated tag and name it GA4. In the tag configuration, choose GA4 from the Google Marketing platform as the tag type. Paste the measurement ID into the tag.
Step 6: For triggering options, choose the All Pages trigger so that the tag is added to all the web pages on your website. Save the settings and the tag.
You can go to the preview option in case you want to preview your Container. You will find both the GA4 and Universal Analytics tags in the container. In the start tag assistant, enter your website’s URL to preview your website. The debug console will be loaded.
In the tag assistant tab, you will see that both the Google Tag Manager and the Universal Analytics tags are running simultaneously. The Google Tag Manager from GA4 will offer you a comprehensive view of all the actions alongside the loaded container.
Step 7: Head back to the Google Tag Manager and publish the changes to your website. The GA4 tag is now live on your website and you can head back to your Google Analytics property. If you wish to check if the data is flowing to your GA4 property, visit the Debug View in the lower-left corner of the GA4 property.
The Debug View will take you to a special report that you can view when you are using the tag assistant. It lets you see all of your events as you test Google Analytics. If you can view all the events that you caused when visiting your page, it is safe to assume that GA4 and GTM are working correctly.
Step 8: Head back to the setup assistant in the Admin Area. Since GA4 migration doesn’t necessarily change default settings that you might have configured on UA, there are a number of items that you can still configure for your GA4 property. This includes sending events to your reports for more detailed insights or linking your Google Ads account to set up conversions.
Exporting data from Universal Analytics
Simply put, you CAN export data from your Universal Analytics property. Au contraire, you cannot import historical data into GA4. Though there aren’t any direct benefits, migrating to GA4 ‘NOW’ will mean that you will have enough historical data to make data-driven decisions when Universal Analytics finally halts its operations.
Follow through the given steps to export data -
Step 1: Head to Google Analytics, log into your account and click on ‘Behavior’ in the Reports section. Within the Behavior section, go to the ‘Site Content’ and select ‘All Pages.’
You will have the option to export the report that you’re currently viewing as a PDF, Excel/CSV file, or Google Sheet. These options suffice for a static report, meaning, you will be able to see the overall report of the date range selected without having to modify the date and time ranges to compare the changes over time.
Step 2: The top right corner has the date range for you to adjust. You can select the number of rows you want to include in your export with the drop-down option in the lower right corner of the report. Exporting the data to Google Sheets can help you analyze and compare metrics from your report. You can focus on specific rows, filter them by conditions, and so on.
OR you could use Google Analytics Add-on to create a report. Connecting Google Sheets to Google Data Studios can help you make it dynamic and engaging. To go about this, create a new Google Sheet. Go to Extensions > Add-ons > Get Add-ons. Search for Google Analytics, and install it. For creating the report, again go to extensions and select GA. Then click on ‘Create New Report’ and name it.
Step 3: Select the Account Property and Reporting View for Google Analytics, and then add the metrics you want to include. You can choose from among the myriad of metrics including Page Views, Entrances, Average Page Time, and Exits among others.
Step 4: Now choose the dimensions- Page and Date. Click on ‘Create Report’, this will create a new tab in the spreadsheet containing the configurations that you made. Now you need to decide on the date range and the number of rows that you want to pull in the report.
Step 5: To decide how much data you can pull in using a single import, head to Google Analytics.
Step 6: Open your Universal Analytics reports. Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Select the secondary dimension of the table as ‘Date’. This will now update the report and show the pages viewed alongside the date.
Step 7: Check the number of rows in your report in the lower right corner of the page. Adjust your date range to manage the number of rows. You might need to export your data for separate date ranges, and then combine them in Google Data Studio.
Step 8: Head back to Google sheets and set a limit for the number of rows. Configure the start and end date. 10,000 is usually a good number in this case. Now go to Extensions > Google Analytics > Run Report. This will dump the data in Google Sheets. A new tab will be created containing all of the metrics on our pages.
Step 9: Head to Google Data Studio and create a new report. Select Google Sheets and then the sheet that you just created. You can remove the extra information that the Google Analytics add-on by entering a range. Then click Add, and then Add to Report.
A table will be added by default. You can adjust and add metrics such as Page Views and Unique Views among others. Google Data Studio also allows you to edit data sources in case you want to change the view of any of the metrics. You can also add custom fields using different operations on the existing fields.
Google Data Studio further permits you to leverage its interactive tools for revamping your report with charts, controls, and other visual features. You can even adjust the reports to include comparisons and additional filtering options among others.
Where it falls short
Remember when we said GA4 and GTM make things a lot more complex? It is up to you to decide the events you want to track ‘IN ADVANCE.’ There is no retroactive data extraction. So you can track data from only the moment you decide to, and not before.
Neither does GA4 offer metrics that you haven’t been tracking until now. Though it provides a list of metrics that it automatically tracks as well as one for ‘Enhanced Measurements,’ the latter needs to be configured manually. This inhibits flexible targeting.
Your website might have more than one way to add an item to the cart. All of these micro-events correspond to a conversion. With GA4, you cannot combine them to make for a more expressive metric.
Migrate from Universal Analytics to GA4
With everything, Google Analytics 4 considerably builds on Universal Analytics on almost every front. Since there isn’t much time until Universal Analytics is scraped, it is advisable to make the switch ASAP. The sooner you migrate, the more data you have to analyze after October 2023.