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Steps to update Google’s Universal Analytics to GA4

Google Analytics is the primary tool utilized to capture user behavior on your website. Historically we’ve used Universal Analytics (GA3), however, GA3 will soon be replaced by the latest version of Google Analytics (GA4). You’ve probably seen the following message when logging in to analytics.google.com:

Google Analytics GA4 notification Banner

Phase 1: Create a GA4 property and launch it

  Get started migrating to GA4  

It’s critical that we create a new GA4 property and launch it immediately. Historical data from UA (GA3) won’t be retained so we need to start gathering data for GA4 immediately, even if it isn’t fully baked.

To launch the new property, we need to:

  • Create a new GA4 property.
  • Add the new GA4 tracking tag to your site. 

We prefer to fire this tag alongside the UA (GA3) tag through Google Tag Manager. Once the basic tags are in place and firing on your site we’ll monitor over the next few days to be certain data is passing through to GA4 and is similar to the data in your UA (GA3) property.

Phase 2: Make a list of your key items

New analytics properties do not inherit specific tracking items (e.g., goals, events) from any other properties (including UA properties). 

The following is a list of the most common tracking items we use in Google Analytics. You may have additional ones to add, but these are some common ones we’ll need to add to the list:

  • Events
  • Goals (Conversions)
  • Content Groupings
  • Custom Dimensions/Metrics
  • Referral Exclusions
  • Product Link Connections
  • Audiences

With that list in hand we’ll want to review independently as well as part of a collaborative session to identify gaps and/or metrics we’re tracking that we should discard, as well as think through and create new tracking items, such as new events, new goals, etc.

Remember that goals are created in each reporting view. Reporting views are not used with GA4, so if you want to preserve all of the goals you currently have in multiple reporting views for the same UA property, then you’ll need to list all of them and recreate them in the GA4 property. 

When you list out your current goals, be sure to note which ones are “non-event” goals (for example, destination-based goals), as you’ll need to make some changes to how you track those going forward.

Phase 3: Begin migrating individual items to GA4

Once you have your list of items to recreate in GA4, the real setup work begins!

Here are the most common items for set up and some tips for setting each one up:

Events

Events in GA4 are similar to UA setup, but you may need to set the tagging up for GA4 goals.

Goals (Conversions)

In GA4, goals are now renamed “Conversions”, and all goals are event-based.

When migrating your existing UA goals to GA4, we recommend starting with the event-based goals, as those are more similar to the original goal set up in UA.

Once we’ve set up the events in GA4 and marked them as conversions, start with destination-based goals and engagement goals.

Content Groupings

In UA, content groupings were created in the interface itself. However, in GA4 there is no interface setup – all content groups are created through page tagging.

In some ways, this is a nice change, but it requires a lot of time investment at the onset.

A page can have multiple “gtags” on it, and the simplest way to implement these will likely be Google Tag Manager.

Custom Dimensions/Metrics

Like with UA, setting up custom dimensions and metrics is a two-step process – it requires set up in both the interface and the code.

Your existing UA custom dimensions and metrics tags may migrate over fine to GA4, but you will still need to set up the dimensions and metrics in the GA4 property interface.

To set up custom dimensions and metrics in the interface, refer to Google’s setup guide.

Referral Exclusions

Referral exclusions still exist in GA4, but they’ve essentially been renamed and moved a few layers down from the top admin navigation levels.

To add referral exclusions, under your GA4 property admin menu, select Data Streams, then your site data stream (your URL), then select More Tagging Settings under the Additional Settings section.

Finally, click Configure Your Domains and enter your domain and any other domains (such as those from third-party apps that integrate with your website, like certain marketing automation tools).

Product Link Extensions

You’ll need to reconnect your Google products’ links to your new GA4 property. Note that it’s OK to have your Google properties connected to multiple GA properties, so you don’t need to remove your existing UA product links to connect GA4 too.

Product Links now appear at the top level of the property admin navigation. Select each of the Google products you use, like Google Ads, and connect your new GA4 property(ies).

Audiences

Google Analytics audiences are helpful for advertising purposes and now also conversion setup in GA4. It’s important to set up your audiences long before the July 1, 2023 deadline so that you can update your Google Ads campaigns with comparable, viable audience lists when the UA properties stop tracking. 

To recreate your audiences in GA4, first focus on the audiences in your list in UA (at the property level) and look for those that have Google Analytics as the audience type. Those will need to be recreated in GA4.

However, the terminology and way you create audiences has changed in GA4, so refer to Google’s audience creation guide for assistance.

Ecommerce

Like almost all things in the UA to GA4 migration, ecommerce tracking also won’t magically move from UA to GA4. Google recommends creating a separate set of tags for GA4 ecommerce tracking, even though it is the same as UA.

Phase 4: Confirmation / Review

Once you’ve launched your tracking items in the new GA4 properties, you’ll need to double-check that they are tracking properly. 

Evaluate your ecommerce, conversions, event tracking and more to ensure they are tracking as expected in the new properties. If not, troubleshoot the issue and fix it as soon as you can.

Cost Estimate: 0-6 hours
This is mostly dependent on what we find/identify during review. This step is vital for the site owner to be involved in as well as sign-off on the data being sent to GA4.

Phase 5: Determine a date for migrating to GA4 as your single source of truth

When will your GA4 property(ies) become the “single source of truth” for data and reporting? 

As a best practice you’ll want to have at least 3-6 months worth of data to review and compare to previous years of UA data to be certain you are accurately collecting all of the information necessary before switching off UA.

Phase 6: Archive your UA data

To add insult to injury, Google decided that in addition to forcing us all to migrate to GA4 now that they will also delete all of our historical UA data beginning on January 1, 2024

While you do have a bit more time to archive this data, you should plan on archiving in case you need to reference it in the future. 

First, determine what data you regularly need. This part of the upgrade is not only time-sensitive but time-intensive so you’ll want to be selective about what data you need to archive and what can be safely left behind.

Timeline: If you are using the free version of UA, you will need to do this between July 1-December 31, 2022. Your data will be deleted on January 1, 2023.

Mac McCabe

Mac is the lead Project Manager for Montana Banana.

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