Digital Marketing
min read

Navigating Google’s Universal Analytics Sunset and Pivot to GA4

September 1, 2022
April 5, 2023

The marketing world was upturned a few months ago when Google announced it was shelving it’s current iteration of it’s popular analytics platform, and sending Universal Analytics into the sunset. Google Analytics 4, also known as GA4, may sound like an international conference of world leaders now, but soon, when Universal Analytics sunsets in July 2023, GA4 will be a platform every digital marketer will need to be familiar with, by hook or by crook. Here’s what you can do in the coming months to make sure your transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to GA4 is as smooth as possible.

Preparing for the Universal Analytics sunset

There are several blogs, videos, and resources out there that are aimed at preparing marketing teams for the Universal Analytics sunset, but in the end, the real work has to begin internally within the existing version of Google Analytics and your team's approach to marketing data management, in order for the transition to be successful. 

While there are some options for third-party tools to move from UA to GA4, there are some strategic considerations to contemplate before foisting all the heavy lifting to a migration wizard. 

First, consider the complexity of the install. If the sites and goals you’re tracking aren’t extremely complex, the conversion to a GA4 account should be pretty simple. If you are dealing with a gaggle of properties and unique tracking sources, that will increase the complexity of the switch. 

Many marketing teams use Google Tag Manager in tandem with UA for website and app analytics. The new GA4 comes with a scaled down version of Tag Manager baked in.  However, relying on GA4 to completely handle all the tag tracking creation and implementation might leave you in the dark, causing more governance and duplication issues than you may be used to with UA. If you keep your use case and tracking needs at the forefront, and the implementation as simple as possible, your transition from UA to GA4 should be seamless. 

Differences between Universal Analytics and GA4

Some key differences between UA and GA4:

  • In UA, page views were the primary metric. Along with page views, GA4 uses new types of page level measurements based on events, like scrolls and clicks.
  • Tags created in Google Tag Manager for use in Universal Analytics will have to be re-created and customized to work within GA4.
  • The  GA4 interface is significantly different from the UA interface. For example, opening a property in GA4 takes users to an Overview, now called “Report Snapshot” grouped into four macro areas: Reports, Explore, Advertising, and Configure, rather than the “Real-Time'' section found in UA. 
  • Once you understand where to look and the different definitions used in GA4, most of the data originally tracked within Universal Analytics will be available in GA4.

Consider your analytics account structure 

Most marketing teams using UA are familiar with the concept of views, using them to create distinct collections of data, such as line of business or geographical separations. In GA4, this kind of separation can be accomplished, but uses different terminology.  

  • Account - Accounts are a collection of properties where a single legal entity, governed by terms of use specific to that region, owns the reportable data.
  • Property - Properties live within accounts, and represent data for a singular user base. If you’re looking to analyze a product line, brand, or application, this data should be located in a singular property and analyzed together. 
  • Data stream - Data streams reside within a property, representing the source of data from a website or app. GA4 best practices suggest using a maximum of 3 data streams per property. A data stream to measure user journeys, one for web data, and two more for apps and their operating systems (iOS and Android). 

Whether you're in charge of metrics for a single website, a small business, a large enterprise organization, or multiple brands with many different products, understanding the new terminology and proper use-cases for your new properties and accounts in GA4 from the fundamental level can increase the likelihood of navigating the Universal Analytics sunset successfully. 

Setting up your GA4 account

The initial step in migrating to GA4 before UA sunsets in July 2023, is setting up a GA4 account. What follows is a brief overview of this process. 

After you’ve completed the initial set up for GA4 from your current UA account, in the Account column under the Admin section of GA4, click Create Account. Be sure to configure the data-sharing settings and provide a unique account name, to be sure you can control what data you’d like to share with Google. 

Next is setting up a Property, which allows you to customize geographical and time zone considerations for the data tracking taking place within the account. Your new GA4 property should copy the property name, website URL, and currency setting from your Universal Analytics properties. 

One of the benefits of GA4, is that the potential challenges setting up accounts and properties can be ameliorated with their Setup Assistant wizard tool, which can be found here. Rather than list the extensive step-by-step instructions for GA4 account setup on this blog, visit the official Google site for detailed steps for a deeper dive into setting up your account. 

Connecting and creating data streams in GA4

Assuming you’ve had no issues with setting up and adding your new properties in GA4, your next step is to add data streams. Step-by-step directions for adding tags to a website builder or CMS-hosted website can be found here

After creating your new tracking tag using Google Tag Manager, be sure to add the global site tag directly to your web pages to ensure data collection is implemented properly. 

If you’re looking to use Google Analytics on a service or platform that accepts “G-” ID, go to your Property column, click Data Streams, then Web, and your “G-” ID should appear in the upper right corner. 

Through their own Google Ads links migration tool, Google has made it easy to migrate your UA property’s Google Ads links to GA4. However, to use this data within Google Ads, you must be signed into your Google Ads account and take action there to ensure proper connectivity. 

Activate Google Signals

GA4 defines Google Signals as session data from Google users who’ve signed into their Google accounts and have turned on Ads Personalization. Activating Google Signals within GA4 will allow your team to enhance reporting and remarketing efforts on the platform. One of the main benefits of the existing iteration of UA is the ability to include aggregate data from Google users who have Ads Personalization switched on. Implementing Google Signals within GA4 allows the following features: 

  • Remarketing
  • Advertising Reporting 
  • Demographics and Interests reports
  • Cross-Device reports

Along with these features and depending on your needs, your GA4 account might be eligible to cache Store Visits in Analytics. 

Another key feature of the new version of UA when Google Signals are active, is the ability to use roll-up reporting within GA4. Google Signals need to be switched on for both the Source and Roll-Up Property within the Admin section. 

More details on roll-up reporting can be found on Google’s official Analytics Help page.  

The GA4 future of the Universal Analytics sunset is bright

In 2012, the adoption rate for Universal Analytics was 55%, being used on the top 10,000 most popular websites. As of April 2022, UA was in use by 74% of the most popular websites, as reported by BuiltWith. But it hasn’t all been silver linings. 

Along with the increased adoption rates of sites relying on Google Analytics, there were increased frustrations by marketing teams with the platform, claiming the aggregated data was hard to use, and even more difficult to report on. 

With GA4, many marketing and advertising teams believe the new iteration of Google Analytics is a step in the right direction. While the platform goes through the early stages of adoption, there has been backlash and issues. However, the steps Google has made to empower marketers to gather, engage with, and report on the metrics that matter on GA4 are promising. 

Regardless of the hot takes and advice on the newest iteration of Google Analytics, the reality is that GA4 is here to stay. Hopefully this article will help you make the necessary changes in time to meet the 2023 deadline without dropping a beat, and cruise into the Universal Analytics sunset in style. 

For more information on how NinjaCat plans to integrate GA4 data into our platform, check out NinjaCat’s Knowledge Base article on the topic for updates on our progress.

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