With as much forewarning as possible from Google, marketing agencies and analytics teams have had ample time to figure out how they plan to shift reporting metrics from Universal Analytics (UA) to the new GA4 when the old platform stops recording data and the new platform goes live in July. But just like we experience procrastination in our personal lives, pivoting to GA4 will be something many marketers will probably put off till the last possible minute. And that’s ok.
In the spirit of helping analytics teams prepare and plan for the eventual sunsetting of Google’s Universal Analytics, this article will drill into the differences in the data sets and deliver advice on due diligence so agencies can keep disaster at bay and ensure minimal disruptions in their reporting efforts.
Main Differences in GA4 Data vs. UA Data
There are several great resources directly from Google on how to set up GA4 to track campaigns and website traffic, and how older performance metrics from UA are now translated (or transformed) into the new platform. There will be many moments in the initial GA4 setup process and early days of using the new platform in which marketers will have to adjust how they gauge performance. And, for a while, teams will have track activity on both UA and GA4, and sift through the differences to gain a holistic picture. Some of the main differences are:
In both UA and GA4, certain actions online are classified as ‘hit types,’ but in the new platform these actions will be classified as Events. Page views, actions on social, user timing, and views within apps or screens as tracked in UA, will all now fall under the Event hit type in GA4. Reportable events within GA4 have no notion of Category, Action, and Label, unlike UA.
Pageviews and screenviews
If you have your Google Tag Manager properly configured for GA4, events like page or screen views should translate from UA with no issue. Page titles, locations, and paths should all appear unchanged in the new platform.
User interactions on your website that take place within a given timeframe are defined as sessions. In UA, a session may comprise multiple page views, events, social interactions, and transactions. However, in GA4, session metrics are tracked from the session_start event, which is automatically collected. At the campaign level, UA will start a new session regardless of activity, whereas GA4 does not begin a new session in tandem with a new campaign. This can lead to disparate session measurements between UA and GA4 properties. For more details on sessions, check this article out.
Custom dimensions vs. Event parameters
In UA, custom dimensions are used to add information to collected data. In GA4, event parameters serve this purpose. Hit-scoped and user-scoped drilldowns can be accessible in GA4 by mapping custom dimensions to collected data. However there is no equivalent to UA session-scoped datasets in GA4. Check this article out on the collection limits for events in GA4.
Although there are no major changes to User ID metrics from UA to GA4, there may be challenges if you wish to obtain a singular view of users across access points on apps and the web. Make sure that the implementation of User ID on the web is consistent with the implementation of User ID on the apps you're tracking.
One of the things to pay close attention to when shifting reporting metrics from UA to GA4 is proper use of the Google Tag Manager. This is best accomplished during the initial property setup of your GA4 account, and you can use the Google Tag Assistant to ensure a seamless transition between platforms.
Migrating your UA data into GA4
If you're currently using Universal Analytics and want to switch to Google Analytics 4, the process can seem overwhelming at first. However, with some careful planning and preparation, you can make the transition as smooth as possible.
Firstly, it's important to understand that GA4 is a completely new analytics platform. It uses a different measurement model, which means that you can't simply upgrade your existing UA property to GA4. Instead, you'll need to create a new property in GA4 and set up tracking from scratch.
To begin the migration process, you should start by auditing your existing UA setup. This will help you identify which data points you need to migrate to GA4, such as custom dimensions, goals, and ecommerce tracking. You should also consider which events you're currently tracking in UA that you want to continue tracking in GA4.
Next, you'll need to create a new property in GA4. This can be done by following the instructions provided by Google in their setup wizard. Once you've created the new property, you'll need to set up tracking on your website or app. Google provides a range of different tracking options, including the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) and Google Tag Manager.
When setting up tracking, it's important to make sure that you're tracking all the relevant data points that you identified during the audit process. This will help ensure that you're able to continue tracking the metrics that are important to your business.
Once you've set up tracking in GA4, you can start testing the new property. It's a good idea to run both UA and GA4 in parallel for a period of time, to ensure that the data is consistent between the two platforms. This will help you identify any discrepancies and make any necessary adjustments.
Finally, once you're confident that the data is consistent between the two platforms, you can switch off UAs tracking and rely solely on GA4. However, it's important to note that some features may not be available in GA4 yet, so you may need to continue using UA for certain tracking requirements.
Overall, migrating from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 requires careful planning and preparation. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure a smooth transition and continue tracking the metrics that matter most to your business.
Comparing UA and GA4 report data
Your tagging and configuration settings can cause variations between data in UA and GA4. One way to navigate these data model differences is to ensure that:
- Your UA Tracking ID and GA4 tag ID are both collecting data from the same web pages
- Both properties have equivalent tag implementations
- All tags are firing properly
- You compare a single web data stream in GA4 to an unfiltered view in UA
- Time zones are homogenous in both UA and GA4
Reporting in GA4 will be different from UA in a few ways. GA4 has new types of page-level metrics such as scrolling and clicks, whereas UA mainly tracked page views. Additionally, the user interface for GA4 consists of four areas - Reports, Explore, Advertising, and Configure - instead of the “Real-Time” section found in UA. In order to start tracking events in GA4, custom tags will have to be created through Google Tag Manager. Once users become familiar with where to look in GA4 and the definitions used, most data previously tracked through UA will be found in GA4.
Keep in mind, there may be a limbo period as marketers transition away from UA and into solely using GA4, which means you may have to keep track of performance analytics in both platforms for a while.
How NinjaCat is helping clients handle the UA to GA4 shift
Google Analytics 4 has been an available integration in NinjaCat for our users since November 2022. We encourage our users to set up GA4 properties for all of their accounts in NinjaCat as soon as possible. This will allow you to augment your existing UA data with GA4 data, and create a more complete data story in your customer reports and dashboards during the transition period.
If you are interested in setting up GA4 properties in bulk, reach out to your Customer Success Manager to discuss using our new Beta feature: Bulk Management for Data Source Connections.
While UA properties are expected to stop collecting data beginning July 1, historical UA data is expected to continue populating through the Google Analytics API and remain visible to our users through the end of the year. Keep in mind that although the data still may be available to report on, Google advises not to compare certain UA and GA4 fields since tracking methods have changed significantly between the two.
We’re all learning together! We appreciate your patience as we continue building out new bells and whistles for this ever-changing Google product. Coming up this quarter, our users can expect the ability to bring in Custom Parameters from GA4 as well as the ability to send NinjaTrack calls to GA4.
For more information on how NinjaCat is integrating GA4 data into our platform, check out NinjaCat’s Knowledge Base article on the topic for updates on our progress.