Migrate to GA4 Like a Pro with Our 12-Step Guide
More than two years after Google announced the launch of its powerful new website analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the final countdown to make the switch is on.
GA4 will officially replace Google’s previous analytics platform, Universal Analytics (UA), on July 1, 2023. It’s the first major analytics update from Google since 2012 — and it’s a big deal. As we discussed in a blog post last year, GA4 uses big data and machine learning to provide a next-generation approach to measurement, including:
- Unifying data across multiple websites and apps
- A new focus on events vs. sessions
- Cookieless user tracking
- More personalized and predictive analytics
At Oomph, we’ve learned a thing or two about making the transition seamless while handling GA4 migrations for our clients – including a few platform “gotchas” that are definitely better to know in advance. Before you start your migration, do yourself a favor and explore our GA4 setup guide.
Your 12-Step GA4 Migration Checklist
Step 1: Create a GA4 Analytics Property and Implement Tagging
The Gist: Launch the GA4 setup assistant to create a new GA4 property for your site or app. For sites that already have UA installed, Google is beginning to create GA4 properties automatically for them beginning in March 2023 (unless you opt out). If you’re migrating from UA, you can connect your UA property to your GA4 property to use the existing Google tracking tag on your site. For new sites, you’ll need to add the tag directly to your site or via Google Tag Manager.
The Gotcha: During property setup, Google will ask you which data streams you’d like to add (websites, apps, etc…). This is simple if you’re just tracking one site, but gets more complex for organizations with multiple properties, like educational institutions or retailers with individual locations. While UA allowed you to separate data streams by geography or line of business, GA4 handles this differently. This Google guide can help you choose the ideal configuration for your business model.
Step 2: Update Your Data Retention Settings
The Gist: GA4 lets you control how long you retain data on users and events before it’s automatically deleted from Google’s servers. For user-level data, including conversions, you can hang on to data for up to 14 months. For other event data, you have the option to retain the information for 2 months or 14 months.
The Gotcha: The data retention limits are much shorter than UA, which allowed you to keep Google-signals data for up to 26 months in some cases. The default retention setting in GA4 is 2 months for some types of data – a surprisingly short window, in our opinion – so be sure to extend it to avoid data loss.
Step 3: Initialize BigQuery
The Gist: Have a lot of data to analyze? GA4 integrates with BigQuery, Google’s cloud-based data warehouse, so you can store historical data and run analyses on massive datasets. Google walks you through the steps here.
The Gotcha: Since GA4 has tight time limits on data retention as well as data limits on reporting , skipping this step could compromise your reporting. BigQuery is a helpful workaround for storing, analyzing and visualizing large amounts of complex data.
Step 4: Configure Enhanced Measurements
The Gist: GA4 measures much more than pageviews – you can now track actions like outbound link clicks, scrolls, and engagements with YouTube videos automatically through the platform. When you set up GA4, simply check the box for any metrics you want GA4 to monitor. You can still use Google tags to customize tracking for other types of events or use Google’s Measurement Protocol for advanced tracking.
The Gotcha: If you were previously measuring events through Google tags that GA4 will now measure automatically, take the time to review which ones to keep to avoid duplicating efforts. It may be simpler to use GA4 tracking – giving you a good reason to do that Google Tag Manager cleanup you’ve been meaning to get to.
Step 5: Configure Internal and Developer Traffic Settings
The Gist: To avoid having employees or IT teams cloud your insights, set up filters for internal and developer traffic. You can create up to 10 filters per property.
The Gotcha: Setting up filters for these users is only the first step – you’ll also need to toggle the filter to “Active” for it to take effect (a step that didn’t exist in UA). Make sure to turn yours on for accurate reporting.
Step 6: Migrate Users
The Gist: If you were previously using UA, you’ll need to migrate your users and their permission settings to GA4. Google has a step-by-step guide for migrating users.
The Gotcha: Migrating users is a little more complex than just clicking a button. You’ll need to install the GA4 Migrator from Google Analytics add-on, then decide how to migrate each user from UA. You also have the option to add users manually.
Step 7: Migrate Custom Events
The Gist: Event tracking has fundamentally changed in GA4. While UA offered three default parameters for events (eventcategory, action, and eventlabel), GA4 lets you create any custom conventions you’d like. With more options at your fingertips, it’s a great opportunity to think through your overall measurement approach and which data is truly useful for your business intelligence.
When mapping UA events to GA4, look first to see if GA4 is collecting the data as an enhanced measurement, automatically collected, or recommended event. If not, you can create your own custom event using custom definitions. Google has the details for mapping events.
The Gotcha: Don’t go overboard creating custom definitions – GA4 limits you to 50 per property.
Step 8: Migrate Custom Filters to Insights
The Gist: Custom filters in UA have become Insights in GA4. The platform offers two types of insights: automated insights based on unusual changes or emerging trends, and custom insights based on conditions that matter to you. As you implement GA4, you can set up custom insights for Google to display on your Insights dashboard. Google will also email alerts upon request.
The Gotcha: Similar to custom events, GA4 limits you to 50 custom insights per property.
Step 9: Migrate Your Segments
The Gist: Segments work differently in GA4 than they do in UA. In GA4, you’ll only find segments in Explorations. The good news is you can now set up segments for events, allowing you to segment data based on user behavior as well as more traditional segments like user geography or demographics.
The Gotcha: Each Exploration has a limit of 10 segments. If you’re using a lot of segments currently in UA, you’ll likely need to create individual reports to see data for each segment. While you can also create comparisons in reports for data subsets, those are even more limited at just four comparisons per report.
Step 10: Migrate Your Audiences
The Gist: Just like UA, GA4 allows you to set up audiences to explore trends among specific user groups. To migrate your audiences from one platform to another, you’ll need to manually create each audience in GA4.
The Gotcha: You can create a maximum of 100 audiences for each GA4 property (starting to sense a theme here?). Also, keep in mind that GA4 audiences don’t apply retroactively. While Google will provide information on users in the last 30 days who meet your audience criteria — for example, visitors from California who donated more than $100 — it won’t apply the audience filter to users earlier than that.
Step 11: Migrate Goals to Conversion Events
The Gist: If you were previously tracking goals in UA, you’ll need to migrate them over to GA4, where they’re now called conversion events. GA4 has a goals migration tool that makes this process pretty simple.
The Gotcha: GA4 limits you to 30 custom conversion events per property. If you’re in e-commerce or another industry with complex marketing needs, those 30 conversion events will add up very quickly. With GA4, it will be important to review conversion events regularly and retire ones that aren’t relevant anymore, like conversions for previous campaigns.
Step 12: Migrate Alerts
The Gist: Using custom alerts in UA? As we covered in Step 8, you can now set up custom insights to keep tabs on key changes in user activity. GA4 will deliver alerts through your Insights dashboard or email, based on your preferences.
The Gotcha: This one is actually more of a bonus – GA4 will now evaluate your data hourly, so you can learn about and respond to changes more quickly.
The Future of Measurement Is Here
GA4 is already transforming how brands think about measurement and user insights – and it’s only the beginning. While Google has been tight-lipped about the GA4 roadmap, we can likely expect even more enhancements and capabilities in the not-too-distant future. The sooner you make the transition to GA4, the sooner you’ll have access to a new level of intelligence to shape your digital roadmap and business decisions.
Need a hand getting started? We’re here to help – reach out to book a chat with us.