Google Analytics Update: Transitioning to GA4

Alissa Ricci Headshot - 200 x 200 by Alissa Maffett, Executive Director, Media and Research

Google Analytics as we’ve known it (at least as we’ve known it for the last 10 years) is going away. The most common web analytics platform will transition to a new measurement system and new reporting look and feel effective July 1, 2023.

RIP, Universal Analytics.

There’s plenty of other blogs out there that go into detail about the changes, but to sum it up:

  • Universal Analytics is going away
  • The new platform is called GA4
  • It is more focused on event tracking vs. session tracking
  • There is less reliance on cookie-based data
  • Greater focus on “machine learning”

There are also several blogs out there that, at a high level, tell you how you should prepare for this major change. But what might still be unclear is how to transition your current data analysis plan to this new reporting system. If you’re like me or any of my clients, we’ve been tracking the same key metrics since 2012 (or even earlier) and benchmarking against historical data. Most of those metrics still exist, but they might look different, be measured differently or be found in a different place within the GA4 platform. So you need to be prepared for a change in how you review your website performance.

Below is the basic process that we are taking to prepare for this change so that we can appropriately analyze our (and our clients’) web analytics once D-day is here.

  1. Transition all current UA properties to GA4.
    • If you are already using gtag.js tag (as opposed to the older analytics.js tag), there is a wizard to make this transition easily right in Universal Analytics.
    • If not, you’ll need to upgrade your tagging before you can take this step.
    • You want to take this step now, so when the time comes, you have plenty of historical data to look back on. If you wait until July 1, 2023 to take this step, you’ll have no historical data in GA4 to compare to.
  2. Don’t get rid of UA.
    • Google will take it away from us eventually, but for now, hang on to it so you don’t lose your old data.
    • Download key data from UA for future reference. I recommend downloading at least. two years of data for the KPIs you are currently measuring. Consider downloading some data from the pre-COVID era, too, since we all know that made a huge impact on web behavior.
  3. Take stock of your current analysis and identify the most important metrics.
    • What KPIs and metrics do you focus on? Are they still relevant to your website goals and objectives, or have you been on autopilot looking at Pageviews for the last 10 years because that’s what you know? Consider this an opportunity to hone your analysis and find what metrics are the most important.
    • Perhaps you look at 100 different numbers in your Analytics report and walk away from them not understanding what it all means. If you feel analysis paralysis every month looking at so many numbers, this is a great chance to cull the list of KPIs and focus on what’s really important.
  4. Data map your KPIs from UA to GA4.
    • Find where your KPIs now live within GA4—it likely won’t be in the same spot. And in some instances, a specific KPI may not be available (or not in its same form).
    • Note any differences in how the KPIs are measured. (This will help you understand any variations in data from UA to GA4.) Google provides dimension info here, including how they are measured.
  5. Begin to compare what you see in GA4 to what you see in UA.
    • Once you’ve found where your KPIs live within GA4, measure them over time and compare them to what you see in UA over the same period in time. This will help you understand where “normal” is for your KPIs in GA4 so you can benchmark appropriately.

Don’t fear the reaper. This transition to GA4 can be managed smoothly with the right preparation and a strategic, planned approach.