What you need to know about the sunsetting of Universal Analytics and migrating to GA4

What you need to know about the sunsetting of Universal Analytics and migrating to GA4

You’ve almost definitely seen this message when you go into Universal Analytics by now:

You might have also seen some wailing and gnashing of teeth on websites, social media, forums etc about it. Or even participated in some. This is your guide in terms of what you should be checking and doing over the next 16 months and beyond, to prepare for these changes.

Q1. Should I set up GA4?

Despite what you might have read, GA4 presents a huge opportunity for most organisations. But it does have some drawbacks and may not be relevant for some orgs. If you decide not to pursue it there are plenty of alternate tools such as Matomo and Adobe Analytics. They of course have their own drawbacks but are unlikely to be free unless you have a small enough website for your traffic to fit inside a self-hosted Matomo instance. Although Amplitude does give 10M events/month for free which might be worth checking out.

Our advice is this:

If you are reluctant to implement GA4 because it lacks certain features you think are important, implement it. It will be getting a lot more work by Google between now and 1st July 2023, a lot more features, and the opportunity cost of saying no because of the current features is too large. (Also a lot of talk about not being able to do something in GA4 is overblown.)

If you are reluctant to implement GA4 because you primarily operate in the EU and you’re concerned about the recent ruling that Google Analytics (and possibly ANY US-based cloud service) is illegal, that’s a great reason to discontinue! But then you should be decommissioning Universal Analytics now as well in favour of something like Matomo which not only is ok to use in the EU but does not even need user consent for some setups.

Q2. Do I already have GA4?

The easiest way to see this is to install the Chrome extension Tag Assistant Legacy (by Google). It will add an icon in the top-right of your browser which will show all the Google tags it has.

If you see only Google Analytics tags that start with UA-XXXXXX you only have Universal Analytics:

If you see a Google Analytics tag that starts with G-XXXXXXX then you also have GA4 (you might have just GA4):

Now it’s one thing to be collecting data but you should also make sure that you have access to reports (in case some of this was set up by say your web developer for their own needs).

If you go into Google Analytics and click on All Accounts, you’ll see 1 or more accounts with 1 or more properties:

Ignore the property names since they may be misleading, just look at the property ID below the name. If it starts with UA it’s a Universal Analytics property, if it’s just numbers then it’s a GA4 property.

Q3. When should I set up GA4?

Like the bad tweet meme, the best time to do this was 1-1.5 years ago but the second best time is now.

If you are reading this before 1st July 2022 then you should really aim to have some sort of GA4 setup by then. This will give you a year of historical GA4 data so that when it’s GA4-only on 1st July 2023 you are not starting blind.

If you’re reading this after 1st July 2022 then this should be a huge priority.

Q4. Should I use Google’s automatic migration?

Google has some migration and setup assistants. We would not recommend them unless you’re absolutely desperate to set something up as quickly as possible (which usually is a sign of broader organisational issues).

The steps to migrate to GA4 without wizards is outlined by Google here. Following these steps presents an opportunity to refresh and reimagine your business objectives as well as what you want to be measuring about your websites, apps and customers. If you’ve been running Universal Analytics for years, you probably have some cobwebs in there. This is the time to clear it out.

Q5. What architecture should I use?

Your mileage may vary and this advice may not apply to everyone. But in our experience setting up GA4:

  • The main principle behind GA4 is unified measurement of a user across your different web properties such as your website, mobile app(s) as well as offline. So you don’t want to be replicating silos in GA4. If your business has several websites and an app, having a single property for all of those is generally the way to go. It’s only if you’re running multiple brands that have genuine and complete separation that you’d want to separate the properties in GA4 as well.
  • GA4 has no views but using views in Universal Analytics to view different sections of the website is hard to maintain, easy to make errors in and can sometimes be misleading. For now, let it go, you are not actually missing much. It’s better to spend that time developing the reporting capability to get that data from a holistic source.
  • GA4 is meant to allow you up to 500 unique event names. But if you call everything an event then your data will quickly become unreadable. Think through your naming convention in advance and consider using event parameters to differentiate between very similar events – they can then have the same event name which will make it easier to find what you need.

Q6. What else should I set up?

There’s lots but here are the most important things:

  • The biggest new feature in GA4 is the free BigQuery integration. For the first time, everyone has access to their raw data, to query directly, however you like. Set up the link as you set up the GA4 property and then get into BigQuery. For complex questions or large volumes of data it can be the only way. Having the raw data means you can ask any question of it and you won’t be limited by the interface.
  • You will need to pre-register which event parameters are custom dimensions and custom metrics, only then will you be able to access them easily in all reports.
  • Similarly, make sure to mark conversion events as conversions.
  • Just like with Universal Analytics, you can use the Measurement Protocol to send offline events into your property, you just need to know the user ID of your customer that’s performing the event. This means even for a subscription service, your recharges can go into GA4 which will then allow you to see (say) which acquisition channels bring in the most recurring revenue.
  • You also need to be mindful of privacy requirements. Just as with Universal Analytics, you’re not allowed to collect any personally identifiable information into GA4. Watch out especially for any transactional URLs on your website that might have user names, emails etc in the URL.

Need more help than this article can provide? We’re offering a full, customised migration plan for $500.

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