Your last-minute GA4 survival guide in 11 steps

Published May 26 2023 Last updated Mar 26 2024 5 minute read
GA4 survival guide
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

Google announced the sunset date for Universal Analytics (UA) a whopping 14 months ago. But if you're reading this, you might not be ready for the big switchover to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) just yet! Perhaps life got in the way, or you were hoping that Google would change its mind and keep UA around for a while longer. Don't worry, you're not the only one, and you still have several weeks to prepare for the change. 

In this last-minute survival guide, you'll learn what steps to take for a successful migration from UA to GA4 so you can continue to track engagement and traffic across your websites and apps. The sooner you implement the tips below, the better. UA will soon be gone forever! 

1. Plan a personal consultation call with Google ASAP

Google is offering GA4 consultations from now through to December, allowing you to pick the brains of a data specialist who knows GA4 like the back of their hands. Scheduling a consultation can help you successfully transition from UA to GA4 and learn what makes these analytics platforms different from one another. (FYI: There are a lot of differences, which Funnel compiled in a list last year!) At the time of writing this guide, there were only a couple of consultation slots available from now until July, so if you're interested, book one ASAP. 

Alternatively, you can work with a third-party certified Google Analytics expert who will create a GA4 implementation plan based on your business goals, ensuring you continue to gather relevant data in Google's new analytics platform. For example, a consultant can help you define the parameters of metrics, dimensions, and events in GA4 and ensure your data reports will be accurate. You'll have to pay for this private consulting, of course, but you'll be in a much stronger position come July.

2. Learn the basics of GA4

The good news is that Google itself provides full GA4 migration support and training, including monthly hour-long group sessions that address the challenges of migrating to its new platform. (See when the next one occurs on this page). You can also check out a whole heap of Google-provided webinars (available as PDFs), covering everything you need to know about GA4 implementation. 

Recommended reading: Learn Google Analytics 4 with this list of top resources

3. Familiarize yourself with the GA4 data model

One of the biggest differences between UA and GA4 is this: 

The former uses a session-based data model for tracking page views and sessions, while the latter has an event-based data model for tracking user interactions as events. This change might take a while to get used to. However, the more you familiarize yourself with GA4, the more you'll learn how this data model actually makes it easier to monitor customer behavior across platforms and devices. 

4. Set up your first exploration

GA4 explorations let you uncover deeper insights about customer behavior than standard reports in UA. You can perform queries, create segments and audiences, and filter the most relevant data for your business. So why not play around with this feature to learn what GA4 is capable of?

You can access explorations by clicking Explore in the left-hand navigation bar. Use a template to quickly get started, and select a technique (cohort exploration, funnel exploration, segment overlap, etc.) to display data. Then, drag and drop Dimensions and Metrics from the Variables panel to the Tab Settings panel. You can interact with your data by hovering over it and clicking it with your mouse or add additional segments and filters for even more data insights. Finally, you can export your information to Remarketing Audiences. 

5. Build your reports in the 'Library in Reports'

GA4's Library in Reports lets you add, personalize, and publish reports and report collections. Now, you can compile all your reports in a single location, including those you used in UA, helping you access the business insights you need. 

Library is one of the features you should acquaint yourself with early on during the migration process, because you'll likely be using it a lot. You can access this tool by clicking Reports on the left-hand menu and then Library on the bottom left. However, you'll need to use an editor or administrator role to see these links. 

Recommended reading: GA4 brings machine learning to the forefront

6. Save your data!

At some point, at the earliest six months after July, Google will delete your UA properties, so it's important to store your data now before it's too late. One of the ways to do this is to export UA data to Google's BigQuery data warehouse. However, this requires a third-party ETL tool to push the data into BigQuery. Once there, you need to know SQL in order to work with the data — a skill you might lack. 

An alternative approach is to create a data pipeline to push UA data to a storage tool, such as a different data warehouse or even Google Sheets. However, if you have lots of data in UA, a Google Sheet is going to struggle to contain that much information. Funnel provides a solution to these problems by helping you connect, organize, and store your data forever. Then you can share that data with multiple destinations, such as BigQuery, Looker Studio, Google Sheets, and other destinations. Learn more about how this all works!

7. Stitch UA and GA4 data together to maintain a historical view

Following the point above, Funnel can stitch UA and GA4 data sets together, allowing you to view historical UA data alongside brand-new GA4 data. Sounds good, right? This solution lets you view performance for metrics like sessions, revenue, transactions, and goal completions over a longer period. 

8. Plan your Looker Studio dashboard

When switching to GA4, planning your Looker Studio dashboard is important.

If you have UA data in your dashboard, there are a few options to consider. First, you can modify the data sources in your current dashboard, either with or without stitching data together. Another option is to create a duplicate dashboard and change the data sources from UA to GA4, making any necessary adjustments for it to work properly. Lastly, you can create a brand new dashboard based on GA4 data.

However, it's important to note that GA4 has limitations on requests, which could lead to errors in your dashboard. To avoid any potential issues, it's crucial to prepare in advance.

Recommended reading: Events in Google Analytics 4 explained

9. Use the free BigQuery exports

Even though it's not directly related to the UA versus GA4 switch, it's important to be aware that GA4 comes with a free connection to BigQuery. This means that you can export event-level data for free, depending on your data volumes. However, using BigQuery can be challenging as it requires knowledge of SQL and a deep understanding of GA4 metrics and dimensions to turn event-level data into a dataset for reporting. You may struggle to extract value from your data and generate the insights and reports you need. Despite this, exporting data to BigQuery has other benefits such as user journey analysis, attribution modeling, customer lifetime value (LTV), retention, and churn predictions. We suggest you consider this option for these use cases.

10. Replicate your UA goals in GA4

Whatever goals you measure in UA, you should also measure them in GA4. For example, if you're tracking specific activities for an e-commerce store in UA, make sure you can do the same in Google's new analytics platform. GA4's goals migration tool will let you recreate goals from a connected UA property as conversion events in a GA4 property.

11. Explore custom events

GA4's out-of-the-box events probably aren't enough for your business to measure specific interactions, so creating custom events makes sense. Depending on your company, you might want to use custom events such as:

  • Add-to-cart conversions (for tracking online sales)
  • Clicks on social media shares (for tracking social media engagement)
  • Amount of time spent on a webpage (for tracking website engagement)

Final word

Google's probably already created a GA4 property for you by now — it started doing this in March — which means there's no turning back. UA really will be gone in July 2023! (Unless you have 360 Universal Analytics properties, which will sunset in July 2024.) Follow the tips above when migrating between UA and GA4 for a smoother transition.

*Note: the featured image was generated using AI*

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