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The quick and dirty on the new Google Analytics 4

It’s been a while since Google announced the launch of Google Analytics 4 and the inevitable death of Universal Analytics (or commonly known as Google Analytics 3).

Even as a digital marketer, I had a hard time following all the details of this move and what it means for businesses, so I can imagine business owners and anyone else that’s not reading up on every piece of documentation around it, is quite confused and frustrated.

I’ve since “migrated” a few accounts over to Google Analytics 4 (look at the big quote below to understand why I used quote marks there), and got to know it a bit better, but I can’t say that I’m super proficient at it yet. In any case, this quick and dirty guide on the topic should give you a good idea of what’s happening, what it means for you and what you need to do.

Note: I will state some opinions without always having links to what and how and why. I will do my goodest to provide links for further reading, but no promises. Remember, Google search is your friend.

What’s the change and why?

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Universal Analytics (or GA3 for short from now on) has been around for a long time, and while it’s gotten some upgrades, the core of how it works was probably getting hard to change and adapt to today’s needs. The details of WHY this was changed and if it was a good idea or not, are not super relevant anyways. Google decided to change it, so we need to adapt.

The problem is that initially, this was mistaken for the usual “upgrade” of systems and it was expected that it’ll work more or less the same, and you can migrate your old data to the new version with no issues. And here comes the catch.

The bad news

There is no migration from GA3 to GA4. It’s a completely new setup and no data will be transferred.

Me to anyone asking me for migration help…

GA4 is NOT just another upgrade. In fact, it’s a whole new way of working with Google Analytics. It’s such a big change for some companies that some are considering or have already ditched Google Analytics entirely.

Since this is the “quick and dirty” on the topic, I won’t dive too deep into this, but will highlight some of the major differences, as well as what you need to consider:

  1. Events
    If you had events set up for GA3, you need to re-evaluate all of them. The most important change here is the way that GA4 considers events (everything is an event, compared to GA3, where there were different type of interactions) and the setup is quite different. Also, some events are there by default, some are recommended and finally there are the custom events (Google don’ like da custom events very much) More about GA4 events. Learn more about setting up events in GA4 with this video.
  2. Historical data
    There is no way to migrate historical data from GA3 to GA4. All you can do is make sure you download the historical data and keep it somewhere safe, so you can analyze it with any other tool in the future if and when needed.
  3. Setup of GA4
    While GA3 had a bunch of features built-in that you could use to filter data and tweak it, almost none are now available in GA4. All of those features will have to be rebuilt using Google Tag Manager. While GTM was recommended for GA3, for GA4, it’s pretty much a must. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing quite a lot of code.
  4. Reports
    Reports are… not the best in GA4. The idea is that GTM is the way to set up GA4, GA4 is the analytical machine and Google Data Studio (now Looker Studio) is the reporting system. This means even more setup and maintenance… Even worse, if you have a lot of visitors and events on your website or application, Google Data Studio might hit some limits, since it’s API is throttled… Learn more about Looker Studio here.
  5. No easy setup
    Google Analytics is no longer easy to set up. While Google Analytics 3 did quite a bit out of the box and required only a few tweaks within it to work pretty well for many small business, GA4 can get quite complex and confusing. The setup is more difficult, the data that you see in GA4 is more difficult to understand and organize, and the setup of reporting is more difficult.
    If you’re only looking for an absolute basic setup to track traffic and such, the setup is still more or less the same, but customizations take a bit more work.

The good news

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GA4 is quite capable and more flexible in some ways than GA3.

Me to myself, hoping that I’m right.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the land of analytics though. Apart from having many other different options, GA4 is still worthy of your time, in my opinion. While it requires a bit more work, it actually removed some of the limitations and frustrations of GA3, like having to fit all the information you want for events into Event Category, Event Action and Event Label. You’re now free to add any custom parameters to an event without being forced to limit it to only 3 and you can name them whatever you like (some minor limitations apply, but nothing that should bother you in your day-to-day).

While the reporting capabilities of GA4 are… not impressive, Looker Studio is an interesting tool and quite flexible as well. With a bit of work, you can set it up to work quite nicely for you, your team and any other stakeholders in your company.

Summary time

  1. Consider if GA4 is the right option for you, or an alternative is better
  2. There is no direct migration to GA4, it’s a new setup
  3. Read up on Google’s Migration guide, BUT DO NOT USE AUTOMATIC MIGRATION OPTIONS!
  4. If you haven’t already, set up GTM and use that to set up all your events and trackers for GA4
  5. Re-evaluate your existing events and compare them with GA4s default events, recommended events and only then consider custom events
  6. Disable automatic creation of Google Analytics 4 properties before March! Instructions start around the 3-minute mark, but watch the whole video:

Final thoughts

Since this is a “quick and dirty” on the topic, I recommend that you explore more, watch videos, read tutorials, there’s a ton of great content out there 🙂 Analytics are supposed to serve your specific needs, so make sure you do them right!

Is that too much for ya?

I won’t blame you if you don’t want to deal with this by yourself. I’m a contact form away!

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