Data and analytics
April 20, 2022

What's the deal with Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? - April 2022 update

Data and analytics
April 20, 2022

What's the deal with Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? - April 2022 update

What's the deal with Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? - April 2022 update
Note: this blog post was originally posted in March 2021, and has been updated to reflect the recent news that Universal Analytics (aka GA3) will stop tracking data on 1/7/2023

The important stuff

Google’s official announcement covers the nitty-gritty, however there is quite a bit to digest - so here’s the stuff that matters.

  • Your “old” Analytics (GA3 aka Universal Analytics aka UA) will stop tracking new data on 1/7/2023
  • GA4 tracking and reporting is totally different to Universal Analytics, this is not an ‘update’ - it is a whole new system!
  • Because GA4 is an entirely new system - and you will need configure your tracking and reporting to work with GA4
  • GA4 integrates with GTM (Google Tag Manager)
  • Your Universal analytics data will not transfer to GA4
  • You should set up GA4 to run in parallel with Universal Analytics as soon as possible - especially if your reporting relies on historical comparison data

GA4 is preparing for a world without cookies

Universal Analytics relies on cookies - and once 'Cookie Apocalypse' hits it will mean that we won't be able to collect data using cookies anymore.

As a result - the Google team have been forced to re-build the whole Google Analytics platform from the ground up.

Unfortunately, this fresh-start means that (unless you are using Firebase) your existing GA data will not be migrated to GA4.

Because the tracking and reporting systems have been fully overhauled - your existing tracking will need to be reconfigured entirely.

Re-rebuilding your existing conversion, eCommerce and other tracking from Universal Analytics to GA4 will require significant planning and testing - and you will also need to ensure any external sources that are integrated with GA (such as your Google Ads or reporting dashboards) are also reconfigured.

GA4 - a work in progress

At the time of writing the GA4 platform is still a work in progress and lacks crucial features which are available in Universal Analytics. 

As of 29/03/2021 - the following Universal Analytics features are not available in GA4:

  • Annotations
  • Attribution / Multi-Channel Funnels
  • Calculated Metrics
  • Channel Groups (Custom/Editable)
  • Connectors: Adsense
  • Connectors: Campaign Manager 360
  • Connectors: Display & Video 360
  • Connectors: Google Ad Manager
  • Connectors: Google Optimize
  • Connectors: Salesforce
  • Connectors: Search Ads 360
  • Content Groups
  • Emojis
  • Filters
  • Hostname DimensionIP Filters (Regex Support)
  • Landing Pages Report
  • Measurement Protocol - IOT tracking
  • Product-Level, Session-Level Custom Dimensions
  • Query Parameter exclusions
  • Roll-Up Properties
  • Site Search Reports
  • Store Visits
  • Stream-level User Permissions
  • Views

What you should do to prepare for GA4

Migrating to GA4 isn’t as simple as switching out the tracking code, and we recommend taking a phased/considered approach.

Phase 1 - Install the GA4 tracking code

  1. Create your GA4 property - you should create the property in the same account as your Universal Analytics property.
  2. Install the base GA4 code on your site via Google Tag Manager - do not uninstall your Universal Analytics tracking code, you should keep two sets of Google Analytics tags firing until you fully migrate all reporting over to GA4 and have sufficient historical data.
  3. Activate the “Enhanced measurement” - the GA4 base tracking code allows you to track pageviews, scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement and file downloads natively, without having to do any custom GTM based tracking.
  4. Link to your other products - such as Google ads and merchant centre.

You will now have the basic pageview and click event tracking on your site.

Phase 2 - Create your GA4 custom events

GA4 tracking is “events” based, and to track (and report on) anything outside of basic pageviews and the native “enhanced measurement”, you will need to set up custom events.

Unlike Universal Analytics (which allows you to fire off and collect event data willy-nilly), in GA4 you need to actually tell it what event “names” to watch out for before it will start logging them, and what parameters to expect.

This is great - because it means we are no longer locked to “Category”, “Action” and “Label” - but it means that you will need to be sure to properly plan your custom events before jumping under the hood.

We recommend documenting a tracking migration plan, and defining your events with clear naming conventions (here’s Google's recommendation) before you begin.

  1. Create your form events - assuming you already had GTM configured to capture form submission events for your GA installation, you should be able to use the same event triggers to actually trigger the events themself. Once you have set up the events to fire - create the custom events in GA4 to capture the data - and ensure that the parameters are being captured properly.
  2. Create your eCommerce tracking (if applicable) - use the GA4 ecommerce tracking documentation to capture and submit your eCommerce data to GA4 via GTM
  3. Custom events - Use the existing GTM UA event triggers and tags as a reference - and ensure they are appropriately re-built as GA4 custom events
  4. Configure your goals - use the events to configure your goals

Alternatively - Google also has this migration script which can help streamline the analysis and migration.

Phase 3 - Testing and reporting

Now that your base-level tracking is configured you will need to ensure that:

  • You use your Universal Analytics to monitor for any discrepancies and irregularities - and adjust your tracking accordingly
  • You take advantage of the new GA4 reporintg tools, and migrate away from your Universal Analytics Data
  • Make a note of any integrations that will need updating in the future (dashboarding, databases, marketing platforms, plugins, etc) and plan for the integrations

What's next?

Despite the sunset date for Universal Analytics being set for 1/7/2023 - Google Analytics 4 is still a work in progress, and features are being changed daily.

We recommend you sign up to Google’s newsletter to ensure that you are up-to-date with the changes to the GA4 platform to ensure you aren’t caught with your pants down on July 1st 2023!

Data and Analytics are in our blood so If you need help navigating the transition to GA4 - please don't hestate to reach out.

Brad Farleigh
Article written by:
Brad Farleigh
Chief Technical Officer

As the CTO I lead innovation projects, oversee IT policies and systems, provide technical guidance and training support, and drive technical innovation. I also offer technical consultation and foster strategic partnerships for business development.