The Future is Now: Answering Common Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Migration Questions

On 3/16/22, Google announced the following: Google Analytics 4 is our next-generation measurement solution, and it's replacing Universal Analytics. On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits. If you still rely on Universal Analytics, we recommend that you prepare to use Google Analytics 4 going forward.”


As someone who uses Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) virtually every day, this announcement was a bit of a surprise.  While I was aware that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been available since October 2020 and it was eventually going to be the de facto web analytics tool from Google, I did not anticipate that Google’s announcement would occur this year, nor did I think that Google would be totally shutting down UA 14 months from now.


Regardless of my surprise, the fact is that the future is now: UA will be completely shut down on 7/1/23, and GA4 will be the only web analytics tool available to businesses that currently use UAEven though this transition is over a year away, it would be in your company’s best interests to allocate resources to make the transition from UA to GA4 sooner, rather than later.


In this blog, I will not be summarizing the new benefits and features of GA4 (and there are many, as well as a few concerns about what it currently does not have).  Rather, I will answer some of the commonly asked questions regarding a UA-to-GA4 migration that I hope you will find to be helpful if you are in a role to either lead or assist in your own company’s migration initiative.


Will Google Automatically Migrate Our UA Account to a GA4 Account?


Unfortunately, the answer is no, nor is there an option for you to fully migrate to GA4 with one click.  A new GA4 property needs to be set up in parallel to your existing Universal Analytics property, and Google makes it fairly easy to get this process going.  Simply go into the Admin section of your current UA account, and in the “Property” column you should see a “GA4 Setup Assistant” option at the top of that column.


GA4 Setup Assistant


Clicking on “GA4 Setup Assistant” will then take you to a “Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant” panel.  Click on the “Get Started” button to start setting up your new, GA4 property!  


Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant


There is one very important distinction between UA and GA4 that I need to emphasize: there are no “Views” in GA4.  While UA works under an Account>Property>Views format, GA4 works only under an Account>Property format (note: you can still tie your GA4 property to the same account as your current UA property, even after UA expires next summer).  In UA, a common and recommended practice was to set up a minimum of three views under one UA property: a Master View (this data was used for reporting), a Test View (to test new GA implementations to the account) and a Raw/Unfiltered View (this was essentially your backup data with very few, if any, filters enabled).  The fact that Google is not carrying over views into GA4 is one of its more unpopular decisions, but hopefully this will be corrected in the near future.


The best workaround to this lack of views in GA4 is to simply create multiple properties.  I would recommend—especially for GA4 migration purposes—that you create two GA4 properties: a Test Property and a Master Property, with the Test Property being the first property in which you implement the migration (the Master Property can then be added later once all the GA4 Test Property metrics, events, etc., have been properly calibrated and compared with the UA data).  


There is a good amount of setup tasks that need to be taken care of in the Admin section of your new GA4 account.  The illustration below displays most of the major steps that need to be completed, but this is by no means a comprehensive list.  For more comprehensive instructions regarding GA4 setup, I would suggest that a good start would be to go to Google Support’s Make the Switch to Google Analytics 4 page.


Google Analytics 4 Account Setup Steps


Will My UA Events Tracking That I Have Set Up in Google Tag Manager Work in GA4?


No, it will not. Compared to UA, the data model in GA4 is distinctly different (yet much more flexible), making a simple transfer and implementation of Google Tag Manager (GTM) tags impossible. The format of the events in UA is currently:


  • Event Category (required)
  • Event Action (required)

  • Event Label (optional)

  • Event Value (optional)


In GA4, there is a primary, event parameter called Event Name, and then everything else depends on what you have planned. If you wish, you can send no additional parameters, or you can send up to 25(!) additional parameters that better describe the context of that event. In GTM, the format for the events in GA4 would be organized this way:


  • Event Name: (required)

  • Parameter #1: (optional)

  • Parameter #2: (optional)

  • Parameter #3: (optional)

  • Parameter #25: (optional)


If, at this point, your head is spinning a bit and you’re starting to have concerns about how to handle this change in events format, rest assured that it’s not as complicated as you may think.  If approached the right way, it can be fairly easy and more a matter of rearranging the UA “Category/Action/Label” parameters into a GA4 format.  


Allow me to show you how I would approach converting a “social icon click” UA event to a GA4 event.  As you can see in this screenshot of a UA event tag, the event category is “interest,” the event action is “social icon click,” and the event label is a GTM variable named “{{Social Platform}}.”  


Universal Analytics Tag Configuration


At the risk of stating the obvious, the central event of this tag is found in the event action, “social icon click.”  The GA4 event format differs greatly from the UA event format in that it is the event action itself that is the foundation of creating an event tag in GTM.  In this case, I would simply use the UA event action of “social icon click” to be my new “Event Name in GA4: “social_icon_click (Quick note: Google already has a GA4 listing of event names and parameters in the areas of automatically tracked events, enhanced measurement and recommended events that all follow a format of lowercase and descriptions that have more than one word to be connected with underscores—it is highly recommended that you follow that format as well).


I could then turn the UA event category of “interest” and the UA event label of “{{Social Platform}}” into GA4 event parameters, thus giving me all the information that I previously had in the UA event tag.  Furthermore, because GA4 allows for many more parameters to be added (up to 25), I could then also enhance the information that this event would give me by creating a page_pathparameter that would indicate to me what page a visitor was on when a social icon was clicked.  


So, without further ado, here is what my new “social icon click” GTM event tag looks like:


Google Tag Manager event tag


Unless you are planning to do a major overhaul of your events tracking during your migration, you could probably apply this technique of rearranging UA event tag parameters into a GA4 event tag format (and maybe add an additional event parameter or two) for the majority of the GTM tags that you need to convert.


Please keep in mind that converting all your UA events to a GA4 event format will most likely be the largest share of time that you will devote to this migration, as you will need to list and review your current GTM event tags, decide which ones are still needed, convert those tags into a GA4 format, create the new tags, and finally test and implement them. By the way, you will not have to create new triggers and variablesthese can be used with your new GA4 tags (thank you, Google!).


When Should My Company Start Its GA4 Migration?


As I stated at the beginning of this blog, the future is nowYour historical UA data and new GA4 data will not be 100% compatible. Why? Because:


1. GA4 is essentially an event-based data model (whereas UA is session-based)

2. GA4 will count the number of sessions differently than UA

3. GA4 has new metrics (engaged session, avg. engagement time per session, and engagement rate), and it is getting rid of some UA metrics (bounce rate, avg. session duration and pages per session)


As such, the sooner you get GA4 up and running means that you will have more historical GA4 data to analyze.  


Is It Better to Take Care of Our GA4 Migration Internally or Externally?


The answer to that question is that it depends on several company factors that would influence that decision: available training budget for anyone involved in the migration process (some sort of paid GA4 training is highly recommended), the number of UA accounts that need to be migrated, as well as the available departmental bandwidth to handle the planning, implementation and post-implementation efforts of this migrationThere is also more information that is to come from Google regarding the GA4 migration, so I would recommend that you keep yourself in the loop regarding such updates by regularly checking Google’s “Support” pages on this topic—a good page to bookmark would be the “Make the switch to Google Analytics 4support page.


We here at Liquid are an agency that can implement a GA4 migration for our current and future clientsIf you’d like to learn more about how Liquid can assist your company with this very important migration, feel free to contact us to see how we can help you.