Google Analytics 4 Migration – What you need to know for a smooth(er) transition

Google Analytics 4 Migration Warnings

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware that Google has a new version of Google Analytics, imaginatively called Google Analytics 4 (“GA4”) – as it’s the 4th big iteration of Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is often the single source of truth for all your digital marketing metrics (if it’s set up correctly).

Google have also indicated they will sunset the existing Universal Analytics (“UA”) on 1st July 2023. This means Google will stop sending data to Universal Analytics on 1st July 2023 (if they stick to their deadline) but given the pressure they are putting on businesses to move over, it would be wrong to bank of that date changing .

With previous transitions you could keep using and getting data well past the rollout, but not this time.

What this means is that Google have forced you as a business owner, or employee, to invest in changing your existing data setup, or risk missing data or getting incorrect data in your digital marketing insights.

And it has to be done now.

….or ideally last July so you could have a full year’s worth of comparison data (yes, July 2022) but Google wasn’t really ready for GA4 to be in prime time then.

Google have also already started automatically rolling out some upgrades, as otherwise they fear businesses will not be ready.

Unlike previous updates, this is a brand new version and the rollout has been a shambles. This video sums it up as a parody.

Our prediction is they will delay the rollout at the last minute as many businesses will not be ready, but you cannot rely on that.

You also cannot rely on Google doing it all for you with their ‘automatic’ rollout – if you rely on their default rollout you can guarantee it will be a very basic rollout – and Google PR people have confirmed that on LinkedIn – and you may lose some of the insights you currently have if you have a good setup at the moment.

Be Cautious With Your Migration

If you read most articles, and many individuals, they will say you need to migrate to GA4 now, and they will blindly say “just add this code to the site”, or “jeez how can it take that long” but you have to be cautious and have a bit of a plan about how to implement it – see the later section “What Can Go Wrong…?” below.

You have to be aware that not all third party systems support Google Analytics 4 (GA4) yet.

At the time of writing this in early March 2023 there are many, many software vendors that don’t support GA4. Many are also forcing you to switch over in one go, and not implementing both Universal and GA4 in parallel which is the recommended approach.

What this means is if your software vendor does not support GA4 yet, you CANNOT fully switch over to GA4. We recommend you start tracking GA4 in parallel with Universal Analytics for everything that happens on your own website, and in the case where your vendor doesn’t support it yet, have a plan to add that in later.

If your vendor does support it, but you have to have only Universal OR GA4, this means that any reporting you have in place, or any insights you pull out of your data, will now have to come from Google Analytics 4…. which means you or your team need to be up to speed at exactly the same time. There’s no ramp up time if you can’t run them in parallel.

We think software vendors who have implemented it in a manner that forces you to pick either Universal Analytics OR GA4 have made a poor implementation choice – the should have had both sets of code running at the same time, just sending data to two places instead of one. Sometimes there are reasonable reasons like removing some “technical debt” in their systems.

If you think we are scaremongering, there’s a lot of major players that don’t support GA4 yet, despite many months (years) of warning. Some vendors are just rolling out beta’s, some have pending releases, and some still don’t have a plan as far as we know. Some of the common tourism and hospitality platforms we encounter regularly are mentioned below :

  • Shopify – only just released their support in mid March 2023
  • Fareharbor (major tourism booking engine) – rolling out to everyone since April 2023
  • Rezdy – (major tourism booking engine) – have rolled out support but you cannot run both versions in parallel
  • PrenoHQ – (accommodation booking system) they are in the middle of a system migration and GA4 is on the radar, but is not a priority!
  • OperatorHub (formerly Junction 6 – tourism booking engine) – no concrete dates as we know
  • IBIS (tourism booking engine) – have full support but rolling it out in stages and you have to make a complete switchover
  • ResDiary (major restaurant booking engine) – unknown for us, but their support response was very unclear

As you can see there are some major names above that don’t have full support of GA4 yet, and this section was updated a mere 8 weeks before Google’s deadline so if you naively rolled it out, there’s a chance you will make significant negative impacts to your tracking.

Why A New Version of Google Analytics?

This is not the first time new versions of Google Analytics have been rolled out.

Google initially bought Analytics from another company, and even to this day there are still remnants from that such as “UTM Tracking Codes” which stand for Urchin Tracking Module, with Urchin being the “pre-Google” name for Analytics.

The last major change with Google Analytics was changing from “legacy” analytics to “Universal Analytics” which involved a lot of different changes, but they still collected data for a long time afterwards.

This change to GA4 is a major change, and has been driven by both privacy concerns, and to get better data from cross device behaviour which is very common.

The biggest change with this new version is Google have stated they will stop collected Universal Analytics on 1st July 2023. Our prediction is this will be pushed back due to businesses and software vendors not being ready – despite being told about it for years, but don’t slow your migration due to this. GA4 has been around a couple of years now, bit it’s only recently became ready for prime time usage.

Google have also added a lot of warnings to Google Analytics, and sent out surprise emails that make it easy to do “something” to help tick the migration box and think you’ve “done” it, but they also make it very easy to make a pretty rushed and bad implementation choice.

You may have seen this warning, and a previous version of this if you have logged into Google Analytics recently :

Please do not click “Manage GA4 Migration” unless you have a strong plan in place and knowledge to tackle it well. This should also be communicated to your team so it’s not done “by accident”.

You may also have seen a popup like below. Again, we recommend this is disabled and you change the default from Yes to No. Although they imply they will do some configuration, Google have confirmed (on LinkedIn via a liaison person) this migration will be very basic, and it may mislead you to thinking you have it completed. We’ve also tried this option, and the “set up” it does is hardly noticable.

We also recommend unchecking the other surprise setting Google introduced with no warning (as long as you have a plan in place) :
This is found in Admin -> Properties -> GA4 Setup Assistant

Google Analytics 4 Migration Disable
Google Analytics 4 – Disable This Option

What Does This Mean To Your Data If You Don’t Act?

If you don’t do anything there’s a chance of several things happening :

  • You are likely to break your existing setup
  • You get incorrect and misleading data
  • Your Google Ads performance will suffer as you stop tracking conversion data
  • Your cost of advertising on Google Ads may go up due to lack of data for the algorithms to optimise with
  • You lose capturing remarketing data

What many business don’t understand is if you are running paid advertising, and you are not feeding the algorithms correct data, it means your marketing platforms cannot optimise as well as they could.

Is GA4 Easier Than Universal?

Yes, and no. Google Analytics 4 is fundamentally different from Universal Analytics. GA4 is ‘event’ and user based, where Universal is ‘session’ based.

Whilst you will see some similar reports, GA4 tracks more ‘out of the box’ with little configuration, but any conversion data still has to be configured, and some of that will depend on how your website is set up. GA4 is still changing regularly and some of these changes are not well communicated, and many familiar reports have disappeared. One example of a report that’s not on the menu is Google search queries! It’s accessible, but not on the menus by default.

Some simple goals to set up like Destination Goals are not there any more so as an example you are forced to understand events and parameters instead of just tracking a thank you page with a URL of /thank-you

To get the full power of GA4 you have to combine this with the power of Google Tag Manager which is part of our typical setup. Google Tag Manager also needs changes to fully utilise GA4.

We have seen agencies remove everything to do with Universal Analytics and Tag Manager, then create configurations in GA4 that will never work so you have to be ‘buyer beware’ to avoid everyone jumping on the bandwagon as developers and creatives are generally not the best at analytics (this has also been confirmed by a big agency group we are part of).

Google’s Auto Migration – Will That Be Enough?

You may have received an email from Google saying they will automatically create a GA4 property for you, but that won’t be enough. The confusion lead to Google to say it will be a very basic setup that will be performed, and to get the most out of GA4 (as per Universal) you really need to configure it and set it up.

Google will be panicking about the GA4 adoption so are doing everything to force “co-erce” people into moving. Unfortunately their urgency will mean many businesses migrate quickly and make mistakes – we’ve seen it happen a lot already. If you blindly followed Google’s advice on migrating you would have done it a long time ago, well before your vendors may support it (unless you have everything on your own simple website).

With any auto migration or wizard we have followed to date, some really basic and fundamental settings have not been configured correctly.

Who Should Do This Migration?

Ideally you should employ a Google Analytics specialise like ourselves to do the migration for you. This may sound biased, but here’s a few reasons why you want a specialise to migrate your business to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) :

  • We can plan any migration based on your existing setup and software used
  • We will more than likely improve your existing setup and track the data you really should be tracking
  • We know the impacts of any changes made to your analytics
  • We can find out if your software vendors support it
  • We can link the correct third party platforms to Google Analytics 4
    (other Google tools)
  • We keep up to date with the constant updates that are still being made to GA4

We’ll also ensure your Google Analytics 4 migration is done well.

If you are part of an internal marketing team, or you own or manage a business you are unlikely to have the time required to learn the platform and configure settings correctly.

If you get a data specialist like us to migrate your business to Google Analytics 4 your total cost of ownership is likely to be lower due to less time spent learning, and a more future proofed project which minimises future rework.

In our mind, 2023 is likely to be a year where many businesses with great setups ending have a disastrous analytics setup due to internal teams and poor agencies not doing things correctly. This will cost you money either immediately if you are running Google Ads, or in months and years to come when you realise you have missed a long time not capturing data.

We have seen this already (see the examples below), and we have done dozens of migrations already and have seen the changes that are still happening inside the platform.

What Can Go Wrong If We Just Add The GA4 Code To Our Site?

If you just add GA4 to your site you will capture a lot of really great data “out of the box” without any configuration, but it may be misleading for a number of reasons. Here’s a few examples of situations we’ve encountered so far :

  • A creative agency broke all our Google Ads results tracking
    The agency in mind “added GA4 to the site” for the client but without any configuration. When they did this they removed the previous setup including Google Tag Manager (used for all the Google Ads tracking) and Universal Analytics, and we lost tracking of all the results of our campaigns such as leads, phone calls, file downloads and ecommerce transaction values. The creative agency had no idea of they impact their naïve and rushed implementation had.
    They should have left the existing tracking in place and ran both versions in parallel, and at least realised there were Google Ad campaigns running and consulted with us on the impact.
    The end result was the client thought the work was “done” but all that happed was a bunch of stuff was broken, and their ad costs went through the roof with no trackable results.
  • Another agency upgraded to GA4 when the required systems didn’t support it
    To do a full migration, ideally all third party systems used within your online ecosystem support GA4, otherwise you will only get half the story, and may lose all tracking of transaction values.
    Many vendors are far behind in their plans.
    Tourism booking engines are notoriously slow at having solid plans for this.
  • Agencies who don’t understand GA4
    We sadly had one client go for a cheaper migration option despite us doing a comprehensive set up years ago. Any tracking of value was removed, and the initial setup had goal and conversion information that would never work. It was clear the agency did not understand GA4.
  • If your GA4 is not configured you will not be tracking any goals, which means ad platforms do not get the required data to optimise, and your ad costs may grow, and performance could suffer.
    You may even get misleading data that reports revenue coming from incorrect channels (e.g. Referral instead of Organic).

Trust us, many agencies, developers and creatives will jump on this bandwagon and make really botched job of your setup leading you into a false sense of security of having the job done. If it’s not done correctly, your data may lie to you and you cannot go back in time to get any missing conversion data.

What Do You Need To Do Today To Plan & Implement Google Analytics 4?

There’s a few things that you need to do today, or as soon as possible. If you are reading this you are already behind as when you get to July you won’t be able to do historical year on year comparisons of data until 12 months after you have your setup completed. Here’s a few things to do as soon as possible :

  • Check if your software vendors support Google Analytics 4 already or if they have a solid plan for it.
    As an example, if you book trips or appointments using 3rd party software such as an accommodation booking platform or calendar app, as them if they support GA4.
  • Ask if your vendors will support running GA4 in parallel with Universal Analytics until you get used to it.
    Some vendors such as Rezdy (an accommodation booking engine) have made poor decisions to only support one or the other at a time. After some pushing they decided it was due to prioritising resources, but this means you cannot compare data, and have to fully commit to using GA4 from day 1 without any ramp up time.
  • If you have a custom ecommerce implementation (often referred to as “using an API”) you will likely need a developer with ecommerce knowledge to write code for you, and a marketing to take the data from that code.
    This is the increased cost of customised solutions – an example may be using a tourism booking engine like Hostaway, but using their API instead of just adding their booking engine to your website.
  • Decide who is going to plan and implement your migration and whether they have the right level of knowledge, or have the time to get up to speed
    (a good first question to ask is if they can explain the main differences between Universal Analytics and GA4)
    If you wish us to do your implementation please get in touch with us as soon as possible as we have a strong pipeline of work for these migrations and know how to tackle them well.
  • Does the person doing the work have good knowledge of Google Tag Manager?
    This is the best and most future proofed way to not only deploy analytics, but also to do the correct tracking to be able to report return on investment and report on valuable interactions with your business online. If you’re not using Google Tag Manager, I’d bet you’re not tracking all the conversions you should be.
    We have built and deployed over 100 Google Tag Manager installations over a number of years.
  • Set aside a budget for implementation and some training for your team.
    We can help with wither one on one Google Analytics training or an online course (currently in development) to help get you and / or your team up to speed.
    You can join our Google Analytics 4 training waitlist here.

What If We Installed Google Analytics Ages Ago?

Good question. If you installed GA4 a while back, or perhaps Fully Charged Media even did it as an additional bonus as part of a previous “Digital Foundations” setup, there’s a good chance this will need revisited as other functionality has been delivered to the platform over the last 12++ months. If we did it as part of another project earlier in 2022 we likely just did a very basic installation which only tracks visitors – not conversions, cross domain tracking etc, as some of that functionality may not have been available at the time.

If you are unsure, let us know and we can line up some time to review it and the cost should be smaller, depending on your technical setup.

What’s The Next Best Steps?

We’d love to help you with your Google Analytics 4 migration. We’ve worked with all types of setups, from third party booking engines, writing specs for developers, and simple self contained websites.

When we do analytics setups we often find businesses are not tracking everything they should be to get proper insights into their marketing, or their current data capture has errors in it which leads to misleading data. We have a good reputation for implementing future proofed analytics implementations, which means you rarely need to change it in the future, or you can get insights you didn’t plan for due to our “future proofed” implementations – subject to any other changes in the industry.

We can ensure all your Google ecosystem is linked together, you can see conversions in Google Analytics for all marketing channels, and also ensure you are getting the right data into Google Ads and Facebook. We may rely on the support of your software vendors – we are not magicians! (although sometimes it feels like we’re data magicians) :-)

This can be a reasonable sized project, but it’s typically a one off – and you’re better to do it right the first time rather than realise further down the line you’ve been missing data for many months.

Let us know how we can help you plan your future Google Analytics 4 migration.

If you want us to help you with your Google Analytics 4 migration, head over to our contact form and let us know.

Note : we are expecting a high demand for this and already have a wait list. If you want help, get in quickly!

Looking for Google Analytics 4 Training?

We’re in the process of developing a course at the moment which will be open for pre-registration soon.

This course will be really comprehensive, and will be added to over the next 6 months or so as functionality changes. We’ll bring you the latest tips, things to think about, and will let you know how GA4 differs from the existing Universal Analytics.

If you want to be added to the pre-registration list for our upcoming detailed Google Analytics 4 course please head over to our contact form and let us know. Special launch deals before the first round of content is ready!

Darren Craig

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