Migrating To Google Analytics 4: Getting Started

Google Analytics 4 has been out for some time now and you may be considering migrating across from your existing Universal Analytics implementation. GA4 is a major update to the Google Analytics platform and it can be confusing as to how (and why) you should update your reporting and tracking.

Google Analytics, as we know it, debuted in 2012. The original rollout was developed to meet the needs of businesses that were maturing and to allow for greater flexibility. Features such as custom dimensions & metrics, data importing, ecommerce tracking and a plethora of other options allowed businesses to tailor their installation and reporting to match their individual needs.

It was a substantial step forward but it was conceived in a world where desktop-based use was standard. Over time, use of mobile devices increased rapidly and the ability to track mobile apps within Analytics was added. Native app tracking was a new concept and Google ultimately opted to use their desktop tracking methodology to fit over it.

Despite their attempts, Universal Analytics never had a truly mobile focus. Until now, that is. With Google Analytics 4 being released, Google now has a more robust product that embraces the cross-device world and puts non-desktop tracking on a pedestal.

Show Me The Data

Universal Analytics predominantly focuses on hit types such as pageviews, ecommerce, social and events. Analytics 4 basically considers one type of hit and those are events. The existing event tracking functionality is constrictive and not the easiest to understand.

GA4 simplifies the complexity and uses a direct event name and parameter structure. This has the effect of removing the ambiguity of which hit type to use and its associated limits. This flexibility expands your ability to capture rich and insightful data, across user visits and devices, in a cohesive way.

Google Analytics 4 Versus Universal Analytics

To effectively plan the migration of your Analytics account, it is imperative to understand some fundamental differences between the two versions.

Data Streams

One of the major distinctions between the two releases is the inclusion of Data Streams when upgrading to Google Analytics 4. Data Streams are seen as sources of data that feed into an Analytics property. This, in turn, allows for data to be sent, from multiple sites and apps, into a single property by the use of a consistent tracking structure. Google Analytics 4 also added something called “Enhanced Measurement”. These are out of the box events that are activated on a data stream and automatically tracked without the need to set up extra tags. They may include scroll, outbound clicks, page views or file downloads. Users can now individually enable or disable these.

Filtered views have been abolished so if you are wanting to view a subset of your data you would need to look at comparisons within the interface of Analytics 4. This is the equivalent of segments in Universal Analytics.


Universal Analytics does offer a wide range of reporting ability, GA4 has reduced its reporting breadth. The main purpose of this is to focus more on the important reports. One of the disadvantages, however, is the need to alternate primary dimensions so that you can replicate a former standalone report. The new reporting functionality is drastically different to what we are accustomed to and it will take some time to get used to the new reporting interface. Before you migrate fully over to Google Analytics 4, it’s important that your team is familiar with the new reports interface so that you can identify the data that is important.

Another significant change is the elimination of the Customization section that formerly contained dashboards, saved and custom reports. “Analysis Hub” has been around for some time, it has now become the preferred method for composing custom reports and exploratory analysis. Data Studio is the platform for creating the dashboards. Both products offer far more power and flexibility than Universal Analytics had the capacity to deliver.


Most configuration settings have shifted to data streams, including cross-domain measuring and internal traffic filters. One of Universal Analytics’ coups was the ability to manipulate data with the use of advanced filters. The filtering ability within Google Analytics 4 has been significantly rolled back but it could be expected that increased functionality will be rolled out in the future.

Custom Dimensions are now set within the report interface rather than directly in the property. GA4’s free version allows for 50 custom dimensions and 50 custom metrics to be configured. You can configure up to 25 properties. This greatly expands one’s capacity to capture custom data as compared to the limit of 20 custom dimensions previously permitted in Universal Analytics.

One of the more impressive features of GA4 is the ability to configure new events from existing events. This comes in handy where you are wanting to base a goal conversion on the combination of an event name and parameter. GA4 conversions are based on a specific event name which is different to Universal Analytics. An avenue to get around this is to create a custom event centred on a combination of event parameters and names.

For example, you might have a form submission event such as contact_submission coupled with a parameter to identify the particular form that was submitted. If you configure a custom event using the contact_submission event name as the base, you can set a new event label such as contact_submission_register. The new event can then be set as a conversion.

Another notable feature is the capacity to modify inbound event names and parameters. This gives you the ability to fix minor issues with incoming data and ensure reporting is consistent without having to make changes to the base code. When you transition across, keep in mind that the changes are applied moving forward and not historically.

Planning With Graphs

Document Existing Tracking

To get started in the migration, you should first assess what is currently being tracked and how. Ideally, you should create a spreadsheet which defines the details of all existing tracking. Starting from this point, you can plot how you wish to structure your data streams and Analytics 4 events. Examining your current setup will also help you identify if there are shortfalls with your current configuration. If there is an existing Firebase implementation, remember to include this as well. This shares the same data model as Analytics 4 so it may give you some insights into how to structure the events.

Naming Conversions for GA4 Migration

Comprehending how to name events and parameters is the key to a smooth migration. Per Google’s documentation, the ideal form for events and parameters is lowercase text where underscores act as spaces. Google uses this standard to populate data in some of the ready made reports so it’s prudent to follow this convention in the process of creating your own events.

We prefer to name events by describing a category of data or feature as well as a particular user action, e.g. category_action.” Examples are: registration_success; email_signup; or, login_error.

Event parameters are a bit more open-ended though should be consistently applied across events. Examples are: signup_location; notification_type; or, error_message.

Tagging Your Implementations

Once you have reviewed your GA4 tracking, the next step is to implement it. We do recommend dual tagging your current implementation as well as your GA4 upgrade before completely moving across. GA4 is a significant change when compared to the standard Universal Analytics and it may take some time to become accustomed to the new style of tracking and reporting. By dual tagging, you will be able to lean on your current reports while you are building out new ones. Also, it gives you time to fix any mistakes with your Analytics 4 tagging before fully taking the dive. Remember that Google is always building in new features and functionality for all of its products. This may have an impact on when you decide to fully migrate across.

Aligning App Tracking

A major benefit of GA4 is its capacity to combine both web and mobile app data. If your business has developed a mobile app, remember to include it in your planning process. This will keep your web and app tracking consistent.

To send data to GA4 from an app tracking needs to be implemented via Firebase. Firebase and Analytics 4 share the same data model so you can consistently enable tracking across the two platforms. This removed the need to translate tracking from one to the other. Why You Should Migrate To GA4 An event-based approach to Analytics has been around for some time now but is fast becoming the norm. Behavioural shifts, increased cross-device activity and a more sophisticated use of data have all contributed to an increased uptake of event based data.

The flexibility and enhanced scalability of Google Analytics 4 serves as a robust platform for deriving quantitative insights into the behaviour of your users and how they engage with your online business.

Published on Thursday, 15 April 2021 under Google Analytics.