June 14, 2023

Google Analytics 4 is Here

By: Ari Robbins


GA4 Set Up Assistant Countdown

If you’ve been using Google Analytics at all in the past 3-6 months, you’ve likely seen the notices and countdowns reminding you about the switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It’s coming July 1, and even if you think you’re prepared, we have some key points you may still need to consider.

How to Switch

It appears that Google Analytics has opted most accounts into a setting that will automatically set up a basic Google Analytics 4 property for them by July 1, provided one doesn’t already exist. This setting will copy over existing UA configurations into a GA4 property. This is not without risks, as some UA settings are incompatible with GA4. 

Google’s recommendation is to manually create a GA4 property if you haven’t yet. 

Create a GA4 Property

To create a GA4 property, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click Admin in your Google Analytics account
  2. Select the UA property that collects data for your website
  3. In the Property column, select GA4 Setup Assistant
  4. Follow the Assistant’s prompts
    1. Create and continue to manually install the Google tag on your site
    2. Create a property to allow Analytics to reuse your UA property to populate some initial settings

For more detailed steps and troubleshooting, refer to Google’s help page.

Important note: no matter how you set up your Google Analytics 4 property, data from your Universal Analytics property WILL NOT BACKFILL. The GA4 property will only collect data moving forward, even if you sync your UA property. Syncing just shares settings and configurations, NOT data. 


Why the Switch

Google Analytics 4 was beta-released back in 2019 to bring Firebase mobile app reporting together with Universal Analytics (UA) web reporting, so that reporting across app and web applications could live in one platform.

Google is also looking ahead to more privacy-centric reporting, and has incorporated machine learning and statistical modeling into the platform. These components can fill in gaps if users can’t be tracked via cookies.

The push to switch to Google Analytics 4 is happening to allow for consolidated data streams and sustainable reports in the face of more privacy controls.


What’s Changing with GA4

Data Model

Bringing web and app reporting together required a shift in the Universal Analytics data model, from a hit-based model to an event-based model. In the hit-based model, pageview hits were the fundamental metric that informed things like sessions, bounce rate, time on site, pages per session, etc. 

In the event-based model, event hits become the fundamental metric. This type of data model was used in Firebase mobile app tracking to look at user behavior at a more granular level outside of pageviews. This is the model now used in Google Analytics 4. Familiar metrics from the hit-based model will still be available, but their underlying calculation has changed. 

Event Tracking

Because of the shift to an event-based model, manual event tagging (through Google Tag Manager or hard-coded event tags) will only be needed for complex events. There are now many out-of-the-box events that GA4 makes available upon property set up, like:

  • Scrolls
  • Outbound link clicks
  • Site search
  • Video engagement
  • File downloads

The events in GA4 are also very different from UA, and no longer use Category, Action or Label fields. Instead, custom parameters are available to add detail to event tracking.

New Default Reports

You win some and you lose some with Google Analytics. Codeless event tracking is great, but some of the default reports available in GA4 pale in comparison to the default reports in Universal Analytics. Here’s an example of a big change:

Metric Type Universal Analytics Google Analytics 4
High-level site metrics: Users, Sessions, Pageviews, Bounce Rate, etc All accessible under Audience > Overview Split between:

  • Acquisition > Overview
  • Acquisition > User acquisition
  • Acquisition > Traffic acquisition
  • Engagement > Engagement overview
  • Engagement > Events


If you have questions or need assistance switching over to GA4, contact us here.

There are fewer overarching reports in GA4, so you have to navigate to many different report screens to find the data that you could typically get in one screen in UA. 

Not to mention the user interface is very different as well. There are some report screens in GA4 that have a similar layout to popular UA reports (a timeline graphic followed by a table), but many GA4 reports are a collection of widgets. They are reminiscent of Custom Reports or Dashboards in UA, or the report widgets in Looker Studio.

We recommend maintaining your Universal Analytics property for as long as possible after you set up your GA4 property, so you can easily reference it when you’re trying to find your way through GA4’s new dashboards. 


Report Customization

There is a strong incentive in GA4 to do report customization. If you’re a Looker Studio super user, this will be exciting for you. If you were used to logging into UA once a month and not going beyond the standard reports, this may be painful. 

One of our main takeaways from GA4 so far is that you will need to customize some reports in order to get the same level of visibility into your metrics.

Report customization is possible via two ways in GA4: 

  1. Hitting the pencil icon to “Customize report” on the majority of the reports in the Report section

  2. Or navigating into the Explore section and building an “exploration” report from scratch or from the GA4 templates

Again, keep your UA property around for as long as possible so you can reference it as you build out customizations in GA4 to approximate the metrics you’re used to reporting on. 


I Switched Over, Now What?

Clear the Alerts

There’s been a lot of confusing messaging out there for accounts that have already done their homework and set up a GA4 property. If you already switched over but keep seeing alerts and pop-ups, do the following:

  • If you have had a Google Analytics 4 property for a while now, make sure you opt out of the setting that will automatically create one for you. That way nothing will be overwritten in your existing GA4 property.
  • If you’re seeing the notice to migrate your UA property to a connected GA4 property, but you already have the settings you want in your GA4 property, click “No.”
  • If you’re seeing notices like “This property is not fully set up. You can complete the recommended setup checklist in the Setup Assistant.”, then be sure to mark the Setup Assistant’s tasks as complete. You can review these by going to your GA4 property, clicking Setup Assistant, and clicking the arrow next to each task to bring up the “Mark as complete” option.

Marry Up Your Data

Now that you have your GA4 property, make sure you recreate key data points.

  1. Conversion tracking – ensure you have conversion events loaded in, either from porting them in via UA or recreating them
    1. If you pushed conversion data from UA to Google Ads, make sure you do the same with the recreated GA4 conversion events
  2. Add account links for things like Google Ads and Search Console
  3. Recreate any audiences you may have had porting from UA to Google Ads, then make sure they’re accessible in Google Ads
  4. Recreate any custom event tracking that isn’t available out-of-the-box in GA4, and make sure to add Custom Dimensions to capture enhanced event data 

If you have questions or need assistance switching over to GA4, contact us here.

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