Switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 is tough. The data-model and interface of the new Google Analytics version have changed drastically. Our 10 step plan guides your organization towards a smooth migration and a futureproof data-driven success story.

If you have already migrated from UA to GA4, you can use our plan as a quick checklist to make sure you haven’t missed anything important.

Is this Google Analytics migration checklist for you?

You can quickly check if you can profit from our migration plan for Google Analytics.

Do you fit into these segments?

I am …

  • a website owner and I want to do the migration to GA4 myself without hassle.
  • a web designer or I run an agency and (plan to) offer GA4 quality migration services to my clients.
  • a data-driven marketer and I need reliable data to get results from my campaigns.
  • an ICT team leader and I need to plan and survey Google Analytics migration in our organization.
  • a stakeholder or decision-maker and I want a high-level overview of the migration procedure without the technical details.
  • an early adopter and I have already switched to GA4. Now, I want to double check my setup.

Still here?

Then you will absolutely profit in the short, middle and long term from our GA migration plan.

10 steps for a successful migration from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Our GA migration plan applies to all sites. That may come as a surprise to you.

Universal Analytics tried to serve all websites. You can adjust Google Analytics 4 to your unique business goals.

The downside is that you will need to work hard ON GA4 before you can make the tool work FOR your business.

Another thing to keep in mind is:

The answer to many GA4 migration questions is: it depends.

A simple site requires less technical skills than a multi-domain web shop that also has an app.

One last warning:

Keep your UA account during and after the migration process

Let’s start with the most important step of your GA migration.

Read it carefully.

This is something you will not find in the rabbit hole of the Google support pages…

#1 Evaluate your current measurement strategy first

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 is speeding up things.

I get it. The deadline is real: on the 1st of July 2023, UA will stop collecting data.

The Let’s go button in UA tries to nudge you:

Do not click it. And if you did, please, don’t panic.

Why is this step important?

  • Your website platform may not be ready for GA4. This Google support page will tell you if that’s the case. But even if it is, don’t assume it will be perfect. You can, for instance, add GA4 to Squarespace, but the platform won’t show your sales conversions in your GA4 account.
Img credit: Google
  • UA itself has changed over the years and you may not be using its latest features.
  • Your UA account may no longer be aligned with your current business goals.

Switching blindly from UA to GA4 will give you the false impression that your data is safe from now on.

It is not, nor is your organization.

What to do?

First, zoom in on your business. Then look at your UA account. Then ask these questions:

  • Is UA tracking relevant business and marketing KPIs optimally?
  • Is the data you need even available in your UA reports?
  • Has your business evolved? Maybe you created an app? Started selling online? Gave your website a makeover?
  • Have you adopted your UA account to reflect business changes?
  • Who analyzes your reports? Do you actually do something with the data? Do you adapt your marketing and website based on data you can find in UA?

There are a thousand more questions you can ask. Don’t figure out everything at this stage.

Instead,

Take.

A.

Break.

Seriously, do it for the future of your business.

Google Analytics 4 gives you an excellent excuse to think ahead. In the meantime, you can…

#2 Explore GA alternatives and build an optimal analytics stack

Google Analytics is not your only option.

Stop staring at your UA account for a while and consider your options. Maybe other analytics solutions can provide you with deeper and more complete insights into the customer journey and user behavior.

Why is this step important?

Either you accept blind spots in your marketing flow, or you try to fill in the data gaps of Google Analytics.

  • Google Analytics doesn’t contain or track data of what’s not taking place ON your website.

Don’t waste your precious time on searching, comparing, testing, going through tutorials of analytics tools…

So…

What to do?

If you are worried, angry or disappointed that no analytics tool can track everything, this quote will bring you comfort:

Data is like salt and pepper. If you use too much or none, your dish won’t taste great. If you use the right amount, your business will be delicious. – Jeff Sauer, founder of Data Driven U

No tool collects 100% of the data.

Decisions based on 0% data are statistically a worse strategy.

That’s a fact, not an opinion.

Here is another fact: you can still try out GA4 and decide later on. No credit card needed.

#3 Collect data in both UA and GA4

It’s brutal, but Google Analytics doesn’t transfer your data from UA to GA4.

You start with a blank slate.

The best you can do is to use a technique called parallel tracking. Simply put: collect data in UA and GA4.

Why is this step important?

This stage is ideal to dip your toe into the GA4 ocean before diving in. It’s a challenge to get what GA4 is all about.. and to get your UA data in your account.

If you have a small site, don’t aim for perfection. For complicated setups, it’s worth investing resources in getting the setup right from the beginning.

  • The sooner you set up GA4 and track your sites, the sooner you will enjoy YoY comparisons. Isn’t that what you, as a data-driven marketer or stakeholder, want? Comparing today’s data with last year?
  • The other advantage of doing this is that you can try out GA4 with no risk of data loss in your UA account. Alas, that doesn’t mean the data will flow into GA4.

What to do?

  • Review your UA architecture. Which websites are you tracking?
  • Check your UA tag. If you are still using analytics.js, you may need to go through endless support pages to get that right first. But then again, you have been using data that was collected in a suboptimal way. You might as well switch immediately to GA4.
  • Implement your tag on your website. And make sure you keep the UA tag.
  • Set up data streams to ensure you receive the data that is also flowing into your UA account.
  • Clean up data in GA4.
  • Connect your UA properties to GA4.
  • Set-up cookieless tracking.
  • Understand GA4 debugging.
  • Adjust data retention settings.

Parallel tracking UA and GA4 is the perfect start… of a long journey.

There is one big problem. At this stage, you only need to be aware of it.

No matter what you do, you will see different results in UA and GA4. That is because they collect and present data differently…

#4 Adjust to the differences between GA4 and UA

GA4 and UA are completely different tools. That may sound to you like “Ok, so what?” or “Dang, I don’t like where you are going from here”.

You will have to unlearn UA and open your mind to new models, opportunities.

Why is this step important?

It’s tempting to compare your data in UA and GA4. The only thing you will experience at the beginning? The heavy weight of disappointment on your shoulders.

Here is why:

  • UA is hit-based, whereas GA4 is event-based.
  • UA was built before mobile traffic dominated the Internet. GA4 is built as a mobile-first analytics tool.
  • GA4 is privacy focused. UA is not.

What to do?

Let me put this question differently. In this phase, it is important to NOT do a lot of things.

Forget conversions, GA users, perfect reports and most important: do not compare your data from UA with GA4 at this stage.

Instead, focus on this:

  • Understand and change administrator settings where needed.
  • Improve data collection with enhanced measurements.
  • Understand properties and recommended events.
  • Map your KPIs to GA4 events (on paper).
  • Build, monitor, and improve campaign tracking.
  • Create an ecommerce tracking plan.
  • Learn how to customize the reporting interface (without worrying about the details).

Ready?

Then, do this:

#5 Configure your Google Analytics 4 account

GA4 has many hidden layers. To unlock them, you will need to configure your account properly.

Why is this step important?

Properties, segments, dimensions, metrics, parameters… It’s easy to get lost in the GA4 language.

To make it worse: all those mysterious things depend on each other. If you miss, misunderstand, or have mis-configured one item in the chain, this will affect your reports.

And your decisions.

And your revenue…

What to do?

  • Review if GA4 events contain potential conversions
  • Double check your UA ecommerce tracking
  • Set up content grouping (for big sites)
  • Build audience segments
  • Understand engagement data
  • Track in-app purchases
  • Start building custom dimensions
  • Understand user properties
  • Activate Google Signals
  • Configure cross-device tracking

#6 Migrate your events 1 on 1 from UA to GA4

You are halfway through the migration process, and while you were working hard, GA4 has also done a lot for you.

Now is the perfect moment to:

  • add in GA4 the things that were not automatically migrated from UA.
  • to correct the things that went wrong during the migration process.

Conversions are what you need and they will likely break in GA4.

Why is this step important?

Although GA4 gives you some options to migrate UA events to GA4, this rarely works as expected.

GA4 doesn’t understand the UA events you created in Google Tag Manager.

What to do?

Look at UA. Look at GA. Then, evaluate your events and conversions one by one.

  • Have you marked events in GA4 as conversions?
  • Are they configured correctly, using the right and required GA4 parameters?
  • Do you respect GA4 event and parameter limitations so that your reports won’t break?
  • What other events do you need to migrate manually from UA?

Events. Events. Events.

Welcome to GA4…

#7 Link your GA4 account with other Google products

Loading data from different sources in one tool has many advantages.

No surprise here. GA4 works smoothly with its own products.

But you need to link them.

The reason this is not done for you, or copied from your UA account? Privacy is important in GA4. You will need to go through a series of Terms of Agreement to link products.

This will put some pressure on legal departments.

Your development team will be busy implementing cookie banners.

Why is this step important?

Although you can link tools with GA4 earlier in the migrations process, it is more logical to do this once you have set up conversions. Especially when you are using Google Ads.

What to do?

Link the products you need and that you can legally use in your country.

The first one doesn’t exist in the free UA version. It’s an excellent reason to migrate to GA4.

Remember the importance of building an analytics stack? If you finished this step, you are way ahead of many of your competitors.

#8 Create useful reports in GA4

You have the data you need in GA4. You are confident that all is working (kind of) perfect. Time to dive into the reports… and face more frustration.

Reports are the first thing everybody looks at when starting out with GA4. That’s normal.

If you want to buy a car, you don’t want a guided factory tour. You want a test ride. Now!

GA4 reports explain why marketers and organizations are hesitant to migrate from UA.

Why is this step important?

It’s your job to avoid frustration and resistance.

It’s key to a successful migration. After all, what’s the point of leaving your users empty-handed after all the work you’ve done?

  • Understand, prepare, show, and teach your team the true power of GA4 reports and explorations.
  • If possible, don’t give users access to your GA4 property before you have finished this step. Or at least, warn them you will fix it for them.

What to do?

You need to adapt the default reports. It’s the fastest way to convince customers, team members or stakeholders that GA4 is an upgrade.

You have done a lot of hard work.

Don’t share your victory yet.

Maybe not everybody needs access to your GA4 account…

#9 Create data visualization dashboards

Google Analytics 4 is not the best option to provide everybody with data. Data visualization tools can drive your business forward.

The easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get started is Google Data Studio.

Why is this step important?

  • You can provide people with GA4 data they need without giving them access to your GA4 account.
  • GA4 is overwhelming. If you create data visualization reports, you will drastically increase the productivity of your team and decrease the training budget.
  • As an agency or web designer, you can copy your Data Studio dashboard. If needed, change them. This is far easier than setting up customized reports in GA4.

What to do?

Link Data Studio, or your preferred data visualization tool, to GA4. Then create interactive dashboards that show:

  • Your organic traffic (Year To Date)
  • Key metrics of your UA and GA4 account
  • Weekly, monthly, quarterly content performance
  • Campaign performance
  • Conversions
  • Etc.

If you are not familiar with Data Studio, you can adjust a template.

Or you can use another tool.

#10 Frequently review the data and your GA4 account

Before you say goodbye to UA, forever, you want to make sure that your GA4 data is and remains reliable.

Why is this step important?

A GA4 data and account audit is not a set and forget step.

  • GA4 is not a finished product.
  • Your business will change. You may add new sites, apps in the future.
  • GA4 users can change reports (and undo your hard work).
  • Google Tag Manager can contain errors.
  • Your site visitors can request you to delete data in GA4.
  • Bugs will happen, and you need to know how to troubleshoot data filters.

What to do?

You need to familiarize yourself with data and account audits.

Then, and only then, you will have a tool to replace UA with confidence.

Additional FAQ

How can I backup my data from UA?

You can export your UA reports manually to CSV, excel, or Google sheets. There is, however, no rush in doing so before June 2023. Don’t delete your UA account and by the time it stops collecting data, Google may have come up with a simple solution.

How long does it take to switch from UA to GA4?

Your GA4 account will contain data 24 hours after you have installed the tag on your site. However, that doesn’t mean that you are all set. Depending on your site and UA architecture, the availability and know-how of your team the process can take days to weeks.

Summary

  • Universal Analytics will stop collecting data, so you have to migrate your Google Analytics account.
  • The migration from UA to GA4 is not a one click job. The best approach is to plan your migration and set deadlines.
  • The 10 step migration plan tells you what to do at which stage. This ensures that your GA4 data will also be reliable in the future.
  • Website owners, designers, agencies, marketers and stakeholders profit from a step-by-step Google Analytics migration plan.
  • Grab this moment to explore analytics tools and build your analytics stack to get a better overall view of your marketing efforts.
  • Even if you have already switched to GA4, you can use our plan as a checklist to see if you missed something important.

I hope this plan will help you save you time before, during and after migrating Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. If you follow the 10 steps, you will pick the fruits from the hard work Jeff and the Data Driven U team have put in it. Good luck!

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