What We’ve Learned Migrating Universal Analytics Accounts to GA4

SEO Associate
Bianca Matos
March 24, 2023
What We’ve Learned Migrating Analytics Accounts to GA4 – Ontario SEO

In today’s world, data analytics plays a crucial role in driving business decisions and providing valuable insights to improve the customer experience and generate leads. As technology advances, analytic platforms are constantly seeking ways to address the changing landscape of digital marketing and privacy concerns. That’s one of the main reasons why Google created Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to replace Universal Analytics (UA), which will be sunsetting on July 1st, 2023.  

With this transition, there are several things to consider, and it can be a daunting task for businesses. We’ve transitioned many analytics accounts over to GA4 and there have been many bumps along the road. In this blog, we will share some of the key learnings from our experience in migrating Universal Analytics accounts to GA4, to help businesses navigate this transition smoothly and efficiently.

The ‘Seamless Migration’ that Google Advertises Isn’t True

Google has tried to make and advertise that the transition to GA4 is easy and simple for businesses. They’ve implemented a migration tool in UA that is supposed to make the process seamless. We’ve found that this isn’t the case. If anything, it has caused more issues than solved problems.  

While we recommend using the migration tool to set up your GA4 property from UA, we strongly discourage importing your goals. That’s because not all goals can be migrated over to GA4.  

In theory, you should be analyzing the way your company uses UA and then determining what should be brought to GA4. If you just blindly bring everything over, you are doing yourself a disservice. Some goals that you may have had are built into GA4 (scroll, file downloads, video engagements), and others you may not even use anymore. Treat GA4 as if it is a brand new account (cause it really is) and look at it with fresh new eyes.  

Check to See if Data Aligns with UA

The most important thing to remember is that GA4 and UA are not the same. They collect data in different ways. Session metrics are event-based now, active users are now the primary user metric, and some events are built into GA4. When we analyzed the session data over a period between UA and GA4, not all of them were aligned. Google has even admitted that businesses will run into this issue.  

What we found helpful is to use a percentage to compare the two different session metrics. If you are seeing differences above 8%, you should look into what could be causing the discrepancy. Determining what the causes it requires a lot of digging and understanding the differences between the two tools. This is why it’s important to start working in GA4 now so that you aren’t completely lost come July 1st, 2023.  

Not All Enhanced Events Are Great

Enhanced measurements are built into GA4, but most are not automatically turned on. Page views are the only enhanced measurements that cannot be turned off, but others can be. Depending on what is important to your business, we recommend reviewing these to see what data you want to collect.  

Here are the enhanced measurements that are available in GA4:  

  • Scroll  
  • Outbound clicks  
  • Site search  
  • Video engagement  
  • File downloads 
  • Form interactions  

One we recommend all businesses turn off is Form Interactions. It has two events that can fire when forms are embedded on your website, form_start and form_submit. Form_start is when a first-time user has interacted with the form during a session. Form_submit is when the user has submitted the form. When turned on, we found that the data was incorrect. It did not align with form events fired through Google Tag Manager or cross-referencing submissions through the website’s CMS. We recommend setting up all form events or conversions through Google Tag Manager.

Implementing Internal Traffic Filters is Not Simple

Filtering out your internal traffic from your analytics data is important. You do not want your or your staff’s page visits to count toward your organic traffic. In UA, it was a fairly simple process to exclude internal traffic. With GA4, Google provides a simple guide, but it is not as easy to implement.  

The core of the issue is the loss of multiple Views that are available in UA. When setting up UA accounts, you could set up multiple views so that you can filter out specific traffic and set up testing views to verify that events and goals fired correctly, among other things. Views in GA4 do not exist. Instead, you have a single reporting view where you can apply data filters to filter out specific traffic. When you activate the internal filter for GA4, you lose the ability to use Debug view which is extremely helpful for verifying GTM tags.  

Right now, there is no simple solution. Julius Fedorovicius, Analytics Mania, has created a step-by-step guide using Google Tag Manager on how to work around this but it is nuanced. We hope that Google is working towards implementing changes that make the process simple.  

Update: Google has updated the filtering process, but it still involves more steps than you are used to in UA. See full instructions here 

UTM Parameters for Campaign Tracking

With GA4, Google has changed some definitions and added new channel groupings. Old UTM parameters are no longer being categorized by Google in the same way. We’ve found that not all our campaign traffic are being allocated to the correct channel in GA4. This is because Google has changed the default channel categorizations. If you don’t follow these specific categories, your traffic will be categorized as Unassigned. They’ve released a list of default channel groupings and their definitions which we recommend reviewing.  

We recommend looking at what is currently listed as Unassigned in GA4 and examining your current channel groupings so that they align with Google. For example, changing any upper-case characters in your UTM parameters to lower case and removing spaces.  

Many of our clients had issues with their email UTMs being incorrectly classified, because of the use of spaces and capitals in UTMs. 

Final Thoughts

The transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 can be a challenging process for businesses. While Google has advertised a seamless migration, our experience suggests otherwise. That’s why it’s crucial to be working in GA4 now, before UA sunsets in July. You do not want to be walking in with fresh eyes on July 1st.  

It is important to analyze your UA account and carefully determine what data should be brought over to GA4. Furthermore, GA4 and UA collect data in different ways, so it is crucial to check if the data aligns between the two platforms. Additionally, not all enhanced events in GA4 may be useful, and implementing internal traffic filters is not a simple task. Finally, UTM parameter guidelines have been updated, and it is important to ensure that they align with Google’s new categorizations. By addressing these issues, you can set yourself up for a smoother and more efficient transition.  

Update: In the short weeks this blog took to write and publish, the GA4 interface has changed multiple times. GA4 is changing frequently as we move closer to the July 1st data. Please ensure you are using the most up-to-date information to migrate your accounts. 

We’ve successfully migrated many Universal Analytic accounts to GA4. Contact us today to start the migration process before the deadline. We can help create a plan, analyze your current analytics, and apply best practices.