Managing the change from UA to GA4 analytics

Managing change from UA to GA4 analytics


If you’ve been getting emails from Google telling you that Universal Analytics will be sunsetted from 1st July 2022 and you are not sure what that means for you as a small business, we can advise. If you don’t know what you need to do to move from UA to GA4 analytics, then read on.

What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free tool and the simplest explanation is that it can tell you where your website traffic is coming from and what those people do on your website. This then helps you make decisions such as which marketing channels are driving you the most traffic and the most impact – impact being email signups, sales, leads and pretty much anything which would indicate you are investing in the right marketing activities. Google’s Universal Analytics has been around since 2005 and it’s now time for the tool to support the current digital landscape through GA4.

The sad truth

Unfortunately Google Analytics is underused in small businesses mainly because:

1. Some planning and technical setup is needed before you can get any actionable insight. If you have lots of data collection points or many customer funnels, more than one website that targets the same customers, it is best to get an Analytics expert to help you build your measurement plans and map out the tags that need to be implemented. This plan will help you and your team work with a developer more easily to ensure any web data is pushed out of the website (into the data layer) and then pulled into Google Analytics. Download the Digital Seamstress free GA4 setup checklist to help you with this.

2. The number of reports available can be overwhelming. Knowing the right reports to read is key in really understanding your marketing performance. More on the key report you need below.

3. Heavy reliance on third party tools. A common mistake is using the reports that come with email service provider tools, Meta Business Manager, Google Ads to decide whether your marketing is working. The reports tell you how well the ads or email is driving traffic to your site but they don’t tell you accurately how well the traffic is doing once on site. Facebook and email data collection from Apple devices have been affected adversely with iOS 14 and iOS 15 changes and many marketers have seen a drop in performance. However, it’s not the performance of ads or emails contributing to this and Google Analytics can help to plug the gaps.

4. Ecommerce tracking is not installed if you need to measure sales and revenue. This is a step often overlooked as you need help from a web analyst familiar with Google Analytics and a developer. You may need a developer to implement code that pushes data from your website to a place that GA can pull from, into reports. A web analyst then makes sure that this information is pulled into Google Analytics using a tool such as a Google Tag Manager. A common misconception is that a developer can do both these jobs.

What happens if I don’t implement GA4 soon?

If you are currently using the Universal Analytics version of Google Analytics then from 1st July 2023 you will lose your year on year data. You need to migrate from UA to GA4 analytics.  We recommend running both analytics version alongside each other until UA sunsets.

OK so what do I need to set up GA4 analytics?

1. Add GA4 script to your website. How you do this depends on how your tracking tags are currently set up. They might be hardcoded on your website or implemented via Google Tag Manager. If you are not sure, a developer could advise. You can have both the UA and GA4 tag on your site simultaneously and this is best practice if you are currently running UA. If you don’t have UA, there is no point adding the UA tag.

2. Decide on what data you want to collect, even if you have UA, don’t simply transfer data collection points over. There are limits to events and parameters. GA4 is a chance to be more mindful of the data you collect, how it is collected, how long you keep it and choose which personal data you collect.

3. Start using the reports!

So I have data coming through, which reports should I use?

If you are new to Google Analytics there’s only one you should focus on, called the Traffic Acquisition report. You can find this under the Reports section by clicking on Acquisition then Traffic Acquisition. This tells you which marketing activity is sending traffic to your website, what it is doing and whether it converts.

I find that once you get your head around this one and you start to ask more questions, it is easier to get your head around the other reports. Often website managers or marketers who try to master all reports, master none.

A couple of key points:

You can’t create channels as you previously could with Universal Analytics. GA4 has defined default channel groupings. Eg Audio for podcast traffic, Paid Social for Facebook ads or Pinterest ads. This means you need to use the UTM tracking as defined by Google to ensure your traffic isn’t pooled into the “unassigned” channel. More information on how Google classifies your traffic with UTM tracking here or join the waiting list for the Digital Seamstress GA4 webinar for a practical demo of how UTM tracking works.

Bounce rates are out and engaged sessions are in! Bounce rate is no longer a metric available in GA4. The focus is on performance of traffic on site and not about how much traffic is leaving the site.
If you have a small volume of traffic every week, use a long period of time such as 6 to 8 weeks of data to base any decisions on.

To learn more about other useful reports then join the waiting list for the GA4 reports webinar run by Thuha.  We thank her very much for providing us with this guest post.

Thuha Wright is a Google Ads expert running Google Ads/paid ads as Digital Seamstress since 2006. She has a passion for data and sharing the many uses of Google Analytics with others.