Google GA4 vs UA

The switch from Google’s UA to GA4: What you need to know

It’s crunch-time: Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). From July 1, 2023, UA will stop reporting data – abruptly. All publishers and website owners will need to migrate to GA4 in order to keep using Google’s analytics tools.

Here, we’re answering questions and providing practical guidance on how to make the switch.

UA to GA4: the why, the when and the what

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of migrating to GA4, here are some important things you need to know. (Alternatively, you can skip to the practical part). 

Is the change necessary?

Yes – the shift is mandatory. After July 1, UA will simply cease processing data. One of the main reasons for this blanket approach is privacy. GA4 comes with a number of built-in privacy enhancements that change the way Google collects data (more on these later).

How long do I have?

Google announced GA4 3 years ago in order to give publishers enough time to prepare. If you haven’t moved over yet, it’s recommended to get it done before July 1st, so that GA4 is ready to start working on your property with its new features. In March, Google announced that they would be creating a GA4 property for you, unless you opted out in advance. 

What happens to my old data?

Data processed in your universal analytics property will still be available for 6 months after July. Use this breathing space to export old records so they aren’t lost. Google has also enabled dual-tagging in order to smooth the transition before moving fully into GA4 implementation after July 1st. Because GA4 is event-based, rather than hit-based, data cannot be simply imported from one to the other.

This happens to be one of the most important differences between UA and GA4. Let’s take a look at these next.

4 key differences between UA and GA4

GA4 brings a wealth of new features designed to empower publishers, while also giving users more control over their digital footprint. 

Universal AnalyticsGoogle Analytics 4
Records sessions Records events
Cross-device tracking is limitedTracks across devices by default
No predictive capacitiesLeverages machine learning for predictive insights
Inadequate privacy controlsEnhanced privacy: IP anonymization, storage limits and more

Event-driven data 

GA4 relies on an event-driven data structure instead of a session-based approach, allowing it to gather information on specific user interactions with your website or app.

Examples of events include loading a page, clicking a link, or completing a lead form. GA4 processes “automatically collected events” as well as enhanced, recommended or even custom events.

This enables more detailed insights into user behavior and enhances the accuracy of engagement tracking.

Cross-device tracking

Activity can now be tracked across various devices and marketing platforms. GA4 records information from multiple data streams to achieve enhanced cross-device tracking. This gives publishers and owners a much more granular picture of how users are finding and engaging with their brands, as well as their journey as customers. 

It also makes it much easier to compare the performance of different channels with greater accuracy. 

Predictive functionality

Thanks to its machine learning capabilities, GA4 can help owners to forecast user behavior based on prior engagement rates.

This feature is one of the most important for marketers, because it equips them with powerful data modeling abilities that were not available in UA. 

Enhanced privacy controls 

GA4 gives users more control over how their data is collected and stored. For example, users get to define how long their data is retained, and when it is deleted, in order to align with the storage limitation rules laid out in the GDPR.  IP anonymization is another major change, whereby Google will no longer store users’ IP addresses (which UA did by default).

Making the most of your GA4 migration

If you haven’t yet made the switch – or you need to set up an entirely new property, Google’s own published resources provide straightforward step-by-step guides on the basics.

Here’s a summary of the initial setup process:

  1. In Google Analytics, click Admin settings (if you have multiple Analytics accounts, make sure you’ve selected the right one)
  2. Now head to Property and choose “Universal Analytics”
  3. Select the GA4 Setup Assistant and then “Get Started” under “I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property”.
  4. Enable data collection (if using Google Tag Manager, it will be necessary to add this)
  5. Click “Create Property”

What to do once your GA4 property is set up

For B2B businesses in particular, one of the most important aspects to consider is the way that GA4 tracks and records events. As we mentioned earlier, this is a major departure from UA, and provides a number of advantages for companies who need to track the behavior and preferences of leads over time.

GA4 recognizes four categories of events:

  • Automatically collected events that get collected by default (ad clicks, impressions, and many other basic actions)
  • Enhanced measurement events you can track by enabling enhanced measurement
  • Recommended events you can select from a set of predefined events, depending on your reporting needs and priorities 
  • Best of all: custom events that you define for yourself. These make it possible to pinpoint almost any kind of data that isn’t covered by the others.

You can now create custom events through Google Tag Manager, selecting parameters that make sense for your particular business priorities. This flexibility and granularity stands out as one of the most promising developments for B2B marketers. 

Leads are the lifeblood of any B2B business. The better you understand how people are interacting with your brand, the easier it is to optimize performance. The only way to do that is to track information – and with GA4, we can measure more data, more accurately. As long as we can track an event, we can back-cycle, figure out what it means, and decide what our next step should be. 

  • Devin Daynes, Digital Marketing Specialist, Inspired Marketing

A word to wise: the limitations of custom events tracking

As powerful as these new features are, there are important limitations to bear in mind as you make the transition to GA4 – and particularly when it comes to managing events. Here are just a few:

  • Only 500 uniquely named events are allowed
  • 25 users per property
  • There is a 40 character limit to event names

As with the implementation of any new system – especially one that is redefining the digital marketing landscape – it’s best to tread carefully, and with expert guidance if possible.

When it comes to the level of granularity you want to achieve with your GA4 property, the sky really is the limit. Here is an example of a list of custom GA4 event tags that we recently set up within Google Tag Manager for one of our current clients.

Getting GA4 migration right with Inspired Marketing: digital solutions for B2B marketers

There’s no doubt that GA4 is an improvement over UA: enhanced tracking, machine learning, cross-platform measurement, privacy compliance, and flexible reporting make it an indispensable tool for marketers. 
But the inevitable tradeoff is increased complexity. From successful migration to events tracking and ongoing management, getting maximum value from GA4 takes expertise and – crucially – time. Get in touch with our team of expert B2B digital marketers to learn more about the switch to GA4 and prepare for what comes next.