How to Upgrade to GA4 & Should You?

October 26, 2020

In October of 2020, Google officially made Google Analytics 4 (GA4) the default experience for new Analytics properties. GA4 is a new approach to analytics than the traditional, current version of Google Analytics (called Universal Analytics). GA4 comes with better privacy handling and has machine learning built in to help deliver new and better insights.

The first question is when do you need to upgrade? So far, Google hasn’t announced an end of life for the Universal Analytics version of Google Analytics, though they will no longer be investing in it. They are defaulting to GA4 for new properties but are not requiring existing sites to upgrade—only encouraging (strongly) adoption. Long story short: you will need to upgrade to GA4 but you don’t need to upgrade immediately.

As a result, while you do need to upgrade to GA4, it is important that you upgrade carefully and avoid disrupting your analytics as much as possible. As well, you have time to do this slowly and accurately. In this post, I want to walk through the importance of running the old and new GA at the same time, walk through how you upgrade to GA4, and discuss how you should adjust your tag so that you can run GA4 alongside your existing analytics setup.

Run the Current GA & GA4 in Parallel

When you upgrade to GA4, it will create a new website property in your account. This new GA4 property will not replace your existing Analytics’ properties or views. When you create that new GA4 property, it will be empty—no historical data is transferred into GA4. As a result, you need to give GA4 sufficient time to collect data before you can rely on it to view historical trends or make decisions based on those historical trends. As well, any custom event tracking that has been set up for things like forms will need to be reconfigured to work in the new GA4 property.
The good news is that you don’t have to stop running the current version of Google Analytics. Instead, thankfully, you can run GA4 alongside the current version of Google Analytics. Once you upgrade, you will have a new property for your website (a GA4 property) and the regular property you currently use. The old property will have a “UA-“ in the ID number.

two GA properties

Given this, the best solution is to run the current and new versions of Google Analytics in parallel. This way, you give the new GA4 time to collect data and give yourself time to confirm everything is tracking properly in that new property, including verifying that the numbers in GA4 compare to the numbers in the current version of Google Analytics. Eventually, once you feel comfortable with GA4 and feel like it sufficiently works for your business needs, you can make the switch to run only GA4—but again, you don’t need to get there in a rush.

Upgrade to GA4

Let’s begin with how you upgrade to GA4. On the admin screen, click the link in the property column that says “Upgrade to GA4”.

upgrade to ga4

On the next screen, under “I need to create a new Google Analytics 4 property”, click “Get Started”. On the wizard, leave the enable checkbox unchecked and click “Create Property.”

create property

On the next screen, click Tag Installation and then click on your website property. From here, click on “Global Site Tag (gtag.js)”. You will then see your GA4 tracking code. If you run an existing website and are currently tracking data into Google Analytics, don’t just paste this on your website! You can use one of the methods discussed below to add GA4 to your website alongside your existing installation of analytics.

Options for Adding GA4 Tracking Code

In order to run GA4 and the current version of Google Analytics in parallel, you can configure your code in two ways or you can use Google Tag Manager. Let’s talk through each option.

Option #1: Two Sets of Analytics Code

The first option is to have two sets of Google Analytics code on your website—old and new. You can paste the new GA4 immediately after (or immediately before, doesn’t matter) your existing Google Analytics code. For example:

add ga4 tracking code alongside existing google analytics code

You want to do this if you have a lot of custom event tracking in use on your website and if those events are setup using ga() tags instead of gtag() tags as the ga() style events will not work in GA4.

If you aren’t sure if you are using ga() or gtag() style event tracking, but you know you are using lots of events, go with this option for your tracking code to ensure that everything works correctly. The ga() style tag is older and there are many many websites that are using this style tag on their website and have been doing so for years.

If you aren’t sure if you are using event tracking, check out the Events report in the old version of Google Analytics. You can find that under Behavior->Events->Top Events.

Option #2: Additional Configuration Tag

If you are not relying on event tracking and/or are not using the ga() style tag for the events, then you can switch to using the new GA4 tag itself and remove the old Analytics tag. However, you do need to modify the new tag in order to run GA4 in parallel with the current version of Analytics.

To run both versions of Analytics, you want to add an additional config tag to the new GA4 tracking script. This config tag will contain your old measurement ID—the ID that begins with “UA-“. For example, the line highlighted below was added to the GA4 tracking code. By having this present, this website will send pageview data to both properties.

add ga4 tracking code alongside existing google analytics code

Option #3: Add GA4 to Tag Manager

If you are using Google Tag Manager, you can add a new tag for GA4 alongside the existing Google Analytics tag.

add ga4 tracking code in google tag manager

After selecting this, you will need to input the measurement ID, which you can retrieve from Google Analytics. From the tag installation screen (see the “Upgrade to GA4” section above), you can copy the measurement ID.

get ga4 measurement id

You can then paste the measure ID into the GA4 tag configuration in Google Tag Manager. When completed, you should see both tags listed in Tag Manager.

add measurement id to google tag manager

Immediate Actions

To recap, right now you should:

  1. Upgrade to GA4, creating the new GA4 property.
  2. Add the GA4 tracking code to your website, using one of the methods discussed above.
  3. Adjust the GA4 configuration with events and goals as needed.
    Remember, you do not turn off or remove tracking code for your old Google Analytics property until you have given the new GA4 property time to collect data and until you have ensured the new GA4 property has all necessary configurations.

Stay tuned to my blog for more information about configuring GA4. If you have questions or need help updating your Google Analytics configuration, please contact me.

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