How to switch from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4?


Universal Analytics (UA) will be decommissioned in a few months. Today, we’ll explain how GA4 differs from the previous version, as well as how to smoothly transition to Google Analytics 4 and what it can bring to your project. Vlad Sidnyov, Head of CRO & Analytics Webpromo and Sergey Shagoferov, Chief Editor of the WebPromoExperts will help us figure this out.

Key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics

New reporting interface

The first thing that immediately catches the eye is the new interface with groups of reports. If in UA these were the “Audience”, “Traffic Sources”, “Behavior” and “Conversions” reports, then in GA4 the distribution has become more logical and structured:

  • Lifecycle (Traffic Source, Engagement, Monetization and Retention);
  • User (“Demography”, “Technology”);
  • Audiences are separate reports.

Events and their parameters instead of sessions and page views

The primary distinction between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is the measurement model employed. Universal Analytics employs a session and page view-based measurement model. In contrast, GA4 is more concerned with users than with sessions. GA4 constructs a single user journey from all data associated with the same user ID.
As a result, you can get a complete picture of the user regardless of which devices and in which form (application/site) the user contacts the company.

Integration with other services

You can directly connect Google Optimize to GA4. After that, it will start broadcasting events related to Google Optimize experiments to BigQuery related to GA4.

User identification

Unlike Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 helps track users more accurately across devices and provides multi-level identification.
This allows you to send a user ID to GA4 when, for example, they log into their account on a website or app. In the case of mobile traffic, the user is identified by the unique identifier of the mobile device. In addition, the user is identified from the history of behavior on Google (for example, when logging in to YouTube). These are the so-called Google signals.

Thanks to this, you can get more information about user behavior and analyze conversion paths and the effectiveness of the marketing strategy in general.

Raw data export and sampling

GA4 provided unlimited export of raw data to data warehouse in Google BigQuery. This allows you to freely combine data between GA4 and other sources (for example, a sales database) or analyze the collected data, including building your own attribution models, customizing reporting to your own needs.
A significant challenge for using Universal Analytics when selecting longer time periods and/or high-traffic organizations was data sampling. In GA4, the analysis is performed on unsampled data.

Closed funnels and segmentation

Sales funnels allow you to identify and optimize features on your website or mobile app that prevent users from converting. They were always open in Universal Analytics and closed by default in Google Analytics 4. That is, they show only those users who passed through them from the first step.
You only need to change one setting in the report to make your sales funnel open. So you can improve control over data and get more accurate analysis.
Anonymization, GDPR and spam GA4 by default introduces a number of security measures from the point of view of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One of them is the standard IP anonymization of users.
At most, by default GA4 filters traffic identified by Google as spam, thus cleaning up the collected data.

Attribution and data storage models

Another feature that distinguishes GA4 from Universal Analytics is the ability to analyze the effectiveness of the channels from which the traffic came. Attribution models, which divide the number of conversions into sources of user traffic, are responsible for this. In UA, for example, the main attribution model was the indirect “last click” model. GA4 provides the ability to change the global attribution model, specifically the data-driven model. This allows to better adapt to specific business requirements.
Note that GA4 limits the ability to store user data for 2 or 14 months.

Checking the correctness of the configuration

An extremely useful change in GA4 is flexible validation of collected data. The DebugView module provides almost instantaneous verification of data transmitted from connected test devices. Until now, configuration verification was problematic and required the use of many tools and specialized knowledge.


Can I migrate data from Universal Analytics to GA4? Unfortunately, direct migration of existing data from Universal Analytics to GA4 is currently not available in most cases. It is not possible to transfer an audience from UA to GA4 because the data must be collected by the GA4 tracking code. Instead, you need to create new events for your GA4 resource using the new event names and parameters.
How to segment traffic?
GA4 provides three methods:
  • Compare through parameters (up to 5 parameters simultaneously);
  • Compare through previously created audiences;
  • Manually create a report in the Research section.
Which organic report in Users/Sessions is best to rely on in GA4?
There are three ways to view organics by project.
  • “Reports” → “Traffic sources” → “Traffic acquisition” → “Default channel group associated with a session” → then select dates and watch sessions (“Organic Search”).
  • “Reports” → “Traffic Sources” → “Traffic Acquisition” → “Session Channel” → then select dates and watch sessions (“Organic”).
  • “Reports” → “Traffic sources” → “Traffic acquisition” → “Company associated with the session” → then select dates and watch sessions (“organic”).
Among these methods, the first is the most reliable, since even search engines with a referral source fall into “Organic Search”.
How to create an audience?
Audience functions in GA4 and UA are the same:
  • user segmentation;
  • comparing the behaviour of different audiences among themselves;
  • using Google Ads advertising campaigns.
You can create an audience through the “Configuration” – “Audiences” section, using recommended audiences, a ready-made template or from scratch.

How to upgrade to GA4

If you are connecting to Google Analytics for the first time, you do not need to take any special actions – by default, only the new version is available to you. If you previously used the Universal Analytics system, it is important to know how to properly migrate from it to Google Analytics 4. Since the transition does not involve automatic data transfer, you will have to configure the new system again.
To switch to the updated system, you must:
  • Open your account in Universal Analytics and go to the “Administrator” section.
  • Find the “Upgrade to GA4” option under the “Resource” column.
  • Then there are two ways: create a new resource or bind an existing one.
  • After performing any of these actions, the resource will be associated with the GA4 system.
In any case, the resource will have to be configured from scratch. As part of the setup, you need to take several steps:
  • Specify the name of the resource, time zone, currency.
  • Enter information about the company: industry, size, goals.
  • Configure the data flow by selecting the source of reception.
  • Add tags to the site — adjust existing ones or install new ones.
  • Connect GA4 with Google Ads and Google Search Console.
Next, the following parameters are set:
  • Audience,
  • Conversion tracking,
  • Access rights.
GA4 has a built-in Debug Viewer, so it’s now easier to test targets. To use it, you can install the Google Analytics Debugger extension for Chrome.

Tag installation via GTM

Let’s consider how to install a GA4 counter on a site through Google Tag Manager (GTM). This option is the fastest and most convenient. In addition, if a specialist works with analytics systems from Google, he cannot do without GTM.
To get started, you need to log in to Google Tag Manager, create a new tag and select the Google Analytics configuration type: GA4 configuration. Then you need to enter the flow ID and select the trigger – the source from which the data will come. Most often, the counter is set for the entire site, so it makes sense to choose All Pages as a trigger.
The final step is to click the “Publish” button.
To check if the settings are correct, you can go to the “Real-time report” section, refresh the page, and you will see that at least one user is on the site. Of course, if there is no internal traffic filter.

We also advise you to study the Google Analytics help, which tells in detail about the important steps in the process of transition to Google Analytics 4.

Don't delay switching to GA4

As you can see, GA4 is a completely new tool with more functionality than Universal Analytics. In order to have time to learn to work with it, evaluate all changes and correctly configure events and reports, we advise you to connect GA4 right now and start collecting data for analysis.
Are you having trouble understanding the new Google Analytics 4? Do you want to advance your data analysis skills? Our “Google Analytics, GA4, GTM” course is here to help! After completing this course, you will learn how to work with and get the most out of your web analytics data. Whether you’re a new or experienced user, our course will help you get the most out of GA4.