Recently, Google has made an announcement that on July 1, 2023, it’s going to make a shift from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. On this date, Universal Analytics will completely stop processing data. In light of Google suspending Universal Analytics and switching to Google Analytics 4, businesses have to be prepared well in advance.
GA4 migration, as with any migration, brings some challenges to website owners and legacy marketing reporting systems, as well as new reporting options particularly useful for SaaS companies.
We sat down with Alex, Rampiq’s web analytics wizard, to discuss the migration from Universal Analytics to GA4 and address the most challenging questions the migration raises for businesses with a special focus on what it entails for SaaS companies. Here are the answers to the most common questions, and a step-by-step GA4 migration guide with specific practical tips on making this transition as painless as possible.
What does migration from Universal Google Analytics to Google Analytics 4 mean for B2B SaaS companies? How SaaS companies can address this industry change in the most effective step-by-step way? What are the key GA4 benefits and how can SaaS companies get the most out of this updated user behavior tracking technology?
We have answered all these questions and as well provided you with a GA4 migration checklist to follow. You can also find solutions to challenges you may encounter when migrating or implementing Google Analytics 4 for SaaS.
Business context: Google introduced Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in 2019, and since then website owners had a choice of using Universal Analytics properties or the ones on GA4.
GA4 migration guide for SaaS products – How to migrate to GA4
Here’s our step-by-step GA4 migration checklist for SaaS companies:
GA4 migration checklist
Step 1. Prepare migration plan
We highly recommend documenting all events, goals, and other important settings that you have in Universal Analytics in a spreadsheet or a migration document where you can get the full migration scope and then run the post-migration QA check.
It is also important to double-check user permissions and make sure your key stakeholders get access to GA4 reports.
Step 2. Set up the GA4 account and install the GA4 code
To set up Google Analytics for SaaS, we recommend using Google Tag Manager (GTM) for this step, instead of adding GA4 code to your source code.
Step 3. Create and launch GA4 property with necessary data streams
It is important to set up data streams from all environments you need to track, i.e. subdomains, apps, etc. In other words, you need to make sure you are collecting data from all resources you need to track your new GA4 property.
Step 4. Set up goals and custom events in GA4
We recommend using GTM for setting up all important events and triggers, as this lets you keep all your GA4 settings in one place. GTM is a very flexible tool that can address 90% of custom events setup. After the events are set up, you can add goals to make sure you can support your reporting infrastructure.
Step 5. Cross-validate GA4 data with your internal systems
As GA4 works differently from Universal Analytics in terms of data collection and processing, it is important to validate forms submissions, purchases, registrations, and other business-critical data with your internal systems. Thus you will make sure that GA4 reports reflect your conversions correctly.
Step 6. Build reports and funnels
Apart from standard reports, GA4 offers robust custom reporting capabilities called Explorations. We recommend adding Explorations based on the most common business questions you need to address on a regular basis. We found User lifetime and Segment builder to be quite useful to set up right after you validate your GA4 data.
Step 7. Link your GA4 account to the necessary tools
Set up integrations with Google Ads, Google Search Console, and other supported systems.
Step 8. Plan a date to migrate GA4 as your sole source
Finally, after making sure your new reporting system works properly, plan the final shutdown of Universal Analytics for your organization.
What are the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics?
The way user data is collected: In GA4, every hit, or user interaction with your website, is an event. Compared to pageview-based tracking of Universal GA, this adds a ton of flexibility in how you can customize tracking based on your business needs. In addition to that, event-based analytics reduces data sampling, which is a big issue in Universal Analytics.
Full-featured cross-device tracking: GA4 introduces full cross-device and cross-platform reporting. In GA4, you can combine a website data stream with an app data stream in one place and analyze how your users interact with both environments in one reporting space.
Machine learning features and Predictive metrics: GA4 features an automated way to enrich your data with predictive models. Here are the predictive metrics you can get with GA4:
With this data, you can build better audiences for your ads campaigns and use these metrics in User lifetime evaluations.
When do I need to migrate to GA4?
Universal Analytics will stop collecting data in July 2023. However, we recommend businesses address the migration early, as GA4 starts collecting data only since it’s set up on your website or app.
In other words, you can’t import your Universal Analytics data into GA4. Therefore, if you’d like to keep your historic website or app data in GA4, you need to install it as soon as possible.
2 critical settings to migrate to GA4
Conversions. First and foremost, you need to make sure that you have your goals and conversions properly set up in GA4. This is important because you will use this data in your reports, and it’s vital that you migrate your settings early. You are likely to see the difference in conversions between GA4 and Universal Analytics due to the different ways conversions data is collected.
Custom events. If you rely on custom events in your reporting, this is the part that you’d want to learn how to migrate to GA4. This will let you keep your data infrastructure very similar to what you have in Universal Analytics.
9 Key GA4 migration challenges
Here are the most common challenges you may face when migrating to GA4 and how to solve them:
E-commerce data integration
Third-party systems integrations
The default attribution model in GA4 is set to Data Driven
No automated costs import from ads systems other than Google Ads (as of yet)
Data thresholds based on increased user privacy
24-48 hours delay in reporting
Just 2 months of data retention by default
1. E-commerce data integration
GA4 doesn’t have an out-of-box e-commerce tracking module, which means that you will have to set up e-commerce events and funnels manually for now, or use a 3rd party extension for your e-commerce platform.
In other words, you will have to set up the most important e-commerce events (add to cart, checkout, purchase, etc) manually in GTM as custom events so that you can analyze users’ shopping behavior in GA4 reports.
2. Costs import
Universal Analytics is open for costs import using solutions like OWOX or Supermetrics. However, for now GA4 doesn’t support any costs import, including adding costs from Google Ads. This means that you will not be able to see any costs data in GA4 as of yet.
Using Google DataStudio dashboards which can pull Google Ads and other paid ads systems data directly from the systems is the workaround that we currently use to keep both GA4 and paid ads systems data in one report.
3. Third-party systems integrations
The current list of GA4 native integrations is limited to the following systems:
Google Search Ads 360
Google Search Console
Google Merchant Center
Google Ad Manager
Salesforce Marketing Cloud
From the business perspective, it means that you will need to look into other ways to connect your data with GA4 across different platforms which are currently not on this list.
4. Data thresholds
GA4 introduces new ways of identifying users for reporting purposes. With increased privacy protection, some user data may not be used in GA4 reporting, therefore limiting your reports with data thresholds.
You can experiment with Reporting identity options settings to find the user identification model that works best for your business goals (switching between these options doesn’t affect data collection or processing, it only changes how reporting is done in your GA4 property):
5. The default attribution model in GA4 is set to Data Driven
This will mess up your conversion data which is especially critical for Google Ads and other ad systems which rely on conversion-based optimizations. In other words, due to the difference in attribution models your conversions data in GA4 will be different compared to Universal GA, which can mix up your campaigns’ bidding strategies.
Solution: set up conversions directly in Google Ads via GTM and use the same trigger to record conversions in GA4. For example, a contact form submission needs to send 2 events: one to Google Ads, and one to GA.
Note: on the bright side, you can switch attribution models in GA4 for your historical data (yay!) and see how they compare. Therefore, by matching attribution models in Google Ads and GA4, your conversions data will be matching in both systems.
6. No automated costs import from ads systems other than Google Ads (as of yet)
You can integrate paid ads systems data via UTMs, but GA4 doesn’t support automated costs import (!). The only way to add cost data for systems other than Google Ads is manual import (!!). Therefore, your costs-based reports are currently limited to Google Ads and you will have to use 3rd-party systems to merge GA4 and costs data.
7. Data thresholds based on increased user privacy
By default, GA4 uses a combination of User-ID, Google signals, device ID, then modeling to determine the “reporting identity”. In other words, out of a sudden, you may have some of the user data under a threshold.
Partial solution: you can switch to device ID to remove thresholds, however, this kills your cross-device analysis (1 user with 2 devices = 2 users in GA4).
Note: some good news is that you can experiment with reporting identity on your historical data to see which one works better for your business goals.
8. 24-48 hrs delay in reporting
You may have to wait for up to 2 days to see your data in GA4. Period.
9. Just 2 months of data retention by default
GA4 default data retention is set to just 2 months. In other words, you may say goodbye to your quarterly and yearly user retention analysis unless you change this setting manually for your GA4 property (the max period is up to 14 months). Get in touch with us to discuss your GA4 migration project!
GA4 migration benefits
Cross-platform tracking. SaaS companies tend to use not just one environment to interact with their users. With GA4, you can implement cross-device and cross-domains tracking and analyze your users’ activity across all places where it happens.
User segments overlap analysis. GA4 is an event-centric platform, which makes user segmentation very powerful. Segment overlap exploration can bring valuable insights into how your SaaS audience behaves and overlaps.
User Lifetime analysis features. In GA4, you can analyze the Initial interactions, Most recent interactions, Lifetime interactions, and Predictive metrics across both your website and apps.
Predictive metrics and predictive audiences. GA4 uses ML techniques to help you forecast Purchase probability, In-app purchase probability, and Churn probability. You can even build predictive audiences using these metrics, which unlocks a completely new way to target your prospects with paid ads.
Google Analytics 4 migration is not a trivial process and you will face a lot of challenges on the way that should be tackled. In this article, we have outlined the key steps you will need to undertake to run this migration with minimal changes to your reporting systems.
To keep your business data on the safe side, we recommend switching to GA4 as early as possible. This will give you time to adapt your business systems and reports to the new toolkit and iron out issues related to the updated GA4 technology.
GA4 opens up new user behavior analysis tactics for SaaS companies. We suggest exploring the cross-device tracking and Predictive audiences features in detail, as these Explorations give a new (and very powerful!) way to learn more about your customers.
As GA4 is still a new technology, we recommend hiring a specialist skilled in both Universal Google Analytics and GA4 to run the migration for your SaaS business. Contact us today to discuss your migration options!
Listen to Alex, our web analytics wizard, explaining the main differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, and the reasons why companies should facilitate migration at their earliest convenience.
About the author
Liudmila is one of the best-in-class digital marketers and a data-driven, very hands-on agency owner. With top-level education and experience, Liudmila is a true expert when it comes to digital marketing strategies and execution.
Successful SaaS companies spend around 50% of their budgets on marketing. Drawing insights from experience with successful clients, Rampiq Agency shows you how to create your B2B SaaS marketing budget from scratch.