The purpose of this blog post is to help our e-commerce audience understand the evolution of Google Analytics and the major changes that have recently transpired. This post serves only as a summary, so we encourage readers to contact us to learn more about how the new Google Analytics “ GA4” can be optimized for their e-commerce business.

In October 2020 Google announced that they would be launching a new Google Analytics system – Google Analytics 4 (GA4) with a goal of going live with the product in July 2023. The primary needs for the major enhancement included addressing user and legislative changes related to the ever-evolving technology and online privacy landscape. In addition, Google cited the fact that Universal Analytics (UA) was launched over a decade ago and had fast become outdated.

The launch of GA4 has a lot of implications for websites running on Universal Analytics (UA). Here are some key points of difference between UA and GA4 as well as some pointers on how e-commerce merchants should plan their migrations.

Key Differences Between UA and GA4

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google Analytics, while Universal Analytics is an older version.

Google Analytics 4 offers a number of advantages over Universal Analytics, including:

  • GA4 uses machine learning to provide more accurate data collection.
  • More granular data collection capabilities allows a merchant to track specific events more easily.
  • With built-in support for BigQuery, a merchant can easily export data for further analysis.
  • The analysis hub offers incredibly useful enhanced visualization and reporting capabilities.
  • Rather than measuring sessions and page views, GA4 measures events and parameters.

The New GA4 Features & Benefits

GA4 offers a number of new features, such as the ability to:

  • create custom reports.
  • create custom dimensions and metrics.
  • use Google Tag Manager (GTM) to manage your events.
  • combine web and app into one property for enhanced cross-device analysis.

For a comprehensive list of features checkout this analytics blogger’s list on Analytics Mania

The GA4 Data Layer & Requirements for an eCommerce Store Setup

GA4 uses a data layer to collect and store data. A data layer was also used for UA, but the data layers are set up differently and the UA data layer should not be used as the GA4 data layer. A data layer is a JavaScript object that passes information from your site to GTM. This information contains all the data that GA4 needs to collect e-commerce reports, goals and metrics. GA4 can collect data from any source, including websites, apps, and IoT devices.

For e-commerce sites, the GA4 data layer must be setup to capture a lot of data, including events relating to:

  • Page views
  • Product views
  • Category views
  • Unique page views
  • Avg. time spent on page
  • Avg. session time
  • Exit rate
  • Add To Cart
  • Add To Wishlist
  • Checkout Steps
  • Revenue
  • Transactions
  • Conversion rate

Depending on the platform that a merchant uses (e.g. BigCommerce, Adobe Commerce, Shopify or WordPress), the steps to implement the Data Layer will differ, and they could differ significantly leading to a fairly wide range of efforts.

How to Migrate From UA to GA4

  1. When you create a new Google Analytics 4 property, you will have the opportunity to copy basic settings from UA and import your historical data.
  2. Once imported, your Universal Analytics data will be copied into your new Google Analytics 4 property for configuration.
  3. Once your data has been imported, you can continue to use your Universal Analytics account, until July 2023 when it will stop collecting data.
  4. If you delete your Universal Analytics account, your data will still be available in your Google Analytics 4 property….though the data will be reported differently.
  5. It’s important to note that there is no way to migrate your audience. Audience data is collected and built through the G4 tracking code, so the sooner you get this set up the better off you will be to market to your audiences.

Considerations When Migrating Your E-Commerce Site From UA to GA4

Since UA and GA4 work differently, your historic details, goals and reports will not be available in the same way as your new GA4 data will be available. For example, if you add a new event in GA4, there will not be a corresponding event in UA.

We recommend that you import your UA data into Google BigQuery as a reporting dataset. You can then use the combined GA4 and UA data in Data Studio reports for accurate Year-On-Year / Period reports.

The Bottom Line

Come July 2023, all sites using Google UA must migrate to use GA4. This process takes some effort for e-commerce sites as merchants will need to set up your GA4 data layer for Adobe Commerce / Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify and other CMS platforms. Since there are quite a few differences, it is important to give yourself some time to do the migration and familiarize yourself with the enhanced reporting.

If you have any questions or need help, get in touch with us – we are providing GA migration services as of this Fall.