Back in October 2020, Google officially launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the new analytics tool that will be replacing the standard Universal Analytics (UA) that’s been around since 2012. GA4 will become the sole analytics tool provided by Google from July 2023 for non-GA360 customers, and July 2024 for those on GA360.

With Google having now set a deadline for the sunsetting of Universal Analytics, what does only having GA4 mean for us, how should we prepare, and how will GA4 change the way we provide insights to clients?

What is GA4?

Google Analytics 4, like Universal Analytics, is an analytics service that enables you to measure user traffic and engagements. Where GA4 differs from UA is that it can measure user journeys across both websites and apps, with UA only capturing website data. This cross-device tracking helps us to better understand the customer journey compared to UA.

Another change with GA4 is that all interactions will be classed as events, rather than session-based data found in UA. This aligns GA4 with Firebase, Google’s app development tool, where their analytics data are solely event-based. Gone are concepts like Pageviews and Sessions - now everything will be event based. Due to this change in emphasis, GA4 has reorganised reports to be based around the Customer Lifecycle, which allows users to drill down into specific aspects of the customer journey and analyse how they engage with sites across both devices and channels. Now users can see if a customer discovered a business from an ad on the web and later purchased on their app, for example.

What can (and can't) GA4 do?

As we move towards a world where cookies and other customer identifiers are phased out, Google Analytics 4 uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to alert users about important data trends via new insights and predictions, as well as helping to fill in any gaps in user data due to an increasingly cookie-less world. It can also help predict outcomes too, such as churn rate and potential revenue from certain customer segments. This helps drive more proactive, and reactive, decision making about future customer behaviour. Moving to GA4 also helps us, as a business, comply with evolving data privacy regulations, without having to rely on increasingly limited UA-based datasets in the long term. GA4 also comes with an Enhanced Measurement option which allows you to automatically capture certain events such as pageviews, scrolling, and site search.

However, there are several things that GA4 is unable to do, especially compared to UA. The first is around custom dimensions. In GA4, you can only have user and event-scoped custom dimensions. This means that any session-based or product-based custom dimensions that a client has in UA will not be replicable in GA4. There is also a lack of custom channel groupings and the ability to create your own groupings, meaning that clients only have the default groupings, which may not be as insightful. Looking under the bonnet of GA4, the process of excluding IP addresses is limited, linking other Google tools to GA4, such as Search Console, requires users to have high-level permissions for a range of Google tools beyond GA4, amongst others.

How do you move from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4?

For our clients, we have taken two approaches to implement GA4:

Approach 1: GA4 implementation alongside UA (via GTM)

The first approach is to implement GA4 tracking alongside a client’s UA setup. The easiest way to do this is via Custom HTML tags within Google Tag Manager. Within the tags, you can refer to the existing UA implementation on site, and fire GA4-compliant implementation and tags to fire alongside UA, without having to completely reimplement a new data structure. We have taken this approach for several clients in the last few months.

Approach 2: Full GA4 dataLayer implementation (via front and back-end development)

The other approach, as briefly mentioned before, is to fully reimplemented a GA4-compliant data structure on site, known as a dataLayer. GA4 is very strict about how the dataLayer must be structured to send events, so one option, to ensure this structure is maintained, is to use development resource, rather than a tag management tool, to implement GA4. Whilst this approach has been less common for us, we have undertaken this approach for a client at the start of this year.

Having to undertake a GA4 implementation is also a good time to review existing tagging and dataLayer structures on a client site. If they decide to piggyback off the UA tracking, it is vital that their dataLayer setup is robust and complete so that you do not miss any GA4 tagging that is based on this. For one client, we even created a new tag management setup that coincided with the implementation of GA4 on their site. Clients will need to base these decisions on several resources, such as resource, development roadmaps, level of analytics usage, and quality of existing implementation, amongst others. Another thing to consider is if a client is a GA360 customer or not, as this could impact which option they take.

What to do next?

Deciding which option to choose is different for each business. With the deadline and sunsetting of UA fast approaching, there is less time available to undertake a full code-based implementation, so a tag management-based approach is a good option that takes relatively less time. However, this really depends on the quality of the existing implementation. Over the last year, as a team, WTC&T data strategists have implemented GA4 using both approaches whilst encountering a range of existing implementation and dataLayer structures.

For details on our Analytics Health Check and Analytics Strategy Reviews for 2023, get in touch with our Analytics team at


By the start of 2023, all users of Google Analytics should have created a GA4 property. This may sit alongside an existing Universal Analytics property collecting data, or it could be the only property. Creating a GA4 property now is vital, as you will need to collect as much data as possible before UA is deprecated; if you do not create a GA4 property by your respective cut-off point, you will have no current data for your site and will lose any insights for the period after UA is deprecated. The reports will have no data, and whilst you may be able to see historic data, you will have no current data feeding into reports, dashboards, other Google-suite tools (e.g., Looker Studio, BigQuery etc).

Implementing GA4 requires some manual setup that doesn’t come out of the box, especially if you have features, such as custom parameters, that need to be copied across from UA. Doing this sooner rather than later is therefore vital; do not leave this to the last minute, even if you have no intention of using GA4 data whilst you still have UA data.

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