How to Upgrade to Google Analytics 4

Introduction

This guide will teach you how to set up Google Analytics 4 and if you should consider changing over to using that instead of Universal Analytics.

In this post, we’ll cover how to:

So let’s dive in!

Why You Can’t “Upgrade” to Google Analytics 4

If you’re looking to “upgrade” your Universal Analytics property to a Google Analytics 4 property, then we need to clarify something first.

Google Analytics 4 is a completely different entity from Universal Analytics. You can’t turn a Universal Analytics property into a Google Analytics 4 property or “upgrade” to Google Analytics 4.

However, you can set up a new Google Analytics 4 property and link it to an existing Universal Analytics property.

Infographic, linking GA4 property and UA property

In reality, it’s better that you can’t convert a Universal Analytics property to a GA4 one.

Since GA4 is still developing and constantly adding features, it probably won’t be your primary tracking system for a while.

Therefore, you’ll want to leave your Universal Analytics property intact so that you can use both tracking systems in parallel.

This will be super easy because when you link the two properties, you can import your Universal Analytics tracking configuration into your Google Analytics 4 property.

And while you can’t backfill any data between properties, you can start collecting the same data moving forward.

Infographic GA4 property tracking in parallel with linked UA property

It’s also really easy to set up a brand new GA4 property from scratch if you want to get really familiar with the new system. This is great if you plan on setting up multiple accounts for different clients.

And if you set up an App + Web property (available between July 2019 and October 2020), then you already have a GA4 property! This makes your linking process (and your transition to parallel tracking) even simpler.

Whatever your current setup, it’s easy to get started with Google Analytics 4. Let’s learn how!

App + Web: Your Ready-to-Go GA4 Property

If you have an App + Web property, then you already have access to a GA4 property!

App + Web was essentially the beta version of Google Analytics 4. This means that all App + Web properties are now available as GA4 properties.

Lucky you! This means you don’t really have to do anything.

Just go to your Google Analytics account and open the property. The new GA4 interface will have simply replaced the old Universal Analytics interface.

GA4 demo account Flood It! home interface

As long as your App+Web property was successfully tracking data before, then you’re good to go.

You don’t need to set up new parallel tracking, and you don’t need to make any changes for this property to continue tracking. You have a fully-functioning GA4 property, although you should keep your eyes peeled for incoming updates and new features.

If you want to set up a Google Analytics 4 property that works in parallel with an existing Universal Analytics property, the process is very straightforward.

First, open your UA property and go to Admin → GA4 Setup Assistant, then click the Get Started button.

Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant wizard with get started button highlighted

Google Analytics will give you a quick overview of what your new GA4 property will look like.

Note especially that your existing UA property will be unaffected and that your new GA4 property will not be populated with any historical data.

Here’s the best part: provided that you are using a Google Tag Manager or gtag.js implementation, you can import any tracking configurations from your UA property. This makes setting up your GA4 property much easier. 

However, bear in mind that if you are using an older implementation (like analytics.js), you won’t be able to do this.

If you get the error message pictured below, you will have to either reinstall Google Analytics on your website using a newer implementation, or reconfigure all your tags from scratch.

Either way, go ahead and click on Create Property

Google Analytics 4 Setup Assistant wizard popup with error message “Based on your current tag setup, you’ll need to install new tags on your site to use GA4”

And that’s it! The Setup Assistant does all the heavy lifting for you, and you can click See your GA4 property to jump straight to your new property.

And if you have multiple UA and GA4 properties that are linked together, this page will continue to show you which GA4 property is linked to this UA property.

GA4 Property Setup Assistant successfully connected properties, Universal Analytics view

When you go to your GA4 property, you will be able to access additional configuration prompts to help you start tracking quickly and easily.

You can also always access your linked UA property from this end, too—just click Open connected property. This makes it really easy to compare data across parallel tracking systems.

GA4 Property Setup Assistant successfully connected properties, Google Analytics 4 view

And if you used Universal Analytics with a gtag.js implementation or with Google Tag Manager, then you’re done!

If your Universal Analytics property is installed with analytics.js, then skip below to learn how to install Google Analytics 4 on your website.

How to Create a New GA4 Property

If you want to start a new GA4 property from scratch, that’s pretty easy, too.

If you don’t have a Google Analytics account, start by logging into your Google account at analytics.google.com. Then click the Start measuring button.

Google Analytics welcome screen with Start Measuring button highlighted

Give your account a name (note that your account can host several different properties) and select which data sharing options you’d like to use, then click Next.

Here’s the fun part—actually creating your new GA4 property. (If you already have a Google Analytics account, you can get here by click Admin → + Create Property.)

Give your property a name, then choose the most relevant time zone and currency. Usually, you should pick these based on where your server and clients are located.

Google Analytics Property Setup configuration to create new GA4 property

💡 Top Tip: If you want to create a new Universal Analytics property, click on Show advanced options during the first step, Property Setup. You can flip a switch that will create a Universal Analytics property, then choose whether you want to create a linked GA4 property along with your UA property.

Finally, you can provide some (optional) business data and click Create to finish.

Install Google Analytics 4 on Your Website

Of course, none of these great options work if Google Analytics isn’t installed on your website.

First, you’ll need to set up a data stream from your website to your GA4 property.

Then, you’ll need to update your website’s source code using either the gtag.js or a Google Tag Manager implementation. Which you do is up to you, but the later will obviously be more useful if you already use GTM.

Connect GA4 to Your Website by Adding a Data Stream

To start collecting data on your GA4 property, you have one more step to complete.

You may have noticed that you didn’t include your website URL when you created this property—a step that was essential to creating an old Universal Analytics property.

Since GA4 can integrate your tracking across multiple web and app platforms all in one property, we’ll instead pull data using data streams.

Each GA4 property can have up to fifty different data streams, which can come from either mobile apps or websites.

To set up a data stream, first navigate to Admin → Data Streams and click the Add stream button.

GA4 Admin panel Data Streams page with Add stream button highlighted

Here, you will have the opportunity to select which type of stream you want to create.

Note that streams for iOS apps and Android apps will require the Firebase software development kit, but the setup is otherwise pretty straightforward.

Add stream options include iOS app, Android app, and Web

Then, simply enter your data stream source information. For a website, this is just the URL (plus whatever you want to name this stream).

You also have the option to automatically measure certain interactions without setting them up yourself. These include pageviews, scrolling, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement, and file downloads.

Then, click Create stream.

Set up web data stream in GA4

Install GA4 with the Gtag

If you want to install Google Analytics 4 directly onto your website, then you’ll use the Gtag.

Open your data stream and scroll down to the Tagging Instructions. Here, you can copy the global site tag, or gtag. This is what we’ll be adding to our website code.

GA4 data stream gtag code

Notice that this code has a different configuration tag. This means that even if you already have the gtag installed as part of an older Universal Analytics implementation, you still need to update your site code—so don’t skip this step!

Next, go into your website backend so that you can edit the code. In WordPress, you can do this by navigating to AppearanceTheme Editor.

WordPress dashboard menu with Appearance and Theme Editor options highlighted

Here, navigate to your website theme (we strongly recommend that you use a child theme for this). Select the header.php file, which is where we will add our gtag.

WordPress theme editor with child theme and header file selected

In your theme code, find the <head> tag and paste the gtag right after it.

WordPress theme editor with gtag code pasted in after the head tag

Then, simply click the Update File button to finish installing Google Analytics 4 onto your website.

WordPress theme editor with Update File button highlighted

With that, your GA4 property should be fully functional and ready to start collecting data!

Install GA4 with Google Tag Manager

If you already have Google Tag Manager installed, then this process is a little simpler. (Or you can read our in-depth guide to learn how to install GTM now.)

First, create a new Tag in a GTM workspace for this website.

GTM workspace with Tags and New button highlighted

Name your Tag so that you’ll be able to identify it as a configuration Tag for your GA4 property.

Then, set the Tag Type to Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration. This single configuration Tag will initialize Google Analytics and run cookies on your webpage so your tracking tags can fire.

🚨 Note: If you want to implement any advanced or customized event tracking in GA4, you’ll need to make separate Tags using the Google Analytics: GA4 Event Tag Type.

Next, copy and paste your Measurement ID (available in the data stream details on your GA4 property). Set the firing trigger to All Pages and hit Save.

GTM tag configuration for GA4 property

And that’s it! Your GA4 property should be fully functional and ready to start collecting data.

Summary

Google Analytics 4 is just a few clicks away!

While you can’t “upgrade” a Universal Analytics property, you can upgrade your whole tracking system by adding Google Analytics 4. By setting up a GA4 property, you’ll be able to track in parallel with your existing Universal Analytics properties. (Make sure you have an audit-ready checklist for configuring both properties!)

This prepares you for all kinds of great upgrades down the road as Google Analytics rolls out more features and documentation. All the latest and greatest tracking techniques will be yours!

While the installation and implementation of GA4 is a little different from the older versions, you can see now that it’s not complicated at all. Whether you’re starting with a Universal Analytics property or making a new GA4 property entirely from scratch, getting started is easy.

Do you have any other tips for moving to GA4? Leave us a comment!

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Erica Schwarz
Erica Schwarz
24 days ago

What if GA4 Setup Assistant isn’t an option? When I go into my analytics, under Property the first option listed is Property Settings. Sure would be helpful why it isn’t an option for everyone.

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