GA4 Google Analytics

Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4: The Bermuda Triangle of Search

The deadline for migrating to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is approaching quickly, as Universal Analytics (UA) will officially cease data processing on July 1 2023. But as you work through your GA4 setup, you will very quickly find yourself wondering how to save your historical data.

Can I migrate historical data to my new GA4 property?

While, yes, we agree that there should be a straightforward way to do this, unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be on the agenda right now. Although this might seem like a huge oversight, it isn’t a feature that is likely to be added simply because UA and GA4 use very different data models.

Merging data is not possible because of the vast difference in the dimension and schema calculations, which refer to the organisation of data and compatibility language.

Firstly, UA data exports are based on sessions and by that, we mean that each row relates to a session and each interaction is nestled neatly into the row. Conversely, each row on a GA4 data export is an interaction/event in itself.

Secondly, metrics and dimensions are calculated and even defined very differently between UA and GA4. Taking ‘Users’ as just one example here, UA reports on all users, whereas GA4 instead reports on active users, which are defined as an individual who has visited the website on at least one occasion in the previous 28 days.

So, as you can see, trying to compare UA and GA4 is a bit like trying to compare apples and oranges. It’s just not possible.

But if all this has left you wondering, “what exactly does this mean for my data?” then don’t panic because the good news is that there are some workarounds, which we will cover below.

Can I export my historical data from Google Analytics?

Google recognises that data is important and, as such, actively encourages its users to export their data.

Paid users can export UA data directly to BigQuery. However, standard users haven’t been forgotten entirely, which means that it isn’t necessary to factor in the huge costs associated with this product.

So, although it isn’t currently possible to migrate your data, it is possible to save it. Here are three methods for DIYing your data export.

Manually exporting GA data

The simplest way to export your data is to do so directly from your Analytics account.

Start by opening the report you want to export and use the settings to customise your data. For example, you could choose to export a segment for a specific country or a filter for a page grouping.

When you’re happy with your customisation, select the ‘export’ button and choose your preferred file format. There are several formats to choose from, including PDF and CSV.

However, as you might expect from the simplest export option, there are some limitations here. It is only possible to apply up to two dimensions and rows are capped at 5,000. This will be perfectly adequate for many users, however, sites receiving hits in the thousands each day will find that data is sampled.

Using Query Explorer

Firstly, don’t be put off by the technical sounding name here. You have likely used GA’s Campaign URL Builder within your campaigns to create UTM parameters and Query Explorer is a similarly straightforward way to export data.

Start by logging in to Query Explorer and then log in to your GA account. Select your preferred property and any parameters you want to include.

It is possible to export data containing every metric, however, you can also select certain metrics for a more personalised export. But, it’s worth remembering that you can always filter, segment or sort within the exported spreadsheet later on.

When you’re happy, hit the ‘run query’ button and download your data as a .tsv file, which can be opened either in Google Sheets or Excel.

GA and Google Sheets

If you don’t mind a slightly more complex option, it’s worth knowing that it is possible to connect GA directly with Google Sheets.

Begin by creating a Google Drive folder for your data and set up a Google Sheet, taking care to name it appropriately.

Select ‘Extensions > Add-Ons > Get Add-Ons’ and search for the GA app via Google Workspace Marketplace. Once the app has been downloaded and installed, you should see the GA app in your ‘Extensions’ tab.

Select ‘create new report’ and name it appropriately. For example, if you export data quarterly throughout the financial year, include the quarter number in the name. Finally, configure your report by choosing your dimensions, segments, and metrics.

Do I need my historical UA data?

It’s worth emphasising here that while each of the above methods delivers relatively sparse reporting, it is important not to fall into the trap of feeling as though you don’t need your historical data at all. This data can and should be used to inform future evolutions of your digital strategy, which will put you in a stronger overall position within your marketplace. If you decide that you dont need that analytics data at all then you likely have a very different set of problems and need Digital Marketing consultancy services.