Step-by-Step Guide: Migrating and Backing Up Your Data from Google Analytics to GA4

Written by
Aleks Basara
Published on

As we usher in the era of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the digital analytics community is at a pivotal juncture. With Universal Analytics bidding adieu to Standard sites come July 1st, 2023, the emphasis on data preservation has never been more pronounced. 

This seismic shift mandates a proactive approach to archiving analytics data, ensuring its accessibility even as the Reporting API reaches its sunset on July 1st, 2024.

This guide is crafted to navigate you through the intricacies of safeguarding your invaluable data, offering a comprehensive walkthrough on downloading your analytics, confronting the hurdles along the way, and employing the most effective tools to backup your Google Analytics data across a spectrum of repositories.

The transition to Google Analytics 4 isn't just a mere upgrade; it's a fundamental shift in how visitor interactions are tracked and analyzed. While GA4's advanced features promise a richer, more nuanced understanding of user behavior, the migration path from Universal Analytics is fraught with the critical task of historical data preservation. 

The risk of losing years of accumulated insights looms large, but fear not. This article delves into several strategies to ensure your data's safe passage through the migration process. 

From direct data transfer techniques to sophisticated merging methodologies in GA4, we'll explore the avenues available to maintain the continuity and integrity of your historical data.

Embarking on this migration journey requires more than just a technical know-how; it demands a strategic foresight to seamlessly blend old data paradigms with the new, ensuring no insight is left behind. 

Whether you're aiming to back up your Google Analytics data to a database, integrate with BigQuery, or adapt to Snowflake, this guide serves as your beacon. 

This guide is your companion in making this transition as smooth and lossless as possible, arming you with the knowledge to leverage GA4's full potential while safeguarding your data legacy.

Understanding the Differences Between Google Analytics and GA4

As we delve into the world of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), it's crucial to grasp the foundational differences between GA4 and its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). 

GA4 introduces a more user-centric approach to data tracking and analysis, moving away from session-based data collection to an event-driven model. This shift allows for a more detailed and nuanced understanding of user interactions on a website or app. 

Key features of GA4 include enhanced machine learning capabilities, predictive analytics, and cross-platform tracking, enabling a more comprehensive view of the customer journey across devices and platforms.

The impact of migrating from UA to GA4 on data analysis and reporting is significant. One of the most notable changes is the way data is structured and presented in reports. 

GA4's flexible event-based model allows for a deeper and more customizable analysis, but it also means that familiar metrics and dimensions from UA may not directly translate to GA4. 

For instance, "Bounce Rate" in UA is replaced by "Engagement Rate" in GA4, reflecting the platform's new focus on user engagement rather than single-page visits. This transition requires analysts to adapt their reporting practices and develop new KPIs aligned with GA4's data model.

Furthermore, GA4's integration with Google's advanced machine learning algorithms offers predictive insights, such as potential revenue from specific customer segments, and automatically identifies trends and anomalies in data

These improvements aim to equip businesses with the foresight to anticipate user needs and optimize their strategies accordingly. However, harnessing these advanced features necessitates a solid understanding of GA4's new interface and capabilities. 

As organizations transition to GA4, they must invest time in training and experimentation to fully leverage the platform's enhanced analytical power for informed decision-making.

Table depicting key differences between Google’s UA and GA4.

Pre-Migration Checklistfor GA4

Before embarking on the migration journey from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), it's crucial to have a thorough pre-migration checklist in place. 

This preparatory step is not just about ensuring a seamless transition; it's about safeguarding the integrity and continuity of your valuable analytics data. 

The first step in this process is to ensure that your account is primed and ready for GA4. 

Step 1. Verify that you have the necessary administrative access to both your existing Google Analytics account and the Google account associated with it

It's also the perfect time to familiarize yourself with the GA4 interface and its new features, as this will smooth out the learning curve post-migration.

Step 2. Take a comprehensive inventory of your current Google Analytics setup. 

This audit should include a detailed list of all goals, events, custom dimensions, metrics, and filters you've set up over time. 

Understanding the structure and configuration of your existing setup is vital because GA4 operates under a different data model and event-based tracking system. 

This step will help you identify which elements can be directly replicated in GA4, which need to be reconfigured, and which may no longer be relevant. Documenting these details will serve as a blueprint for rebuilding your analytics framework in the new environment.

Step 3. Familiarize yourself with the access requirements and permissions needed for GA4

Unlike its predecessor, GA4 introduces new roles and access management features that offer more granular control over who can view, edit, and manage data. 

Ensuring that your team members have the appropriate levels of access not only facilitates a smoother transition but also aligns with best practices for data security and governance. 

By completing these steps, you're not just preparing for a platform change; you're laying the groundwork for a more robust and future-proof analytics strategy.

Step 1: Setting Up a GA4 Property

Embarking on the transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) begins with the crucial step of setting up a new GA4 property

This does not replace your existing Universal Analytics property but rather runs in parallel, allowing you to collect data in both formats simultaneously. 

  • To start, navigate to the Google Analytics admin area and select the account where you wish to add the GA4 property. 
  • Click on 'Create Property,' enter the details for your new GA4 property, and follow the prompts. Google will guide you through the setup process, including the option to connect your new GA4 property to an existing Universal Analytics property for easier data comparison down the line.

Once your GA4 property is created, configuring the basic settings is the next pivotal step to ensure accurate data collection and reporting. Begin by:

  • Setting up your data stream to collect data from your website, iOS app, or Android app. In the GA4 interface, navigate to 'Admin > Data Streams' and choose the appropriate platform. For websites, add your website URL and stream name, then follow the instructions to add the GA4 tracking code to your website.
  • Configuring desired data settings such as timezone, currency, and data retention period to align with your reporting needs. These settings can be found under 'Admin > Property Settings' in your GA4 property.
  • Establishing user and event data collection settings to ensure compliance with data privacy regulations. This includes deciding on data collection for advertising purposes and activating or deactivating Google signals.

By methodically setting up your GA4 property and fine-tuning the basic configurations, you lay a solid foundation for a seamless transition and effective data analysis in the new Google Analytics environment. 

Remember, this initial setup is just the starting point; as you become more familiar with GA4's features, you can further customize and enhance your property to suit your specific analytics requirements.

Identifying the Essential Data for Backup

A significant aspect of this task is figuring out exactly which data needs to be backed up. 

This requires someone who knows the website well to examine the current analytics configuration and reports within the Google Analytics Property and Views.

  • Conduct a review of Properties and Views to determine which ones are essential for backup, leaving out any test versions or outdated views.
  • Check the data retention policies by navigating to Admin > Tracking Info > Data Retention in Google Analytics. This section allows you to set the duration for which Google Analytics keeps user and event data before it's automatically purged. All other data remains stored for the entire history of your website.
  • Compile and review all reports that are actively used by decision-makers to understand the scope of analysis. 

Compile and Review All Reports by:

  • Accessing current reports in the Universal Analytics interface via Customization > Custom Reports.
  • Gathering any additional reports that decision-makers might be using outside the standard web interface.
  • Review Custom Definitions by going to Admin > Property > Custom Definitions to check for any Custom Dimensions and Metrics. Identify their purpose and the specific tables or reports they relate to.
  • Examine the Goals section under Admin > View > Goals to decide which goals are crucial for the backup.
  • Look into the Events section under Reports > Events > Overview to catalog events. Engage with decision-makers to grasp the event tagging approach and the requirements for valid event report generation.
  • Check for Demographics and Interest Reports setup by navigating to Reports > Audience > Demographics > Overview. Determine if these views are configured for capturing Audience and Interest Reports.
  • Investigate Segments by going to Admin > View > Segments. Consult with decision-makers to see if any segments are applied to their reports.
  • Discuss with stakeholders the extent of historical data they wish to preserve, whether it's up to the last website redesign or the entire history.
  • Deliberate on the level of detail expected in the backup. Should it be limited to the data presented in current dashboards and reports, or is there a need for more comprehensive data?

Before proceeding with the data backup, it's vital to align with stakeholders on their expectations. Understand whether backing up the information displayed in existing dashboards and reports suffices, or if a more detailed approach is desired. 

Ways to Download Data from Google Analytics

Google Analytics provides several methods for basic accounts to retrieve their data:

  • Generate downloads in CSV, Google Sheets, Excel, or PDF formats directly from the Reports section within the Google Analytics web app.
  • Transfer data to BigQuery, an option exclusively available to Analytics 360 subscribers.
  • Utilize the Google Analytics Reporting API V4 for exporting data into databases, BigQuery, and various file formats.

Downloading Data as Sheets, CSV, or Excel Files via the GA Web App Reports

This approach, while more hands-on, is undeniably the most direct. 

Within the Google Analytics web platform, simply choose your view, pick a report from a graph, table, or Custom Report, and hit the 'Export' button. 

You'll then have the option to save your data in one of four formats – PDF, Google Sheets, Excel, or CSV.

Screenshot of GA feature to export analytics.

BigQuery Data Integration

For those adept with APIs and eager to delve into large-scale data analysis, cloud storage presents a path to unlocking expansive datasets for deeper insights. 

Google BigQuery stands out for many users due to its seamless compatibility with other pivotal Google services like Google Ads, Looker Studio, and Google Sheets.

Users of Google Analytics 360 have the advantage of directly streaming their data into BigQuery, thanks to the built-in connection between these platforms. 

Once a billing account on Google Cloud Platform is set up and your project is initiated, within a day, you gain access to both current and past data going back 13 months (or up to 10 billion hits) from the point of integration.

This setup enables Google Analytics 360 users to amass data spanning up to 31 months before the cessation of UA data collection. 

Initiating this BigQuery export early on paves the way for a more comprehensive, data-rich analysis, securely housed on Google's infrastructure. 

For those not on Analytics 360's enterprise plan, alternative third-party services might facilitate a GA to BigQuery linkage, albeit without the retrospective data access that comes with the native integration.

Utilizing the Google Analytics Reporting API V4 for Data Archival

Our third and final method involves tapping into the capabilities of the Google Analytics Core Reporting API V4

The digital landscape is already populated with a myriad of tools that integrate with this API, eliminating the need for further development post-2023. Instead of dedicating resources to custom coding, opting for a trusted application can save significant time and effort.

It's important to note, however, that not all tools leveraging the API are created equal, and only a select few possess a deep understanding of both the API itself and the Universal Analytics data structure.

Take into account, for instance, that while you might not encounter data sampling in your daily, weekly, or monthly reports, sampling may occur on a historical level for datasets exceeding 500,000 sessions

The Reporting API offers the advantage of accessing comprehensive data across all your properties and views, giving you the freedom to specify exactly what data your query should retrieve, including all necessary metadata to ensure your Google Analytics archival is thorough and actionable.

Designing Effective Queries for Google Analytics Data Archival

When archiving data in preparation for migration, delving into greater detail than what's typically required for regular report backups is essential. 

Once the API becomes inaccessible, the opportunity to append additional tables or retrieve specific custom dimensions linked to your CRM vanishes. 

This moment is crucial for anticipating future needs and tailoring your queries to meet those requirements.

Key considerations for your backup strategy include:

  • Archive standard report tables accessible through the Universal Analytics web interface.
  • Review and document existing reports within your organization, paying close attention to elements like segments and filters utilized within these reports.
  • Ensure comprehensive backup of the correct Views; if in doubt, back them all up to cover all bases.
  • Capture essential metadata for each table row, such as account ID, ViewID, and indicators for 'sampled' data and '(other)' categories, in addition to any segments or filters involved in generating the report. This metadata is vital for the utility of your backup data.
  • Structure your queries to yield fewer than 500,000 sessions each to sidestep data sampling issues.
  • When dealing with Custom Dimensions and Events, craft your queries meticulously to avoid missing out on any data, which might necessitate multiple queries for thorough coverage.

While numerous tools offer Google Analytics connectivity, few are tailored specifically for comprehensive data backups or large-scale data extraction, often resulting in partial or non-functional datasets. 

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them During Migration from Google Analytics to GA4

Migrating from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) can be fraught with challenges that may lead to data discrepancies if not carefully managed. 

One common issue is the difference in data models between UA and GA4, which can result in varying data reports even when looking at the same metrics. To troubleshoot these discrepancies, it's vital to understand the core differences in how each platform tracks and reports data. 

Conducting parallel tracking by running both UA and GA4 simultaneously can help identify and reconcile these differences, ensuring a smoother transition. Additionally, using the GA4 Setup Assistant can aid in mapping out equivalent configurations, helping to bridge the gap between the two systems.

Ensuring continuity in reporting during the transition is another critical aspect of a successful migration. 

As the data models and reporting capabilities between UA and GA4 differ significantly, creating a mapping document that outlines how each UA report translates into GA4 can be incredibly beneficial. 

This document should detail which metrics and dimensions are used in UA and their equivalents in GA4, if available. 

It's also a good practice to start creating GA4 reports early on to familiarize yourself with the new interface and capabilities, ensuring that reporting continues seamlessly post-migration.

Avoiding data loss is paramount during the migration process. 

A comprehensive backup plan should be in place before the transition begins, encompassing all historical data, custom reports, and configurations. This ensures that no critical data is lost in the switch. 

Additionally, setting up data streams in GA4 well before the final transition allows for data accumulation and provides a safety net should any data loss occur during the migration. 

Regular checks and validations against the original UA data ensure that the GA4 setup is capturing the necessary information accurately, minimizing the risk of data loss. By anticipating these common pitfalls and implementing strategies to counteract them, organizations can ensure a smooth and effective migration to GA4.


In conclusion, migrating from Google Analytics to GA4 is a pivotal shift that not only enhances your data analytics capabilities but also prepares your organization for the future of web analytics. 

This step-by-step guide aims to navigate you through the complexities of backing up and transitioning your data seamlessly. 

By understanding the nuances between the two platforms, meticulously planning your migration, and being aware of common pitfalls, you can ensure a smooth transition. 

Remember, the key to a successful migration lies in detailed preparation, thorough backup strategies, and continuous monitoring to adapt to GA4's new environment.

As we embrace this change, it's crucial to leverage the advanced features and improved data modeling of GA4. 

The transition might seem daunting, but with careful planning and execution, it presents an opportunity to enhance your analytics practices. 

Stay proactive, seek clarity on any uncertainties, and consider this migration as a step towards leveraging more sophisticated analytics that will drive informed decision-making and strategic insights for your business in the digital age.

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