Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics

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Mar 22, 2023

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21 min read

GA4 Vs UA

Data is king in this generation and time that is steered digitally. It is worth its weight in gold. Companies heavily rely on data to guide growth and inform choices. Businesses have long used Google Analytics as a popular tool to monitor website traffic and compile user behavior information. Many companies want to know how Google Analytics 4 (GA4) stacks up against the outdated Universal Analytics (UA) platform in light of its recent release.

We'll examine the distinctions between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics in more detail in this article. We'll explore the fresh capabilities and features of GA4 and contrast them with the well-known aspects of UA. We'll also look at how these modifications will affect businesses and their capacity to analyze website data.

UA and GA4: Overview

Universal Analytics is the previous iteration of Google Analytics that companies have extensively utilized for years. The session-based data model UA employs emphasizes pageviews and session lengths more. This means that companies can monitor user behavior on their website based on specific sessions, including the number of times users visit the site, the pages they view, and the location from which they leave it.

The compatibility of UA with third-party plugins and tools is one of its advantages. As a result, companies can incorporate extra features and functionality into their analytics platform, such as social media analytics, bespoke dashboards and reports, and e-commerce tracking.

UA's familiarity and usability are further benefits. Since many companies have been using UA for a long time, they may be more familiar with its user interface and functionality. Online materials and tutorials are also widely available to assist firms in learning how to employ UA more efficiently.

The most recent version of Google's well-known analytics software, known as GA4, is available. It signals a substantial change in how companies monitor and examine website user behavior. The event-based data architecture in GA4 is one of the biggest updates, enabling companies to track user interactions with their website in a more detailed manner. This entails that organizations may track activities like video plays, button clicks, and more, and gain greater insights into user behavior and engagement on their website.

The way GA4 and UA handle user privacy is another significant distinction between them. GA4 has been developed with features including improved permission management and data deletion controls to be more privacy-friendly. This is in reaction to evolving data privacy laws like the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Consumer Privacy Act of California (CCPA).

Notwithstanding these advantages, some companies might be apprehensive about switching to GA4. This is why this article aims to take you through all the things that you need to settle the debate of GA4 vs UA for good, once and for all. We shall be taking a close look at what has changed in the GA4 interface, how different it is from UA, and how it is more advantageous for businesses to make the switch as soon as possible.

Google Analytics 4: What’s Changed?

Universal Analytics measures screenviews in separate mobile-specific properties, whereas GA4 combines both web and app data in the same property.

Website traffic is tracked and reported by Google Analytics, a web analytics service- this is not news to anyone. After it was acquired in 2005, it underwent a major change. Google's acquisition of "Urchin Analytics" led to the creation of the original version of Google Analytics. As part of this acquisition, Urchin Tracking Modules (UTM) parameters were also produced.

Universal Analytics (UA) was introduced as the default tracking platform in 2013 and began measuring site interactions based on sessions and page views. However, a brand-new asset called App+Web was unveiled as part of a beta release in the fall of 2020. In contrast to the previous tracking techniques, this new property was able to track both online and app visits in a single Google Analytics property. App+Web rebranded Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in the fall of 2020, and it has since taken its place as the suggested property type for Google Analytics.

The measurement model is one of the primary distinctions between GA4 and UA. Any sort of user interaction, such as page views, conversions, and clicks, is regarded as an event since GA4 gathers and organizes data depending on user interactions. The session-based measuring model, on the other hand, is used by UA and is based on sessions and pageviews.

As opposed to the conventional session-based method of UA, the transition to a user-centric measurement paradigm in GA4 has a number of benefits. Businesses may utilize GA4 to develop bespoke reports that concentrate on the user journey, allowing them to monitor active people engaged with the website rather than the overall number of users.

The GA4 measuring approach is additionally more adaptable and strong, enabling richer visualizations and report snapshots. The platform also includes machine learning technology, which enables businesses to rapidly and simply derive insights from their visualizations.

Businesses that wish to stay on top of the most recent developments in web analytics must switch to GA4. Google declared that UA would be deprecated starting in July 2023 in March 2022. This implies that beyond that date, support and upgrades will no longer be provided to companies that still rely on UA. Thus, it is imperative that firms begin to prepare for their transition to GA4 immediately.

To sum up, GA4 is the suggested property type for Google Analytics, and companies should begin preparing for the switch from UA to GA4 in order to benefit from the latter's more adaptable and reliable measurement approach. With the help of the user-centric measurement model in GA4, businesses can track people who are actively using their websites by creating bespoke reports that are user-centric and based on the user journey. Because UA will be deprecated in July 2023, and organizations that rely on it will no longer receive maintenance or updates, the switch to GA4 is essential.

8 key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics

After discussing GA4 vs UA, let’s look at their differences individually.

1. App Tracking Abilities

A unified data structure is used in GA4, the most recent version of Google Analytics, to track data from both websites and mobile apps inside the same property. This is a substantial improvement compared to the previous version, which necessitated separate properties for website and app monitoring.

With GA4, user interactions on websites and apps are recorded as events, structured data points showing information about a user's actions. Examples of events are page views, clicks, video plays, and in-app payments. GA4 offers a more complete picture of user behavior across several platforms by recording all interactions as events. This new measuring technique is based on the mobile app analytics platform Google Analytics for Firebase. The same methodology is now being used in GA4 for website tracking after Firebase's success in tracking app data. The result is a more reliable and consistent measurement across all platforms.

It is far simpler to aggregate data across websites and apps when there is a single data model when it comes to GA4 vs UA. For instance, GA4 may track a user's behavior across both platforms and assign the conversion to the proper source if they begin a purchase on a website but finish it on an app. This improves the quality of the user behavior picture and can guide marketing and optimization tactics.

2. Types of Hits

Interactions were recorded using various hit kinds in Google Analytics (GA) Universal Analytics (UA), including as pageviews, purchases, and social interactions. In contrast, GA4 records every user action, such as pageviews, clicks, video plays, and other user actions, as an event.

Events in GA4 have more data, referred to as event parameters, that give the action a user took more context. Unlike UA, which classifies events using categories, actions, and labels, GA4 does so using event parameters, which can either be delivered automatically, like page titles, or be added by the developer, like product id or search query. It's crucial to build new event logic that makes sense in the context of GA4 rather than merely transferring existing event logic from UA because the data models between UA and GA4 differ. Google advises taking a fresh approach and considering which events and parameters are most important to your company's objectives.

Using events and event parameters in GA4 allows you more customization and flexibility when tracking user behavior. Each event can have up to 25 event parameters, giving developers a wealth of information they can utilize to study user behavior and influence optimization tactics.

3. Session Interaction

A session in UA is the length of time that a user is actively using your website. When a person is inactive for 30 minutes, the time reaches midnight, or they come across a new campaign parameter, the session ends (a tracking code for your marketing campaigns).

Sessions in GA4 are based on a time of activity as well, but they are distinguished by a session ID that is created when a user first interacts with your website or app. Sessions in GA4 are not impacted by the new campaign parameters and can last past midnight. The variations between UA and GA4 can result in disparities in session data if your website has a global audience. For instance, UA would count two separate sessions if a user in a one-time zone began using your website before midnight and continued using it after midnight in a different time zone, but GA4 would count the interaction as one session.

4. BigQuery Exports

With GA4, you can now export data from your website or app to BigQuery, a database that enables SQL analysis of massive amounts of data (a programming language used for managing and analyzing data). This feature was formerly exclusive to Analytics 360 customers. However, it is now accessible to all GA4 properties. As long as you keep inside the confines of the sandbox environment, the best part is that it is free.

The sandbox environment, however, does not enable streaming data, so you will need to wait a little while for your data to be exported to BigQuery before you can begin analyzing it. Overall, this function offers a strong approach to evaluating the data on your website or app and discovering insightful user patterns.

5. Engagement and Bounce Rate

In contrast to UA, GA4 does not report on bounce-related metrics. In place of this, GA4 employs an "engagement rate" metric that gauges how frequently visitors interact with your website or app.

The engagement rate is determined by dividing the total number of sessions by the number of engagement sessions. Sessions that last at least 10 seconds, have at least one conversion or have at least two page or screenviews are considered engaged sessions.

Although the bounce rate is still there in GA4, the calculation differs from that in UA. The percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions is known as the bounce rate in GA4. Bounce rate, therefore, represents the polar opposite of engagement rate. UA used the percentage of visitors to your website who only viewed one page to determine your bounce rate. In general, engagement rate offers a more constructive method of gauging user involvement and can aid companies in better comprehending how people connect with their website or app.

6. Tag Manager

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In the past, you could define objectives without using Google Tag Manager if you used Google Analytics to monitor how visitors interacted with your website. Objectives are actions you want visitors to take on your website, such as buying something or completing a form. For instance, you could create a goal to monitor the number of visitors who come to a particular page on your website.

However, as of right now, you can only set up goals using something called an event, thanks to the new GA4. A simple approach to track when anything occurs on your website, such as when a user clicks a button or watches a video, is to use events. You must use Google Tag Manager to create these events in GA4.

To handle all the various pieces of code, you would want to add to your website to track things like events and other data, use Google Tag Manager. Knowing how to use Google Tag Manager can be helpful if you work in digital marketing or e-commerce because it will help you get more sophisticated information about how visitors interact with your website.

To track, for instance, the number of times a particular button on your website was clicked, you might wish to create a custom event. You can quickly put this up and begin tracking this data using Google Tag Manager. Moreover, Google Tag Manager allows you to build custom dimensions, which are merely additional categories for your data. This can help you learn even more about how visitors interact with your website.

7. Account Structure

The account had three components in the previous iteration of Google Analytics: account, property, and view. However, there are only two elements in the new GA4 version: account and property. In GA4, views are no longer present. Data streams, an entirely new idea, were instead presented in GA4.

Consider data streams as a pipe connecting your website or application to Google Analytics. In the past, GA Universal or UA would use a tracking ID to gather data at the property level. Nevertheless, GA4 uses a distinct data stream ID to collect data at the stream level. This makes it possible for GA4 to comprehend how users are interacting with your website or app more fully. There are a maximum of 50 data streams per GA4 property, and if you have a mobile app, there is a maximum of 30 app data streams. You can gather more precise and thorough information on the performance of your website or app using these data streams.

8. User Interface

The user interface is one of the main distinctions between Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics (UA). In order to make it simpler for users to examine their data, the user interface in GA4 has undergone a considerable revamp to become more cutting-edge and user-friendly.

A number of enhancements in GA4's new interface are intended to make the data analysis process more efficient. The dashboard, for instance, allows users to select the metrics and dimensions they want to display, which is more flexible than in UA. The new interface also comes with a variety of pre-built reports and dashboards that are specially made to assist customers in gaining insights into various facets of their website or app. The GA4 interface's enhanced ability to easily produce customized reports and dashboards is another significant advancement. Users can construct custom reports by dragging and dropping various components into the interface, and they can save their adjustments for later use. Users now find it simpler to examine the data that matters to them the most and to produce reports that are customized to their unique requirements.

Benefits of Google Analytics 4

Now that we have a good idea of what GA4 is and how it is an upgrade from the previous technology we have used under UA, let’s go ahead to analyze the benefits of Google Analytics 4.  After discussing GA4 vs UA, Let’s look at the Benefits of Google Analytics 4.

1. First Benefit of Google Analytics 4 is More of the User’s Journey is on Display

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The way Google Analytics tracks user behavior has recently undergone a substantial change. It now places more emphasis on users than on devices, enabling a more thorough insight into how people engage with a website or app. This indicates that the emphasis is now on the user journey and the actions they do rather than tracking individual visits or sessions.

With this new method, data from websites and applications can be evaluated jointly, making it simpler to comprehend how users switch between platforms.

When someone visits your website on their phone, they might subsequently go back on their computer and use your app to make a purchase. You can measure and connect these actions using the features in Google Analytics 4, which will help you get a more accurate picture of how users interact with your company.

2. More Focused on User Engagement

The second Benefit of Google Analytics 4 is More Focused on User Engagement: Marketers and analysts may now more easily comprehend how users interact with their website or app thanks to Google Analytics. It is now simpler to understand how consumers move from learning about your company to becoming customers thanks to the new report parts they have developed that are in line with the customer journey.

The new user-centric metrics and dimensions forecast customer behavior and value using artificial intelligence, offering insightful data on user activity. The term "bounce rate" has been replaced with "engagement metrics," which are more potent measures of how consumers engage with your material, whether they scroll, watch videos, click links, or download things.

All things considered, these modifications make it simpler to comprehend customer interaction and enhance your website or program to fulfill their demands better.

3. Better Targeted Audience

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The third Benefit of Google Analytics 4 is a Better Targeted Audience: With the release of Google Analytics 4, marketers now have access to updated and new capabilities that will help them maximize the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns. GA4 can follow a user's journey across many devices and platforms thanks to its comprehensive measurement and integration tools, which help advertisers avoid squandering their advertising budget.

For instance, GA4 can piece together a user's journey if you're a university running an advertising campaign and they first visit your website on a mobile device, then they switch to a desktop computer, and finally, they fill out an application form using your mobile app. This information can be extremely helpful for maximizing ad spend.

New predictive analytics available in GA4 can aid marketers in better understanding consumer behavior and attracting more valuable clients. These measurements can forecast possible sales from a set of clients, which aids marketers in developing more effective target markets and taking appropriate action to boost the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.

Simpler Setups and Goals

GA4 Vs UA

With the new "Event Editing and Synthesis" tool in Google Analytics 4, you can track user behavior and establish goals without having to alter code or spend a lot of time on setup. This function is helpful for keeping track of transactional actions like completing forms or making purchases on external websites. Moreover, GA4 includes default tracking for behaviors such as clicks, scrolling, file downloads, and first-time visitor visits. Even while some objectives, such as form submission or e-commerce, might not be automatically tracked, setting them up in Google Analytics is now a lot simpler and quicker than in earlier iterations. Overall, GA4 offers a more straightforward and effective way to monitor user behavior and accomplish the objectives of your website.

5. Fine Tuned Visualizations

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There are various updated and improved reporting features in Google Analytics 4. Although the platform has a familiar feel to it, there are new capabilities that might aid in your understanding of your data. The "Analysis Hub" is one of the most fascinating new features. To assist you in exploring your data, you may find ready-made charts and reports here. There are templates for data exploration, user journey tracking, and user behavior analysis.

Moreover, reporting by "Use Case" and "Industries" is available in the "Analysis Hub". This implies that whether you work for a merchant, a healthcare organization, or a financial institution, you may produce reports that are customized to your particular needs. In general, Google Analytics 4 offers enhanced reporting and visuals, making it simpler for you to understand your data and derive insightful conclusions.

6. Multitude of Parameters

It's crucial to have the correct information at the proper level of detail in order to get the most out of analytics data. For instance, in e-commerce, you might be interested in knowing a customer's purchase amount, location, and mode of transportation. These data, as well as more, can be sent as "parameters" with each event in Google Analytics 4. Similar to additional notes, parameters offer further context to what happened. You can add up to 25 of your own parameters in addition to those that are automatically delivered, including the title of the page the user visited. For instance, if you have a game app, you might wish to include the character name or level when the user advances. You may find out more about your users and enhance your app or website by looking at the reports in GA4, which will provide all the events and parameters that were submitted.

What’s Next?

With new hits only being processed until July 1, 2023, for regular sites and July 1, 2024, for 360 UA properties, time is running out for Universal Analytics. There's no need to stress, though, as Google Analytics 4 is here to offer an opulent answer to your analytics needs. You'll have access to the most recent features and analytics with GA4, allowing you to keep up with trends and make wise decisions to grow your company.

You'll be able to gather priceless historical data and realize the full potential of your analytics by switching to GA4 as soon as feasible. Additionally, with GA4's user-friendly interface and enhanced reporting features, you can easily track the performance of your website and apps, learn important things about your customers' behavior, and propel growth and success like never before. Make the switch to GA4 right away to advance your analytics and avoid waiting until it's too late!

In Conclusion

In summary, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics (UA) are two distinct Google Analytics releases, each with special benefits and capabilities. While UA has long been the industry standard for gauging the performance of websites and apps, GA4's enhancements make it a more potent and adaptable tool for data analysis.

In the end, the decision between GA4 vs UA will depend on a number of variables, such as the user's particular demands, the kind of website or app being studied, and the resources available. In terms of data analysis and usability, GA4 clearly outperforms UA, and in the years to come, it's expected to set the standard for measuring the performance of websites and apps.

We know that running your business can be daunting, and technology and the digitization that going online with your business entails may not be something that everyone is comfortable with. This is why Saffron Edge is here to provide you with end-to-end services for all your digital needs. Schedule a call with us right away to take your business to another level.

FAQs

1. How do I upgrade to Google Analytics 4?

There are multiple steps involved in upgrading to Google Analytics 4, including setting up a new GA4 property and adding the GA4 tracking code to your website or application. Below is a general breakdown of the procedures:

  • Create a new property in Google Analytics 4
  • Set up data streams
  • Install the GA4 tracking code
  • Set data settings
  • Check data collection

2. Why should you use Google Analytics 4?

Use Google Analytics 4 to better monitor user behavior across devices and platforms, acquire a deeper understanding of your audience, and enhance your marketing and user experience initiatives. Google Analytics 4 offers more sophisticated tracking features. In addition, GA4 provides more comprehensive privacy settings and is made to accommodate the changing demands of the online environment, such as cookie-free tracking and machine learning-based insights.

3. Is GA4 replacing Google Analytics?

Yes, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the company's most recent version, is meant to take the place of Universal Analytics, Google Analytics' prior incarnation. Although Universal Analytics is still widely used and maintained, Google has stated that GA4 will eventually replace it. To take use of GA4's more sophisticated features and capabilities, Google has urged website owners and marketers to begin the switch.

4. Steps For Configuring GA4

These are the steps to configure GA4;

  • Create a new property in Google Analytics 4: Click "New Property" in the Admin section of Google Analytics after signing in. To set up your new property, select "Google Analytics 4" as the property type and then follow the on-screen instructions.
  • Set up data streams: You must configure data streams for your website or app in your new GA4 property. Configuring the tracking parameters and identifying the data source is required.
  • Install the GA4 tracking code: You must install the GA4 tracking code on your website or mobile application in order to begin data collection in your new GA4 property. This entails switching out the old GA3 tracking code for the new GA4 tracking code.
  • Set data settings: Following the implementation of the tracking code and the setup of your data streams, you must specify the data settings for your GA4 property. This entails defining user and event settings, data retention settings, and other parameters.
  • Check data collection: Once the setup process is complete, you should check to make sure that data is being collected correctly in your GA4 property. This can be accomplished by looking over the conventional reports' data as well as the real-time data reports.

5. How Does GA4 Help With Reporting?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) assists with reporting by offering event-based data monitoring, cross-device, and cross-platform tracking, and increased measurement capabilities, which offer more in-depth insights into user behavior and interaction with your brand.

6. How to use Google Analytics 4

In order to use Google Analytics 4 (GA4), you must do the following:

  • In your Google Analytics account, create a new GA4 property.
  • On your GA4 property, create data streams for your website or app.
  • Put the GA4 tracking code in your app or website.
  • Set up custom dimensions and metrics and configure data settings as necessary.
  • To access your data and insights, use the GA4 reporting interface.