GA4 vs Universal Analytics – Here is What You Need to Know!

12 Jul, 2023

Everyone from paid strategists to marketers, SEOs, and business developers rely on the ability to analyze data and measure website traffic for a bigger impact.

Tracking performance and identifying areas for improvement over the conversion life-cycle, help pros gain valuable insights into the customer journey. It ultimately gives us the tools to improve business performance and consumer connection.

This is where Universal Analytics (UA), which is the free version of Google Analytics, is dominating with a whopping 86% of the market share and is used by most businesses. It’s part of how companies like yours dive deeper into the details of website performance.

Now it’s down to Google Analytics 4…or GA4

However, there’s a big change on the horizon. Soon, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the sole tool for processing data and tracking website activity in the Google ecosystem.

On October 1, 2023, Universal Analytics 360, designed for enterprises, is done and dusted. And for non-enterprise users looking for new data, the standard UA properties will reach their sunset date on July 1, 2023 and stop processing data.

  • What does this mean for marketers and strategists?
  • A new era where GA4 leads the way – but is it an improvement over UA?
  • And what if you’re not keen on migrating to GA4, are there any other good options?

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the alternatives of GA4.

Digital Marketing Experts | GA4 migration | YDA

What is Googe Analytics 4 (GA4)? The breakdown

Before October 2020, Universal Analytics reigned as the standard property type to measure traffic, and milestone data, serving as the go-to tool for digital analytics. However, a big shift occurred on October 14, 2020, with the release of GA4. Now, when you “create property”, it defaults to a GA4 property.

Since then, more pros are considering Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as the new default option, over creating a Universal Analytics property, marking the emergence of a new era in digital analytics that just makes sense.

Why the change from Universal Analytics to GA4 if it was already popular?

A number of factors played a role in the decision. Firstly, there have been updates to online privacy policies that prompted the need for change. Secondly, changes in consumer behavior necessitated a fresh approach.

Additionally, there was a growing demand to capture the complete customer journey. This served as the foundation for developing a new and enhanced analytics tool that could help businesses effectively reach new audiences.

The new GA4 introduces cross-platform tracking, enabling simultaneous data collection from both websites and apps. This allows you to measure user behavior across multiple platforms, providing a holistic view of your audience.

Furthermore, GA4 incorporates advanced features such as AI-driven predictive analytics, machine learning capabilities, data visualization tools, and a strong emphasis on customer privacy.

All of these elements, combined with standard values like page views, collectively shape the future of digital analytics, empowering you with powerful insights and ensuring compliance with evolving privacy standards.

G4 versus Universal Analytics: the upgrades in a nutshell

The next-generation, GA4 takes tracking to a whole new level by giving you fresh insights into user activity across both website and app data streams. This gives you a complete picture of how users interact with your digital touchpoints and how a session or conversion event comes to be.

Now, let’s explore some other exciting ways GA4 differs from Universal Analytics.

New metrics in GA4

First off, GA4 adopts a more event-based approach. Instead of just counting page views, it focuses on capturing specific user actions.

This means you can dive deep into understanding how users engage with your site or get app data on a more detailed level.

However, while there are more commonly measured default metrics, like engaged sessions, engagement time, etc. You’ll have to “Explore” to get to the bounce rate metric for example.

Predictive insights

But that’s not all. GA4 brings some serious brainpower with advanced machine learning to everything from your Google Ads to your home page and app data.

It uses AI to analyze your data and provide predictive analytics, which is a step ahead of Universal Analytics data. You can uncover more valuable patterns and trends, giving you a sneak peek into user preferences and potential outcomes for your digital marketing campaigns.

Reporting interface

GA4 collects data and offers interactive and customizable reports, making it easier for you to grasp insights and present them in a visually appealing way. GA4 property has new analytics reports than what we’ve come to expect from UA, focusing on active users as opposed to total users as just one example. You can also access the Realtime Report in the left navigation as the default.

Control, alt, comply!

GA4 takes user privacy seriously throughout the analytics life-cycle. It offers more control over data collection and retention, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and demonstrating a responsible approach to handling user info.

To sum it up, GA4 goes above and beyond by expanding tracking capabilities, employing AI smarts, enhancing how data is visualized, and enabling better consumer privacy. In these ways, it’s a game-changer compared to Universal Analytics.

Changing to a new model

GA4 is changing from a session-based model to an event-based model, which will mean many of the commonly tracked events are already built-in; like scroll tracking, outbound clicks, site searches, video engagement rate, and file downloads.

GA4 data analytics | YDA

New users? GA4 is set up for your team to succeed

If your business has new users on GA4, you can start off with a setup assistant which will take you through the architecture and help different teams to migrate from UA property to a GA4 property.

It’s also relatively intuitive to create segments and see what functionalities are available in the audience and segment builders.

Plus, you can easily access your data streams, property columns, and account settings, and import data from the admin screen.

Quick-fire FAQ’s

What kind of data can we see with GA4?

You’ll be able to view everything from website data to user interactions, event tracking, engagement metrics, and more.

Google Analytics 4 helps you track, monitor and create default reports on data points across the consumer journey. And, you can use aggregated data streams to infer custom insights for any of your accounts.

What will happen to our historical data with the move?

Google Analytics 4 doesn’t collect data the same way UA does, so you’ll have to get ahead of this before the migration and plan your move prior.

Want to know more about what GA4 will mean for your business? Get the full scoop in this detailed Google Analytics 4 announcement and guide.

What updates has Google made to GA4 since May 2023?

Google Analytics 4 has new updates, like:

GA4 funnel reports: Now you can customize funnel reports to track how users finish a task, step-by-step. And, you can see exactly where they drop off on a specific page or along the journey, for making more data-driven decisions.

GA4 audience builder: When creating new audiences, you now have more control and flexibility in defining them.

GA4 business objectives collection: With the new update you can tailor reports more specifically to your business goals, and choose each data source appropriately.

GA4 search console recommendation: Link your Search Console to your Google Analytics account to access Google Organic Search Queries and Google Organic Search Traffic reports.

GA4 reusing analytics.js website tags: If your website is tagged with  analytics.js, you can reuse your existing tags when migrating to GA4, simplifying the process.

GA4 AdSense integration: Link your AdSense account to a GA4 property, and your AdSense data will be available in your GA4 reports, giving you new insights to help boost your ad revenue.

What do I need to know about dimensions, metrics, visualization, and exploration in Google Analytics 4?

Dimensions in GA4.

With Google Analytics 4, you can decide which dimensions you want analytics for by dragging and dropping them as rows or columns in the tab settings section. Pick from options like event count, active users, transactions, etc. Dimensions include:

  • Attribution
  • Demographics
  • E-commerce
  • Event
  • Gaming
  • General
  • Geography
  • Link
  • Page/screen
  • Platform/device
  • Publisher
  • Time
  • Traffic source
  • User
  • User lifetime
  • Video
Metrics in GA4.

In the tab settings, you can also add metrics to the Values area so you have easy access to the numbers. You can use this list to see them in detail but they fall into the following categories:

  • Advertising
  • E-commerce
  • Event
  • Page/screen
  • Predictive
  • Publisher
  • Revenue
  • Session
  • User
  • User lifetime
Visualization in GA4.

You can choose what any new report will look like and what it will include by using audience and segment builders in GA4 and choosing from the options above.

Analytical tools for GA4 | YDA

What are the overarching benefits at a glance of GA4?

As of March 2023, around 8.4 million sites are using Google Analytics 4 to track app and website performance, which includes everyone from large corporate businesses to smaller shops and WordPress site owners. Why? Because:

GA4 is collecting data from multiple sources/platforms and providing it in a combined view.

Google Analytics is simplifying data analysis to help you gain insight into what’s most important to you.

You can now optimize your audiences and ad spend more efficiently, which could mean big improvements to performance and your bottom line.

Privacy is prioritized. We touched on this briefly but compliance and data regulations can mean headaches and insecurity for both businesses and consumers. Google Analytics 4 is helping to curb this.

What are some of the cons of GA4?

If you’re moving from UA to GA4, it can be a bit of a complex migration which comes with a steep learning curve in some cases. While the setup assistant is there to help, without data or tag migration you won’t be able to move historical data. This is particularly an issue with big businesses that have more complex analytics.

While GA4 has enhanced reports with more flexibility and options, users will need to adapt to the new interface quickly to make the most of it. In the same breath, if you need various attribution models, you might find yourself in a pickle as some of them have been cut from GA4 leaving only last-click and data-attribution models in the running.

Is there an alternative to GA4?

If these are options you can’t live without you can try an alternative like Adobe Analytics (the premium package for large businesses), Matamo Analytics (used on over 1.4 million sites), or Fathom Analytics which has a focus on user privacy.

Google Analytics: Ready to make the move?

Are you already using Google Analytics 4 exclusively? Let us know what some of your favorite features are or dive into more depth in this comprehensive announcement and GA4 guide.