GA4 vs Universal Analytics - What is the Difference? - Updated 2023
With the rise and continued success of the Internet, data collection has been a hot topic for businesses and website owners alike. Many different methods and technologies have been employed in order to track user behavior. One reason is that it determines which ones are rising to the top and sinking down to the bottom in terms of popularity, engagement metrics, user visits, and other custom metrics. That's why there are tools such as Google Analytics and Universal Analytics.
Google Analytics response to the dynamic evolution of the technological advancements today is bringing out Google Analytics 4. This new version of Google Analytics has a lot of features, such as custom reports, a custom interface, a Google tag manager that is built in, and a few other features that are not found in the Universal Analytics version.
When Google announced the release of Google Analytics 4, many people were still waiting to see if this is going to be as good as the previous releases or the existing Universal Analytics property. Digital marketers were quick to judge and give their verdicts, but we wanted to take a more in-depth look at both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics.
Users interact with each other in terms of analytics, so it is important to see if this is any good so with that being said, let’s take a look at the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics.
Understanding Universal Analytics
The first thing to understand is that Universal Analytics is not going anywhere. It’s still the most widely used analytics tool and will continue to be for some time. Many businesses have been using it for years, so there is a lot of data stored in Universal Analytics that isn’t going to be migrated over to GA4 any time soon.
This is important to understand because a lot of the features in GA4 are designed to work with data that has been collected by Universal Analytics. So, if you’re not using Universal Analytics, some of the features in GA4 won’t be available to you.
Universal Analytics features include:
See how your users are interacting with your site in real time, so you can respond quickly to visitor actions and keep them engaged.
Deliver a personalized experience to each user by leveraging the power of machine learning on Google's servers to serve content based on their interests, intent, and location.
Mobile App Measurement
Measure mobile app usage and engagement through Google Analytics, along with other important metrics like revenue and retention rate.
Enhanced Ecommerce Reporting
Gain insights into how your shoppers are behaving across multiple devices (desktop, mobile web, and mobile app).
Custom Dimensions & Metrics
Create new dimensions within Google Analytics to track data specific to your needs and requirements.
Use advanced attribution modeling to understand how different marketing channels are contributing to your overall success.
Connect Google Analytics directly to BigQuery for analysis of your raw data at scale.
While Universal Anaytics is a great tool with many features, GA4 is quickly becoming the new standard.
Google Analytics Explained
Google Analytics is the world’s most widely used web analytics solution. It is a free service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google Analytics collects and tracks visitors from all referral sources, including organic search (SEO), paid search (SEM), display advertising, direct traffic, social media, and email marketing.
Visits: A visit happens when a person views any page on your site or app (for example, when they land on a page or open an internal link), but doesn’t necessarily mean that they used it for its intended purpose (for example, if they only viewed a single product page that was linked from their shopping cart).
Bounce rate: Bounce rate refers to how many visits result in a single interaction with your website (i.e., someone clicks on one internal link and leaves). A high bounce rate can indicate that people are leaving your website quickly without engaging with it further — for example, if your site has lots of text-heavy pages with little else to do.
Pages per visit: This metric measures how many pages people view during a single visit to your site. A high number of pages per visit can indicate that people are finding your site content valuable and are spending time on it, while a low number may suggest that people are struggling to find what they need or that your content is not relevant to their needs.
Average time on site: This metric measures how long people spend on your website during a single visit. A high average time on site can indicate that people are engaged with your content, while a low number may suggest that they are not finding it relevant or interesting.
Google Analytics 4 Features
Google Analytics property is now upgraded to GA4. This is done to make sure that analytics is more accurate. The changes that are made in GA4 are as follows:
- The data model is now unified
- You can now measure user specific data across web and app
- More accurate measurement of conversions
- You can now measure across devices
- Increased control over your data stream
- Better integrations with Google Marketing Platform products such as Google Ads
- Improved usability and interface
- New features such as custom reports and reporting interface, and a built-in Google tag manager
Here, let's discuss them in detail:
Unified data model
From a data collection standpoint, the most significant change in GA4 is the introduction of a unified data model. In the past, Google Analytics had separate models for measuring web and app activity. This meant that any insights you wanted to gain from your data had to be siloed by platform.
With the unified data model, all the data of your web and app activity is now stored in a single model. This gives you a much more holistic view of your users and their interactions with your site or app. It also makes it much easier to segment and filter your data, as well as create custom reports.
More accurate measurement of conversions
Another big change in GA4 is the way conversion tracking works. In the past, conversion tracking was done by setting up goals in Google Analytics. These goals could be anything from completing a purchase to signing up for a newsletter.
The problem with this system was that it was very reliant on cookies. If a user cleared their cookies, or if they were using a different browser or device, then their goal would not be tracked.
With GA4, conversion tracking is done through the use of an event-based model. Events are pieces of code that are triggered when a user performs a certain action on your site or app. For example, you could set up an event to track when a user adds an item to their shopping cart. This event-based model is much more reliable than the old goal-based system, as it is not reliant on cookies. This means that automatically collected events will retroactively credit all conversions to the original source (e.g. if a user came to your site from an email campaign and later converted on your site, the conversion will be attributed to the email campaign).
Increased control over your data stream
In GA4, you have much more control over your data stream. In the past, all data was automatically sent to Google Analytics, whether you wanted it to or not. This could lead to sensitive data being sent to Google, such as credit card information.
With GA4, you can now choose what data is sent to Google Analytics and what isn't. This gives you much more control over your data and ensures that only the data you want to be sent is sent.
Better integrations with Google Marketing Platform products
GA4 has better integrations with Google Marketing Platform products, such as Google Ads. This means that you can now see your GA4 data in Google Ads, and vice versa. This gives you a more holistic view of your marketing efforts and lets you see how your Google Ads campaigns perform.
Google Analytics 4 includes a new attribution model that lets you see how different marketing channels contribute to your overall success. This information can help you allocate your budget more effectively and make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Improved usability and interface
GA4 has a new interface that is more user-friendly and intuitive. It also has new features, such as custom reports and reporting interface, and a built-in Google tag manager. These features make it easier to use GA4 and get the most out of your data.
Moreover, the new dashboard is more visual than the previous one, plus it provides more information at a glance. You can see what’s happening on your site in real-time, including new website users, sessions, and conversion rate.
Custom reports and reporting interface, and a built-in Google tag manager
Custom reports allow you to create reports that are tailored to your specific needs. For example, you could create a report that shows you how many new users you had last month, and what their conversion rate was.
The reporting interface has been redesigned to be more user-friendly and intuitive. It also includes new features, such as custom reports and the ability to export data to Google Sheets.
Lastly, the built-in Google tag manager allows you to manage your tags in one place. This makes it easier to deploy and manage your tags, as well as keep track of your tag activity.
Overall, Google Analytics 4 is a powerful tool that can help you track your website traffic and understand your audience better. It’s also more user-friendly and has better integrations with other Google products. If you’re looking to upgrade your Google Analytics account, then GA4 is the way to go.
Major Key Differences Between Universal Analytics and GA4
Google Analytics 4 includes a lot of new features and improvements that make it a more powerful tool than Universal Analytics. However, there are some key differences between the two that you should be aware of:
1. Events are tracked differently.
In GA4, event parameters are set up in a more granular way, which allows for more flexibility and customization. For example, you can now choose what category an event should be placed in, and you can also assign multiple events to the same category. This makes it easier to track and analyze your data. Meanwhile, Universal Analytics relies on a more traditional event-tracking method where all events are placed in the same category.
2. The data model is different.
GA4 uses a new data model that is more flexible and allows for more customization. This means that you can now choose what data is sent to Google Analytics and what isn't. On the contrary, Universal Analytics uses a more rigid data model where all data is sent to Google Analytics, regardless of whether you want it to be or not.
3. The attribution model is different.
Google Analytics 4 uses a new attribution model that allows you to track how different marketing channels contribute to your overall success. Universal Analytics, on the other hand, uses a last-touch attribution model, which only takes into account the last marketing channel that a customer interacted with before converting.
4. The interface is different.
Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 has a new interface that is more user-friendly and intuitive whereas Universal Analytics has a more traditional interface.
5. The way that data is collected is different.
In GA4, data is collected in a more passive way. This means that users are not required to opt-in to have their data tracked. Universal Analytics, on the other hand, uses an active approach where users must opt-in to have their data tracked.
6. Predictive Analytics
Google Analytics 4 includes a new predictive analytics feature that uses machine learning to identify trends and patterns in your data where it is able to track, predict, and give recommendations such as LTV, churn probability, and next best action. Universal Analytics does not have this feature.
The Real Deal
So there you have it, those are the major differences between Universal Analytics and GA4. As you can see, GA4 is a more powerful tool that has a lot of new features and improvements. However, it’s important to note that Universal Analytics is still a valid option, especially if you’re not ready to switch over to GA4 just yet. But if you are looking to upgrade your Google Analytics account, then GA4 is the way to go.
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