Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

What is the difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

On March 16th 2022 Google announced the sunset date for Universal Analytics as July 1st 2023. This has sparked a lot of conversation around Universal Analytics(UA) and Google Analytics 4(GA4.) With an official sunset date set for UA it’s time for companies to develop their GA4 implementation strategy and start the switch. 

Before we dive into implementation let’s look at the differences between Universal analytics and Google Analytics 4

UA vs.GA4
Session basedEvent based
Not designed with data privacy laws in mindDesigned for privacy first
Does not leverage machine learningUtilizes machine learning
More complicated set upEase of implementation
Less visualization optionsEnhanced visualizations and reporting
No native Big Query integrationNative Big Query integration

At a high level these are the main differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. Next we will take a closer look at each of these differences. 

Data Collection

At its core Google Analytics has been completely redesigned for GA4. Universal Analytics is a session based data model. This means that data is grouped into sessions which are the foundation of all Universal Analytics reporting. A session is a group of user interactions that happen within a set time frame. The hit data collected during a session includes page hits, event hits, ecommerce hits, and social interaction hits. 

Google Analytics 4 on the other hand uses a flexible event based data model based on the idea that any interaction can be captured as an event. Collecting data focused on user interactions helps to create a more complete picture of how users are interacting with your site. 

Universal Analytics Hit TypeGoogle Analytics 4 Measurement
Page ViewEvent

By collecting all data as events vs. different hit types you increase the flexibility of how you can slice, combine, and view your data. A huge advantage of this approach is that it improves cross device and cross platform tracking. This means that Google Analytics 4 allows you to better stitch together separate parts of the customer journey to help you have a full view of how users are experiencing your brand.  

Data Privacy

With increasing concerns and evolving legislation worldwide having a data collection strategy that allows you to comply with data privacy laws is paramount. Google Analytics 4 gives you precise control over what personal data is collected and stored. You have the control to exclude certain events from being shared with your advertising platforms. GA4 also does not collect IP addresses in accordance with data privacy laws. 

Machine Learning

With the depreciation of 3rd party cookies using machine learning to fill in the gaps in your data is going to be essential. Google Analytics 4 uses AI to help bridge the gap. 

GA4 also allows you to leverage machine learning for enhanced audience building. With GA4 you leverage the power of customer stitching and predictive modeling to build high impact audiences for your advertising campaigns. 

Improved Ease of Implementation

Google Analytics 4 has added a whole host of events as part of the native implementation. Here you can see the entire list of automatically collected events. Some of the highlights include scrolls, video engagements, site search, and file downloads. These are events that had to be set up manually with Universal Analytics. 

GA4 has also simplified custom event and conversion set up. Now custom events are recorded just by setting up the events to send to your GA4 property, you no longer have to walk through the cumbersome activity of setting up goals. Setting up conversions is incredibly easy. All you do is toggle on “Mark as conversion” from your events.

Finally, your developers are going to love the Debug View. This allows you to enter debug mode in Google Tag Manager and in real time test events and see what data is sent to your GA4 property. 

Enhanced Visualization and Reporting Options

With GA4 you now have access to the Analysis Hub, a feature that was previously reserved for paid Google Analytics 360 accounts. Located under the Exploration tab the analysis hub gives you flexibility in your visualizations and powerful templates like funnel analysis, segment overlap, path analysis, user lifetime, and churn. There are also templates by Use Case and Industry. These additions help you dig into the data and uncover insights. 

Big Query

Another feature that was previously only for Google Analytics paid accounts that is now available natively in Google Analytics 4 is the Big Query implementation. This is going to be huge as we move towards a world without 3rd party cookies. Being able to bring all of your platform data together in one place where you can control and aggregate your first party data and make decisions on what data to share with your advertising platforms is going to be essential. 

Now that you know the difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics what 

questions do you have?

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