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  • Writer's pictureBob Freas

Understanding the Differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics



In the world of digital marketing and web analytics, Google Analytics has been a trusted tool for businesses and website owners to gain valuable insights into their online performance. Earlier this month, July 1, 2023, to be exact, Google Analytics required all users to transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data, but you'll still be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023. However, new data will only flow into Google Analytics 4 properties.


Regular Analytics users will know that GA4 has been around since 2020 but many folks still used Universal Analytics as an alternative. Now that most have completed the transition, it's important that we understand how GA4 differs from UA. In this blog, I will cover some of the differences between the two and I will take a look at some of the key features that marketers can expect.

Data Collection and Tracking

One of the major differences between GA4 and UA lies in their data collection methods. UA relied heavily on cookies to track user interactions, making it challenging to track users across different devices accurately. In contrast, GA4 uses an event-based model, which means it collects data in real time and focuses on individual user interactions rather than page views. This enables GA4 to provide a better view of user behavior and journey across multiple devices without using cookies.


Cross-Platform and User Insights

With the rapid growth of mobile usage and other various devices, understanding user behavior across different platforms has become crucial for marketers. GA4 addresses this need by offering enhanced cross-platform tracking capabilities, integrating data from websites and mobile apps. Providing a singular view of user interactions helps marketers gain a better understanding of the entire customer journey, leading to more informed marketing decisions. Universal Analytics was focused on tracking desktop web metrics, leaving out mobile devices and things like tablets and apps. With GA4, it tracks numbers for your websites along with mobile web and mobile apps.


Focus on User Privacy

Privacy concerns have been on the rise in the past few years, prompting stricter regulations and user expectations for data protection. In response to these challenges, GA4 has a more privacy-centric approach with a focus on safeguarding user data. By limiting the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) collected and providing more transparency in data usage, GA4 aims to comply with privacy regulations and maintain user trust. Other features include options for IP anonymization, shorter data retention periods, restricting data collection on specific pages, and more.


Event-Driven Data Model

UA used a data model that was session-based, with user activity grouped into sessions like page views, social, transactions, etc. GA4 employs an event-driven data model where events can be customized to track specific actions or interactions on a website or app, providing a more granular view of user engagement. An “event” allows you to measure a specific interaction or occurrence on your website or app. For example, you can use an event to measure when someone loads a page, clicks a link, or completes a purchase, or to measure system behavior, such as when an app crashes or an impression is served. This flexibility allows marketers to focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with their business objectives, helping them measure results more accurately.

Machine Learning Insights

Another standout feature of GA4 is its integration of machine learning capabilities. By utilizing Google’s AI technology, GA4 offers two types of insights, automated and custom. Automated insights help marketers identify trends, opportunities, and potential issues more efficiently and then it notifies you on the insight’s dashboard. Custom insights let you create conditions that detect changes in your data that are important to you. Both features are designed to help save time and effort while providing valuable recommendations to optimize marketing strategies and user experiences.


Simplified Setup and Reporting

Setting up Google Analytics can be complex for beginners. GA4 aims to simplify the configuration process with an improved setup assistant, which streamlines the implementation of tracking codes and setup instructions. GA4 also introduces a more user-friendly and customizable reporting feature, allowing marketers to access the data they need quickly in the dashboard and tailor reports that meet specific requirements. You can use reports to monitor traffic, investigate data, and understand your user’s activity. When getting started with Google Analytics, you will see a Reports snapshot report, a Realtime report, and several other predefined reports.


Google Analytics 4 is the latest solution to help accomplish a more privacy-first approach to tracking user activity. The transition from UA to GA4 also offers marketers new opportunities to gain insights into user behavior while tracking them across multiple platforms. With AI being such a big part of the future, automated insights will help businesses use GA4 to improve their decision-making. GA4 also provides users with easy integration with other Google platforms in its marketing suite, like Googles Ads, Merchant Center, Display and Video 360, Search Ads 360, and more.


As digital marketing and web analytics evolve, be sure to take some time to learn about the latest tools to help your business stay ahead of the curve!

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