You’ve come to the right place if this is you: you want to find out the key, must-know differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics.
The reason you want to know this? Because you understand that migrating correctly to the new version of Google Analytics – also known as GA4 – is critical to the success of any business that needs enquiries, leads and sales from their website/app.
Just before we crack into the marked differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, it makes sense to double check you’re aware of the following:
- The old version of Google Analytics – known as Universal Analytics or UA – is in its final days and will stop processing data from July 1, 2023.
- Google has forewarned that from January 2024 you run the risk of not being able to access your historical UA data unless you’ve backed it up. And…
- You need to migrate to GA4 well in advance of the end of Universal Analytics so you can check it is working correctly, AND, so that you can compare your website data (eg, analysing what happened this month compared to past months).
Still with us? Good. Let’s crack into it.
GA4 vs UA in a nutshell
Our assessment of GA4 vs UA in a few words is this:
Universal Analytics has had its day… long live Google Analytics 4.
Ok, that was a little brief and you deserve something with substance. Let’s back up our statement with some of the headline changes in GA4 compared with UA.
- In Google Analytics 4, Goals are known as Conversions.
- Conversions are ‘Event’ based. An Event enables you to measure a user interaction (eg, clicking on a link) on a website or app.
- You can customise Events. The example (which we like so we’re using it) that Google gives is that you add a donate event when someone makes a donation. There are also recommended Events to set up, such as when a user shares content.
Tip: save yourself unnecessary work by first checking the events that are automatically added for you in GA4.
– You can have more than one tag per page (use Google Tag Manager to implement these). But before we forget, if you have an ecommerce website with event triggers set up for UA, with GA4 you’ll need to add ecommerce events to your website/app in your Google Tag Manager container. Want to dig deeper on this? Start with the Migrate data ecommerce collection from UA to GA4 article from Google.
APPS & WEBSITES
– UA was built for website analytics. GA4 is for both apps and websites, and allows you to track separately and together (which is ideal in analysing the user journey of someone who might go from your app to your website).
– Prepare to see different figures. In GA4, someone can be considered an active user when they launch an app. This is because user activity is detected automatically in GA4.
– In UA pre-made form goals, if someone submits a form, for example, in the same session, that counts as one conversion. However, in GA4, it will count as two because GA4 will count every instance of a conversion event.
– At first, there was no bounce rate in Google Analytics 4. Instead, we were given ‘Engaged Session’ metrics in GA4. An engaged session on a website/app must either result in a conversion, last over 10 seconds, or have multiple screen or page views. Then, in July 2022, Google announced that bounce rate would become available in the Explorations and Reporting Customisation. There is a difference in how it is calculated compared with UA. In the words of Google, “In Universal Analytics, bounce rate is the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed just one page, and triggered just one request to the analytics server”. However, in GA4 bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions.
– GA4 has significant privacy differences compared with UA. It doesn’t store IP data, plus has country level privacy controls that allow you to manage the collection of user-level date (eg, cookies and metadata). You can also set how long you want to store user data. If you’ve already got GA4 and want to find the controls, you need to start at Admin (look at the bottom left of your GA screen and you’ll see the settings cog with the word Admin next to it).
The path to follow: Admin > Data Settings > Data Collection > Granular location and device data collection.
– This may seem obvious, but as GA4 is new (ish) you can only go back and analyse data in GA4 in the time period since you migrated. That’s why you need to protect your UA data (look at our section Our bonus GA4 vs UA piece of advice) so you have some quality historical data as a reference point.
LANDING PAGE DIMENSION
– Yes, there is a landing page dimension. However, it isn’t pre-made – you will need to build it, and that means following (quite) a few steps, as outlined in the Google GA4 landing page exploration help doc
– GA4 harnesses the power of machine learning to discover more about the customer journey. Plus, the integration with Google’s advertising platforms means you can the most out of a campaign’s performance, and thus better ROI.
USER ACQUISITION & TRAFFIC ACQUISITION
– Acquisition reports give you critical information about where your traffic originates from and how they came to your website/app. The change in GA4 is that there are now two Acquisition reports: User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition.
User Acquisition will show you details about where your new users came from, eg, Organic Search, or Direct. Traffic Acquisition is about sessions, eg, is a user new or returning.
Can’t find the reports? If you’re currently logged in, head to: Reports > Lifecycle > Acquisition
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FAQ: Quickfire Q&A about Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics
If you’re still confused or uncertain about the new Google Analytics, check out these FAQ about GA4 vs UA.
Q. Should I use Google Analytics 4 or Universal Analytics?
A. You should use Google Analytics 4 as Universal Analytics will stop working from July 1 2023.
Q. Is GA4 free just like Universal Analytics?
A. Yes, GA4 is free. If you read a reference to a paid option, that is Google Analytics 360. It has advanced features and is intended for large companies and organisations.
Q. What are the important GA4 & Universal Analytics dates?
A. GA4, the next generation of Google Analytics, launched on October 14, 2020. From July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on your website.
Q. Do you still need Google Tag Manager with Google Analytics 4?
A. Yes, you do. They are different tools and you should have both. Google Tag Manager is used for quickly updating measurement codes (tags) on your website. Google Analytics, put very simply, tells what people are doing when they come to your site, as well as the number of people, and from where.
Q. Can GA4 and Universal Analytics run at the same time?
A. Yes, you can run both in parallel, but from July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics – the Google Analytics version you’ve known for years – will stop processing new hits on a website.
Our bonus piece of GA4 vs UA advice
Google has given advanced notice that from July 1, 2023 you’ll be able to access the data in your Universal Analytics property ‘for at least six months’. In other words, come January 2024 you may not be able to access your data from the old Google Analytics unless you’ve protected it.
Our advice to you is this: you need to get all your exporting of data done ahead of time. Lock that work in now. Get it done. You worked hard for that data, don’t lose it.
Remember… protect your old Google data!
Why you should care about the differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics
GA4 is a significant upgrade on Universal Analytics and will allow website/app owners to get even greater insights into audience behaviour. Whether you’re a sole operator looking to add GA4 yourself, or a business that needs it done right away, our advice is to embrace GA4.
Use it to understand your customers/potential customers even better than you currently do. GA4 is not a hindrance, but a tool to make your business better.
IN CONCLUSION: Not every business is going to migrate from UA to GA4. Lack of time, awareness of its importance, and a myriad of other reasons will keep the new version of the Google Analytics to the bottom of the to-do list.
However, those that do migrate will have an analytical advantage over those in their sector that drag their feet. They will know their customer journey better and they know their ROI better.
To achieve that, GA4 must be implemented correctly and in good time. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Get it done. And get it done right.
Your options to make GA4 happen
Want to implement GA4? Your options are 1) Do the work yourself or 2) Ask a GA4 specialist to do the work for you. Option one will soak up your time and there’s a chance you won’t do the work correctly. Option two will save you hassle, stress and the work will be done correctly.
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