Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: What is GA4?

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: What is GA4?

Back in March this year, Google announced that it will be sunsetting Universal Analytics from July 2023, a date which is quickly approaching. By this time, all Analytics users will need to have made the switch to Google Analytics 4 to continue to gather and analyse their site’s data. Are you ready for the move?

We’ve pulled together this introduction to Google Analytics 4 to highlight the key differences between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics. This will give you an idea of what you can expect from the next-generation platform, with insights from our Setup for Lifetime Value podcast episode ‘An essential intro to Google Analytics 4’.


What is GA4/Google Analytics 4?


GA4 (or Google Analytics 4) is the latest version of Google Analytics. It’s a lot more complex than previous versions and there are a lot of new features to unpack. There are also some features from old versions that haven’t made the cut into GA4, meaning that you might be in for a bit of a surprise when you first use the newer platform.

Utilising GA4 will help you understand how users behave on your site, including where and why they convert. This is essential for conversion rate optimisation, which is the process of optimising your site for conversions, whether that’s sales, subscriptions or something else entirely.

To help manage your transition to the new platform, we’ve highlighted the key areas that have changed between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics, so you’ll know what to expect when you make the move.


Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: What’s the difference?


1. A new measurement model


The biggest difference between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics is the measurement model that’s used. Universal Analytics uses a model based on sessions and pageviews, whereas GA4 uses a model based on events and parameters, where any interaction can be captured as an event. As a result of this, all Universal Analytics hit types translate into events in GA4.


2. The user interface


When you first log in to GA4, you might be a little startled by the interface, which looks and functions considerably differently to UA. In GA4, more user input is required to create particular views, so it might take you longer to get it set up for what you plan to track and analyse.


3. A single reporting view


Universal Analytics has the capability to set a master view (the main reporting view), a test view and a raw view, which you can refer back to incase of any skews in data. Google Analytics 4, on the other hand, only has one reporting view, meaning that you have to create multiple properties for one account to experience and replicate different “views”.


4. Different analytics reports


GA4 has removed behaviour reports, which housed things like site speed, exit pages, landing pages, and all page overviews in Universal Analytics. This means that you’ll now have to rely on other data channels (like Lighthouse or Page Speed Insights) to gather data about page speed.

It’s not all bad news though. GA4 has introduced a group of advanced analysis reports, including an exploration report. Here, you can report on things like exit pages, landing pages and all page data.

Although, they have introduced a group of advanced analysis reports. One of which is called exploration reports where you can set reports such as exit pages, landing pages, and all page data.


5. Bye bye, bounce rates


A metric that has been removed from GA4 is bounce rate, which is something that has historically been looked at for SEO, despite the fact that it isn’t actually a ranking factor. Bounce rate is dependent on a variety of factors, including the purpose of a page, but it still has its merits for conversion purposes.

Google Analytics 4 has replaced bounce rate with a new ‘engagement’ metric, which measured the number of ‘engaged sessions’. An ‘engaged’ session on your site is one that lasts longer than 10 seconds, contains more than one page view or contains at least one conversion event.


6. GDPR updates


Google Analytics 4 places a larger focus on privacy than Universal Analytics does. It gives country level privacy controls in line with GDPR regulations, which is certainly a step in the right direction.

In summary, the differences between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics are plentiful - and some are quite drastic. They will definitely take a bit of getting used to, but they provide exciting opportunities for more in-depth traffic analysis.



What’s new about GA4 events?


As we’re already touched on briefly, one of the main changes between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics is the new approach to events. In GA4, the concept of events has completely changed. Now, all user interactions, including page views, are tracked as events.

Universal Analytics had a selection of hit metrics that were used for reporting, including things like transactions and page views. Each of these hit metrics also had a category, action and label.

In GA4, every ‘hit’ is now classed as an ‘event’, and there is no distinction between hit types. This can be a bit confusing for those who are new to the platform. But don’t worry: reports can be created to replicate the data you would have previously gathered from Universal Analytics.

Now, there are 4 categories of GA4 events: Automatically Collected Events, Enhanced Measurement Events, Recommended Events and Custom Events.

Automatically Collected Events include ad interactions, file interactions and page interactions.

Enhanced Measurement Events include page views, page scrolls, clicks, search results, starting a video, the progress of a video watch, completing a video watch and downloading a file.

Recommended Events are the events recommended by Google based on business verticals like retail/ecommerce, travel/hotels and gaming. This would include things like checkout events, lead generation events, earning virtual currency and beginning tutorials.

Custom Events are events that aren’t covered by the previous GA4 event types, like button clicks or an email subscription for an ebook.

It’s important to note that although these are the events that Google recommends, they don’t automatically get triggered and recorded unless you set them up manually. If only it were that easy!

GA4 also has debugging built in, so you validate the analytics configuration for different integrations. For example you can set an event in GTM, test it and also view the debug version live in GA4.


Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: How to prepare for the move



When comparing Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics, it’s impossible to overlook the stark differences between their interfaces. The new GA4 interface will likely take a bit of getting used to, and it might cause some confusion at first.

However, there are also some really good new features on GA4, including the removal of bounce rates and the addition of the debugging feature.

The best way to prepare for the shift from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 is to create a GA4 account as soon as possible. We would strongly recommend running this new GA4 property alongside your existing UA account while you get used to its features. Universal Analytics will no longer process any new data from the 1st of July 2023. So, the later you leave creating your GA4 account, the less historical data you’ll be able to gather by this point.

Google Analytics 4 can definitely be a bit of a minefield, so ensure you have a good understanding of how it works before you make the switch. It’s also essential that you have the correct data streams, reports, events and conversions set up in time for the big move. If this is something that sounds a bit overwhelming, you can seek professional support with it too. We can help with that 👋

It’s going to take some time to adjust to GA4. But, like anything in digital, things evolve and we have to evolve with them. We can help you get there.


This blog post features insights from ‘An essential intro to Google Analytics 4’, an episode from our Setup for Lifetime Value podcast series featuring CRO & UX specialist Lilliana Miller and SEO Specialist Peter Lee. You can watch the full episode here.