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Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

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Image depicting Google Analytics Reports

Posted on 01/26/2022 at 10:00 AM

Google Analytics 4 was released in October 2020 and is continually making updates and deploying new features. How is Google analytics 4 different than Universal Analytics? If you arent using GA4, should you be? We'll answer these questions and more in this mini Google Analytics training session! UA will be going away in July 2023!

Key Differences 

There are a lot of differences between Universal Analytics (GA3) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4).GA4 is frequently being updated and some capabilities are still in their infancy and will evolve with time. Currently, GA4 is the default option when creating a new Google Analytics account. However, UA is not being entirely discontinued so it's possible to have both types of accounts. Both types of accounts have their pros and cons, so when setting up Google Analytics, it's important to understand some of the major differences. 

Reporting Interface 

When you are setting up Google Analytics in GA4 you will not see many of the drop-down menu options you are used to seeing as they have either been removed or replaced. However, you have the option to get advanced reporting when you set up tracking on specific events. 

Universal Analytics ReportingGoogle Analytics 4 Reporting

There are a wide variety of advanced reporting tools that make up for some of the automatic reporting features missing in GA4. This can be done under the "Explore" tab found under the "Reports" tab. Templates for funnel exploration, segment overlap, user explorer, and much more allow you to delve into the specific data that you are curious about. 

Advanced Reporting in Google Analytics 4

Measurement Metrics - Hits vs Events 

UA: Measurements are based on sessions and pageviews. Sessions include factors such as page views and engagement, like link/button clicks. These hits are counted as they take place over a given timeframe.        

Events in Google Analytics 4

GA4: Measurements are based on events and parameters. This encompasses every activity a user engages in on your website. Unlike hits, events aren’t limited by time since it doesn’t create new sessions for source changes mid-session. As a result, your session count will likely be lower. We will delve more into custom events later. GA4 also has taken out other performance metrics including: 

  • Bounce Rate 

    • Is now Engagement Rate 

  • Landing Page Reports

    • You can see how many times  ‘session_start_ event’ was triggered for a specific page as a work-around

  • Data Retention Options 

    • UA = 14, 26, 38, 50 months, or don't automatically expire. In GA4, the only options are 2 months or 14 months.

  • Option to Create Views

    • UA = a variety of options including unfiltered view, test view, master view. In GA4, you do not have the option to create views. 

Custom Events

There are 4 categories of events in GA4: 

1) Automatically Collected Events 

2) Enhanced Measurement Events

3) Recommended Events 

4) Custom Events

Automatically collected events and enhanced measurement events are automatically collected within the base code of GA4. These two categories include important metrics such as scrolling down a page, playing a video, downloading a file, etc. Recommended events are generated by Google based on industry and are not automatically collected. Custom events on the other hand give the user complete control over the specific event they want to track. Custom events can be set using Google Tag Manager to track any interaction on a website that is not automatically collected. This can include a button click, form submission, event sign-up, and much more. 

Debugging Tools

GA4 also provides a helpful reporting view, DebugView report. This tool allows you to isolate and resolve issues faster. This reporting view is not available on GA3. 

Cross-Device Tracking

In UA, there is no simple, cohesive way to track both website usage and mobile app usage simultaneously. With GA4, app data and website data can be integrated into a single GA4 property. This creates far more robust and accurate reporting, helping you get a more complete picture and more informed data. 

Should You Make the Switch? 

The short answer to this question is both yes and no. The best thing to do is set up a new GA4 property to run alongside your existing UA (GA3) property. There are a lot more new features and changes that we didn't touch on in this article, so don't jump straight into the deep end without testing the waters. Explore new features in GA4 and gradually learn the ropes. Set up custom events, try out some advanced reporting tools, explore aspects of the new reporting interface. Not only does this give you the chance to explore GA4, but it also allows data to begin collecting which will strengthen the machine learning tools of your GA4 property. Long story short: Google Analytics 4 is a lot different than Universal Analytics/Google Analytics 3 and has many features still in their infancy or waiting to be rolled out. Have fun experimenting with GA4 now, so you are ready to make the switch when the time comes!

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