Major differences between Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) & Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Google Analytics (GA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) are two different versions of Google’s web analytics service. GA is the older, more established platform, also known as Universal Analytics, while GA4 is the newer, more advanced version. Both tools help businesses analyze user behavior on their websites and apps, but they differ in several key areas:

  1. Data modeling:
  • GA: Uses a session-based data model, which groups user interactions into sessions based on time spent on a website. This model works well for websites but may not be ideal for mobile apps or multi-platform experiences.
  • GA4: Utilizes an event-based data model, making it more suitable for tracking user interactions across multiple platforms, including websites and mobile apps. This model allows for a more unified and flexible way of understanding user behavior.
  1. Tracking setup:
  • GA: Requires manual setup for tracking specific events, like button clicks or video plays, using custom JavaScript code or Google Tag Manager.
  • GA4: Offers automatic tracking for several common events, like page views, scrolls, and clicks, without the need for additional setup. Custom events can also be tracked, and GA4 provides a simpler, more streamlined interface for setting up tracking.
  1. Reporting and analysis:
  • GA: Features a more rigid reporting structure with pre-defined reports, such as Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions.
  • GA4: Provides a more flexible reporting system with customizable reports, including the Analysis Hub, which allows users to create custom analyses and visualizations to better understand their data.
  1. User identification:
  • GA: Relies primarily on cookies to identify and track users, which can be problematic due to increasing privacy regulations and browser restrictions.
  • GA4: Utilizes a combination of cookies and other identifiers (such as User-ID and Google signals) to better track users across different devices and platforms while adhering to privacy regulations.
  1. Funnels and user journeys:
  • GA: Provides limited funnel analysis, often requiring custom setup and configuration to track user journeys accurately.
  • GA4: Offers more advanced funnel analysis capabilities, with the ability to create custom funnels and analyze user journeys more dynamically.
  1. Machine learning and AI features:
  • GA: Has some AI-powered features, like Smart Goals, which use machine learning to identify high-quality traffic.
  • GA4: Integrates more advanced AI-powered features, such as predictive metrics, anomaly detection, and intelligent insights, which help businesses make more data-driven decisions.

While GA4 offers several advantages over GA, many businesses currently still use both platforms simultaneously to take advantage of GA’s established features and GA4’s newer, more advanced capabilities. However, in July of 2023, all features of Universal Analytics will be turned off, meaning marketers lose session-based tracking.

Effects on business & marketing

This affects businesses in many ways, but the biggest may be how they track their customers and potential customers. Along with the switch from UA, Google is also turning off unlimited data requests for Google Analytics. This means most reporting built by Datastudio (now Looker), and others, may not be able to pull much more than a basic report once a day. This, combined with event-based session data, means businesses must adapt to new ways to analyze and segment their target audiences.

Understanding the differences between Google Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is crucial for businesses looking to optimize their data analysis and gain valuable insights into user behavior. As a marketing agency, we are committed to helping you navigate this transition and unlock the full potential of GA4’s cutting-edge features. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enhance your marketing strategies and boost your business growth. Get in touch with us today, and together, let’s harness the power of advanced analytics for a successful future!