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Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: What’s the Difference?

Google Analytics (GA) has evolved since Google launched it in late 2005. One of the best digital marketing tools for small businesses started as a service incorporating the core...

Anissa Maligat
Anissa Maligat May 4, 2022

Google Analytics (GA) has evolved since Google launched it in late 2005. One of the best digital marketing tools for small businesses started as a service incorporating the core functionality of a tool called Urchin. Initially, Urchin processed log file data and determined how much bandwidth a user had based on the number of visits. But the tool eventually shifted to web analytics and became extremely popular.

November 2005 saw Google turning Urchin into Google Analytics. The new platform went on to offer features like synchronous and asynchronous code during its first few years. But the biggest change to GA came in October 2012, with Google launching Universal Analytics (UA). All GA users began using UA in 2014.

Many still track user analytics through UA. But change is inevitable, especially for a tool like GA. 

Google launched Google Analytics 4, the platform’s next generation, in October 2020. And in March, the search giant announced that it will discontinue UA starting July 1, 2023. This change will make GA4 the only option for measuring web analytics.

At this point, you may be curious about GA’s new version. This blog post will give you a closer look at GA4 and how it’s different from UA.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 is a new type of property under Google Analytics. Google previously named this property as “App + Web” since it can track web and app visits in one GA property. Eventually, the company relaunched App + Web as GA4.

The new Google Analytics is a privacy-focused, future-proof platform that digs deep into the cross-platform customer journey through machine learning. Also, Google Analytics 4 works seamlessly with Google’s advertising platforms. This combination makes for high-performing campaigns and greater return on investment.

GA4 replaces Universal Analytics, the current version of Google Analytics that businesses use. Hence, all standard UA properties won’t process new hits (how your users interact with your website) on July 1, 2023. Universal Analytics 360 users, however, can still track new hits until October 1, 2023.

10 Differences Between Google Analytics 4 & Universal Analytics

But what exactly sets Google Analytics 4 apart from Universal Analytics? Let’s take a closer look at 10 differences between these two GA versions.

Session-Based vs. Event-Based Data Measurement

UA measures hits based on sessions and page views. Sessions cover how much your users interact with your website at a specific time. Various hit types make up these sessions, including page views, events, and eCommerce transactions.

Conversely, GA4 measures hits based on events and parameters. It can record any hit as an event. So if your website gets a pageview, for example, GA4 will see it as an event.

Types of Segments Created

Through segments, you can gain essential insights from specific data in your Google Analytics property. GA4 and UA let you analyze up to four segments, but both offer different types of segments.

In UA, you could only create User and Session segments. GA4 gives you User, Session, and Event segments. Moreover, you can see your segments in an “Explorations” section on GA’s new version.

Custom Dimensions & Metrics

Before, custom dimensions and metrics made data more detailed. GA4 now uses event parameters to specify your data. Here’s how you can map your custom dimensions and metrics in GA’s new version:

Screenshot taken from Google

Content Grouping

Content grouping in UA helped users organize their content, then see and compare metrics by group name. In GA4, properties get a predefined event parameter for content grouping. It provides the “Content Group” dimension with data. Furthermore, you can execute extra UA content group dimensions and let them work as event-scoped custom dimensions.

GA4’s content group event parameter can go by “content_group” in the gtag.js code or “Content Group” in Google Tag Manager (GTM).

User ID

This ID represents a UA or GA4 user. If you’re switching to GA’s new generation, you can still collect data with your current user ID.

A GA4 user ID lets you see hits across platforms and devices. But what’s different is that GA4 properties generate reports, analysis, and insights with the feature. You won’t need to make another view for your user ID, either.

Cross-Domain Tracking

GA4 has also made cross-domain tracking easier. Configure this feature in UA was somewhat tricky as users had to change tracking and admin settings. But in GA4, you can just go to admin settings and set up cross-domain tracking from there.

Do keep in mind that the feature is still in beta, so it might work differently in the future.

Enhanced Measurement Tracking

Additionally, you can set up enhanced measurement tracking in GA4 right away. UA had users provide custom GTM settings for the feature. But now, all GA4 properties can use enhanced measurement tracking.

If you want to use the feature, click the property you want to edit on the Admin menu. Go to the Property column, click Data Streams, and select the Web option. Scroll down to the Enhanced measurement section and slide the switch On for all options.

GA4’s enhanced measurement tracking covers the following:

Limits on Hits Sent to Google Analytics

Websites using UA send a web beacon, an image analyzing user activity, to Google servers. But sometimes, the servers can’t handle websites sending data on all hits. Thus, GA’s free version came with hit limits.

UA properties could only send 10 million hits per month, 200,000 hits per user/day, and 500 hits per session. Google would even limit the number of hits your website can send every one second. But with GA4, you get a 500-event limit and you can collect as many hits as you want.

Connecting GA to BigQuery

We’ve mentioned that GA4 can work seamlessly with Google’s advertising platforms. But it can also integrate with a serverless, extremely scalable, and cost-effective multicloud warehouse called BigQuery. Only Google Analytics 360 users could use the feature, but GA4 has made it available to everyone.

Through BigQuery, you can retrieve data from immense, complex data sets instantly. Sampling in UA can keep you from taking a closer look at your data. But BigQuery takes the data you need and allows you to completely analyze it.

Acquisition Reporting

This next feature lets you know where new and returning users are accessing your site. Acquisition reporting in UA and GA4 work this way, but both versions approach some of the feature’s aspects differently.

If you’re using UA, you can access Acquisition reports by clicking Acquisition → All Traffic → Sources. In GA4, the Acquisition option under Reports in the left-side menu will take you to the Acquisition reports.

GA4 also includes the following metrics in reports:

Keep Gaining Essential Insights with Google Analytics 4

The new Google Analytics comes with significant improvements that set it apart from Universal Analytics. Learning about these changes is key to understanding the customer journey better and attracting more prospects with effective marketing campaigns.

Do you need help delivering high-performing campaigns? Get useful tips and insights from the Growth Rocket blog or get in touch with our team today.

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