Google, as the biggest search engine in the world, plays a significant role for any business with an online presence. It’s the go-to place for users looking for information, product, and services. Naturally, the analytics provided by Google will be of vital importance for your business, no matter how big or small. The search engine can offer insights into what users are doing on your site, how much time they’re spending on certain content, what they’re looking for, what percentage of your visitors convert into customers and more.

All of this data was provided by Universal Analytics. However, on the 16th of March 2022, Google made an announcement that it will be disconnecting Universal Analytics and moving on to Google Analytics 4 or GA4 from July 2023. This is an extremely important transition that pretty much any business with an online presence should know about. 

And although the release of Google Analytics 4 was months ago, there are still questions about the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics. In this article, we’ll go through the key differences in hopes of making the topic more comprehensible and easy to understand. 

Key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics 

Before we start exploring how Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics differ, it’s worth making one important note. The main role of the release of GA4 is to provide an enhanced version of Google Analytics, where siloed data is eradicated from web and app analytics. Rather, it’s merged into a single data collection and reporting interface. This offers the much-needed connectedness between your website, Android, and IOS applications. Data from these different devices and channels can be found in one property for easy tracking and analysis. 

Now that we’ve covered this fundamental fact, we can jump on to the core differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics. 

Event-based vs Session-based

One of the differences that GA4 brings to the table is a transition from sessions to events. While Universal Analytics used cookie tracking to monitor user sessions and behaviour on a particular site. Each user-generated hit was based on that session and without it, there was no option to connect a hit in Universal Analytics to a specific user. 

Although GA4 also relies on cookies, it will also use Google signals. Rather than using session and hit tracking, all activities a user performs whole on your site or app will be stored as an event. In other words, GA4 uses an event-based model rather than the session-based model we were familiar with from Universal Analytics. The model empowered GA4 with more flexibility and the ability to integrate web and app data into a single tool.

No monthly hit limits 

Another improvement that GA4 offers is the fact that there are no longer hit limits that apply. With the free version of Universal Analytics, users were limited to a monthly hit limit of 10m hits. This was considered a significant drawback, as a lot of people found it challenging to store all the data they were interested in. In Google Analytics 4,  the limit is based on events. You can capture up to 500 events, but there is no limit to the number of hits that you can collect. 

Customisation 

For a lot of UA users, custom reports were not an easy-to-use, intuitive option. These reports were only used for a few specific cases. In addition, Universal Analytics only provided three parameter options that could be sent with each event. These were Category, Label, and Action. With Google Analytics 4, you now have the option to send 25 parameters for every event. This enables users to take advantage of the option to explore a multitude of different funnel events. This also allows you to create any type of table report in GA4’s Exploration segment. 

Predictive audiences and metrics

Another important point of differentiation between GA4 and UA is that GA4 offers predictive audiences and metrics, unlike UA. Google Analytics 4 leverages machine learning, allowing it to predict future transactions and revenue. This empowers advertisers with the ability to create targeted ads with increased chances of scoring sales. 

Segments and Audiences

How users can compare segments in reports is completely different in GA4 than it was in UA. In Google Analytics 4, to create a new segment, you’ll need to add a segment to your exploration. As with Universal Analytics, you can still use all dimensions. Once you’ve added the segment to your exploration, you will have to add it to your report. In a nutshell, users have to recreate segments for every exploration. The same exploration can contain a multitude of reports and you can reuse segments for every one of them. 

Also, a fundamental difference is that users are allowed to only segment with existing parameters in predefined reports. If your goal is to segment your reports, it’s impossible to do so without using explorations. 

User-friendliness 

If we had to compare Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics in terms of user experience and user-friendliness, GA4 would certainly win. It’s a lot more beginner-friendly when compared to UA thanks to the models used. While Universal Analytics was designed based on the principle that page views were at the heart of performance and were the most essential metric to track, GA4 acknowledges that page views are not enough and more analytical data is necessary. 

As a result, certain tracking events, like video plays and button clicks are built within GA4, without the need for users to alter any settings. 

In a nutshell

Without a doubt, Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are not at all the same. There are a number of differences introduced into the new version of Google Analytics. You can make the transition from UA to GA4 more comfortable and stress-free by familiarising yourself with the changes in advance. This will allow you to continue analysing your business’ performance, your users, and customers to ultimately make strategic decisions that will reward you with more visibility, more customers, and more sales. 

If you need some assistance with your overall social media and digital presence, let us know and get in touch with us. We’d be happy to help.