It's 2023 and there are big changes in the world of digital analytics! If you’ve been using Google Analytics for a while now, you'd probably know that the platform is transforming.
To be precise, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) replaced Universal Analytics (UA/GA3) and became the only option for Google Analytics users from July 1, 2023 onwards.
As a result, Universal Analytics will no longer process data, and users will need to switch to or create a new Google Analytics 4 property to keep using analytics. This is because new data will now only flow into Google Analytics 4 properties.
If you’re confused, don’t worry. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand this transition. In the process, we’ll also take a closer look at Google Analytics 4 and its new features.
What is Universal Analytics?
Let’s start with some basics. Universal Analytics or UA was the previous version of Google Analytics. It was widely used for tracking website and app data after its introduction in 2012.
UA provided insights into user behaviour, acquisition channels, conversions, and more. It also used cookies to track user interactions and collected data based on pageviews and events.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 or GA4 is the new Google Analytics, i.e. its latest version. Launched in 2020, it sports an updated UI, slightly different reports, and a host of upgraded tools and features.
It incorporates new technologies like machine learning. It also has enhanced cross-platform Google Analytics web tracking on websites, apps, and offline data sources to help users better understand the customer journey.
Features like this – cross-device tracking on Google Analytics – mean that GA4 has more advanced data gathering abilities that better align with the evolving digital landscape than UA.
It’s even more accurate than its predecessor because it tracks IP servers as opposed to cookies.
Key Differences between UA and GA4
Now, UA and GA4 are both versions of Google Analytics, so they have things in common. More interesting are their differences, however, especially in terms of functionality and features.
Here are a few key differences, to show how the two compare to each other.
Sessions vs. Events Data Model
To put things simply, UA uses a session-based model, tracking the number of times users visit your website. In a sense, this means UA is more focused on things like pageviews.
On the other hand, GA4 uses an event-based model, which means it’s more concerned with measuring specific user interactions and actions than actual sessions. It tends to focus on the events within a session, for instance.
Because of this, GA4 arguably introduces a more flexible data model. It’s particularly useful in helping you focus on the stages of your users’ journeys and metrics like conversions.
Pageview vs Engagement
As you may have already gleaned from the previous note, GA4 is more engagement-focused than UA.
UA relies on pageviews as a key metric, after all, while GA4 introduces engagement metrics such as engaged sessions, engagement rates, and engagement times.
These measure user interaction beyond pageviews and give you a more nuanced view of how people are using your website.
There are various changes in GA4 that show its user-centricity.
In UA, for example, there were just two user metrics: Total Users, and New Users. In GA4, there are three: aside from Total Users and Active Users, we also now have New Users (people interacting with or logging into your site for the first time.
In addition to that, UA’s concern with tracking sessions and pageviews has been replaced with a focus on tracking individual users across multiple devicesin GA4. This is only for the good when it comes to better understanding users.
Specifically, it allows us to better understand user journeys in all their complexity. We know that people tend to “touch” a brand multiple times before actually converting or buying anything from it, for example.
They’ll see it on social media, visit the website and leave, come back to the website again later, and so on. The typical user journey isn’t a linear one.
Accounting for that by focusing on events in analytics data gives businesses deeper insight into these journeys. GA4 makes it possible with its cross-platform and cross-device tracking, so we can now get a better view of user behaviour compared to UA.
GA4 includes built-in enhanced measurement features that automatically track certain events and interactions without the need for manual event tagging. This is perhaps one of its most convenient features.
By contrast, UA required manual implementation or additional configuration to track these types of events.
GA4 also offers more advanced conversion tracking, including cross-domain and cross-device conversions. It even includes a flexible event-based conversion model, which means you can get more granular in your data.
In terms of conversion counting, UA counted one goal conversion per session. Compare this to GA4, which often counts one conversion per event.
For example, when a user completes a goal 5 times in a single session, UA will show one conversion and GA4 will usually show 5.
How does the new Google Analytics 4 affect business?
Now that you’ve seen the differences between GA4 and UA, you may have an idea of how beneficial the new version of Google Analytics can be. It essentially offers you enhanced insights into user behaviour across various digital channels.
Between event-driven metrics to cross-device tracking on Google Analytics, you now have a bevy of benefits, from more accurate data collection to automated insights and forecasts (via machine learning).
You can understand your customers, their journeys, and your own marketing performance better… which in turn means you have more insight into how to improve all of these. It means better data-driven decisions for your business.
Need help getting started with Google Analytics 4?
While GA4 is clearly a boon for businesses and marketers, there’s no denying the switch from UA can still be intimidating at first. If you need help with that or with using analytics for the first time, we can help.
Analytics is at the core of our own work, as many of our clients will attest. Simply reach out to us and we can talk about what guidance you may need for it and your business.
Contact us for your digital marketing needs!