How is GA4 different from Universal Analytics?

Marketing teams are asking: ”how is GA4 different from Universal Analytics? Google Analytics is used by more than 60% of sites to measure and analyze website effectiveness. Marketers are well acquainted with Universal Analytics’ possibilities and functionalities. e-CENS presents what Google Analytics 4 (GA4) offers us instead.

Google Analytics, Meet the Family

Google Analytics is a mature ecosystem that supports marketing to measure and analyze app and website effectiveness. It is immensely popular, with over 60% of all sites using some version of Google Analytics. Universal Analytics has supported web analytics since it started life as Urchin. Since then, it has come a long way, including this recent metamorphosis into Google Analytics 4.

Google Analytics 4 is not Universal Analytics with new features

It’s crucial to understand that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is not a replacement for the older version of Universal Analytics. For example, you don’t have different views in a GA4 property as you do in Universal Analytics. Views are an essential tool for many marketers, so it is easy to understand why some teams are reluctant to take on the new GA4 and retain their trusted Universal Analytics reports.

GA4 and Universal Analytics have some key differences:

  • The data model (hit-based tracking replaced with event-based tracking)
  • Bounce rate replaced with an engagement rate
  • GA4 tracks web and mobile app data natively
  • The reporting interface

The data model

Universal Analytics uses a hit-based model which incorporates hits like page view, event, transaction, item, social, exception, and user timing. GA4 uses an event-based model instead — where any interaction can be captured as an event. GA4’s events-based model provides more advanced insights into your users, as any activity the user goes through will be considered an event. There are four event categories in GA4:
  1. Automatically collected: triggered by basic interactions with your app and/or site.
  2. Enhanced measurement: pre-set events that may be monitored, such as file_download, scroll, and video_start.
  3. Recommended events: events with predefined names and parameters applicable according to business type (these require additional code changes).
  4. Custom event: build your own (by customizing gtag or gtm configurations).

Universal Analytics’ Bounce Rate vs. GA4 Engagement rate

In GA4, Google has replaced bounce rate with “engaged sessions”. The “engaged sessions” approach does not map well with the Universal Analytics’ bounce rate data. What would have counted as a bounce previously might now be an “engaged session” if the visitor lingered for 10 seconds or more.

Different Reports

GA4 does not provide many of the reports and metrics marketers have come to expect. These have either been removed or replaced by something else. In fact, there are few reports when GA4 is first implemented because many are only generated when you begin tracking events. You will, however, see the similarities if you have previously used Firebase. Firebase was a work-around solution to enable web and app data stitching. It was, however, dev-labor intensive as it did not have pre-built reports. This is why it did not gain the same traction as Google’s more intuitive data studio that pure Universal Analytics supported.

Tracking Web and Mobile App Data

In Universal Analytics, Mobile App data tracking was achieved through a Firebase integration, as mentioned above. It was notorious for its somewhat confusing picture of user activity. GA4 integrates web and mobile app data together well. This allows you to view, track and manage that all in one platform.

GA4: It’s a Beta!

GA4 is an excellent response to the issues raised by legislation against cookies. It slays the artificial barrier between user interactions via web and app. But, remember, GA4 is still in beta, and Google will add many more features before it is complete. We remain very excited to see what they bring now that we are no longer tied to a data model that is more than two decades old.

Public Google Analytics Training with e-CENS’ team

As a Google Certified Partner, e-CENS wants everyone to learn how GA4 works and understand its potential in experienced hands. We offer a 2-day Google Analytics training to novice marketing, analytics, and technology professionals and a more advanced course tailored to those ready to perform more advanced operations and analytics mid-career. Contact us to learn more. Remember Google Analytics 4 and Google Analytics Universal, while similar, are not the same tools. If you are wondering whether your company should change its web analytics strategy, our deep-dive examination: “Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics– is it time to convert?” is coming soon.
Holger Tempel

Holger Tempel

Holger is among the first Google Analytics partners worldwide since early 2005. Holger is considered one of the leading experts on digital analytics and is a renowned trainer who can simplify complex ideas into real-world practical examples with actionable insights.

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