How is GA4 different from what you are used to with Universal Analytics?

The most asked question for a marketer is how is GA4 different from what you are used to with Universal Analytics? Google Analytics is the main tool used for measuring and analyzing website effectiveness and marketers are well acquainted with its possibilities and functionalities. The important news is that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) - is here.

GA4 vs Universal Analytics

GA4 and Universal Analytics have several differences between them, including how it looks. It’s crucial to understand that GA4 is not a replacement for the older version of Google Analytics, and you can set up tracking for both versions to begin building history and getting familiar with the new features. For example, you can’t have different views in a GA4 property like you can in Universal Analytics. This has been a best practice that many marketers have used and it will make sense to experiment with GA4 while keeping your current setup with Universal Analytics, especially if you’ve got a good system going.

Some of the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics include:

  • The measurement model
  • Events
  • Tracking web and mobile app data
  • Bounce rate replaced with engagement rate
  • The reporting interface
  • User and event data retention
  • Ecommerce users
Let’s break down the analysis of GA4 vs Universal Analytics:

The measurement model

Universal Analytics uses a hit based model which incorporates page hits, event hits, ecommerce hits, and social interaction hits. GA4 uses an event based model instead where any interaction can be captured as an event and UA hit types translate into events in GA4. GA4 is different in that its measurement model is based on events and parameters, thus each activity the user goes through will be considered an event.

There are four event categories in GA4 – automatically collected events, enhanced measurement events, recommended events, and custom events.

Some existing metrics are calculated slightly differently in GA4 due to this new measurement model. Sessions for example, according to Google, may have a lower count in GA4 in comparison with Universal Analytics.


GA4 events fall into four categories:

  1. Automatically Collected – triggered by basic interactions with your app and/or site
  2. Enhanced Measurement – events include file_download, scroll, and video_start.
  3. Recommended Events – events with predefined names and parameters recommended for different business types and require additional code changes
  4. Custom Event – events that you name and implement yourself

Tracking web and mobile app data

In GA, mobile app’s data tracking was done through a Firebase integration and at times somewhat confusing in terms of getting a clear picture of what you were looking at. GA4 brings web and mobile app data together  and allows you to view, track and manage it all in one platform. If you happen to already use Firebase, your data will be carried over.

Bounce rate replaced with engagement rate

In GA4 Google has replaced bounce rate with engaged sessions. The criteria within the session must result in one of the following: a conversion, a session length of more than 10 seconds, or multiple screen or page views. This means it might look a bit different from the numbers you’ve been used to for bounce rate. For example, what would have been counted as a bounce previously might now be an engaged session if the visitor lingered for 10 seconds or more.

The reporting interface looks different

You’ll find when you look at the reporting interface in GA4 many reports and metrics you may have been used to using are no longer there. These have either been removed or replaced by something else. You also won’t see a lot of reports when you first glance at GA4 because many are now only generated when you begin tracking events. You will see the similarities if you have previously used Firebase.

User and event data retention

How long do you keep your user-specific data? Under Universal Analytics, you have the options of 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months, or “do not automatically expire.” In GA4, you now have the choice of either 2 months or 14 months. Currently, there is no longer an option for indefinite storage of data.

Ecommerce users

At the time of writing this, ecommerce tracking capabilities in GA4 are still under development and don’t offer the same powerful tools as Universal Analytics yet. Similar data can be captured using Custom Events and Event values as we discussed above, but the limitations are certainly something Google plans to address in order to make GA4 complete.

Public Google Analytics Training with the e-CENS team

As a Google Certified Partner, e-CENS wants everyone to learn how GA4 works and to understand the potential it offers in experienced hands.

We offer a 2-day Google Analytics training to marketing, analytics, and technology professionals who are just starting out and to those who are ready to perform more advanced operations and analytics mid-career.

Contact us to learn more.

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