Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

Running a successful online business involves relying on web analytics to gain valuable insights, understand your audience, and make informed decisions. With standard Universal Analytics properties ceasing data processing on July 1, 2023, it's essential to migrate to Google Analytics 4 without delay. 

In this article, we will provide you with the necessary guidance and insights to smoothly navigate the transition from Universal Analytics to GA4. We'll explain the key differences between Universal Analytics vs GA4, highlight the benefits of using Google Analytics 4, and address important considerations to make this change seamless and efficient.

Key Differences Between GA4 and Universal Analytics

There are two types of Google Analytics properties: Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. 

It's important to note that Universal Analytics properties stopped processing data on July 1, 2023 (or July 1, 2024 if you are using paid version - Analytics 360). 

GA4 is a brand-new platform with many unique features that Universal Analytics lacks. So, what sets Universal Analytics apart from GA4? Let's dive into the differences between the two and explore them below.

Data Collection and Measurement Model

By implementing GA4, you can gather data on various user interactions, such as page views, button clicks, video plays, and form submissions. This data collection enables a better understanding of your audience's engagement, and ensures accurate and detailed tracking, helping you drive meaningful business outcomes.    

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User-Centric Approach and Enhanced User Tracking

Google Analytics 4 takes a user-centric approach to provide deeper insights into user behavior. GA4 allows you to track individual user interactions, such as app installations, screen views, and in-app purchases. This enables you to understand user engagement patterns, identify valuable segments, and personalize user experiences. By adopting a user-centric approach, you can optimize your app's performance and drive user satisfaction, ultimately leading to business growth.

Event Tracking and Event-Based Data Model

In Google Analytics 4, data collection revolves around events, which are specific user interactions with your website or app. Imagine you have an e-commerce website. In GA4 vs Universal Analytics, GA4 allows you to track events like product views, add-to-cart actions, and purchases. This event-driven approach allows you to understand user behavior at a granular level, optimizing your marketing strategies. By analyzing these events, you can identify which products are popular, track conversions, and make data-driven decisions to improve your online business.

AI-Powered Insights and Machine Learning Capabilities

By analyzing vast amounts of data, GA4 can uncover hidden patterns, trends, and correlations that may go unnoticed. For example, it can identify audience segments with high conversion potential and recommend personalized marketing strategies.

Integration with Google Ads and other platforms

Google Analytics 4 offers seamless integration with various platforms, including Google Ads, Google BigQuery, Google Tag Manager and Firebase, to provide a comprehensive view of marketing performance. This integration allows marketers to analyze the end-to-end customer journey, from ad impression to conversion, across multiple touchpoints. For instance, by linking Google Ads with GA4, marketers can measure the impact of their advertising campaigns on website engagement and conversions, helping them to optimize their ad spend and improve campaign effectiveness.

Integration with Google Ads and other platforms
Integration with Google Ads and other platforms

Cross-Device and Cross-Platform Tracking

GA4 takes user tracking to a new level compared to Universal Analytics. While Universal Analytics provided limited cross-device capabilities, GA4 offers enhanced tracking across devices and platforms, including mobile, desktop, and even connected TV. Imagine a customer who starts browsing products on their mobile, adds items to their cart, and later completes the purchase on their desktop. GA4 allows you to capture this entire cross-device journey, providing a thorough view of customer engagement and enabling personalized marketing strategies for improved conversions.

Advanced Features and Enhancements of Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 offers a range of advanced features that take data analytics to the next level.

Enhanced User Journey Analysis

Google Analytics 4 gives a view of how users interact with your website or app which in turn helps to identify the touchpoints that lead to conversions and optimize the customer experience. For example, track a user's path from discovering a product through social media ads to making a purchase, enabling you to fine-tune your marketing strategies.

Expanded Data Controls and Privacy Features

With growing concerns about data privacy, GA4 offers expanded data controls and privacy features. Thus, you can ensure compliance with regulations (at some point) and build trust with your audience by implementing data retention policies, consent management, and user-level data deletion. This will help you safeguard user privacy while still obtaining valuable insights for your business.

Streamlined Event Tracking and Event Parameters

GA4 helps to monitor specific user actions like form submissions, video engagements, or button clicks. For instance, you can track how many users completed a checkout form and the specific items they added to their cart, helping you to optimize your conversion funnel.

Deeper Integration with Google Marketing Platform

Connect GA4 with the Google Marketing Platform to make your marketing campaigns more powerful. For instance, when you link GA4 with Google Ads, you can see how your ads affect website user behavior and sales. This helps you make smarter decisions to improve advertising and get better results, like increasing website visits or boosting online purchases.

Improved Reporting and Visualization Options

With GA4, you can leverage advanced dashboards, data exploration tools, and machine learning capabilities to uncover trends, anomalies, and opportunities. For instance, use the Exploration report to identify segments of users with high engagement and create personalized marketing campaigns tailored to their preferences.


We’ve also selected 10 most useful Google Analytics 4 reports for monitoring basic online metrics.

10 most useful Google Analytics 4 reports
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Benefits of Google Analytics 4: Why You Should Consider the Upgrade

By upgrading to Google Analytics 4, you can analyze user journeys in more detail, get insights through advanced machine learning, and prioritize user privacy. With the ability to track user behavior across different devices and platforms, GA4 helps you make informed decisions based on data, allowing you to improve your marketing strategies and achieve better results.

Google Universal Analytics Is Going Away

Once July 1, 2023 rolled around, your Universal Analytics property will stop processing data, which means it won't measure your website traffic anymore, and your reports will no longer update. If you want to continue using Google Analytics to track your website traffic and upgrade your reporting, it's crucial to make the switch to the next version, Google Analytics 4.

So, what benefits will marketers and web analysts get with GA4?

Improved Cross-Device and Cross-Platform Insights

Track user interactions seamlessly as they switch between devices, allowing you to optimize marketing strategies based on a holistic view of the user journey.

Enhanced User Engagement and Retention Analysis

You can dive into session quality, behavior flow, and conversion paths to identify areas for improvement, increase user satisfaction, and boost customer loyalty.

Future-Proofing Your Analytics Strategy

Stay ahead of the curve with the latest advancements and features, ensuring your analytics platform evolves with changing industry trends and technologies.

Leveraging AI-Powered Insights for Decision-Making

Uncover hidden patterns, trends, and opportunities through machine learning algorithms, helping you to optimize campaigns, personalize experiences, and drive better business outcomes.

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Google Analytics 4 Audit Checklist

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Transitioning to Google Analytics 4: Best Practices and Considerations

A new GA4 property will be automatically created for you, and your Universal Analytics configurations will be copied to the new property. However, keep in mind that not all configurations in Universal Analytics have a direct equivalent in GA4. As a result, your new GA4 property may not have an exact replica of all your Universal Analytics settings. It's important to be aware of this and take the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition.

Planning and Preparation for the Transition

To prepare for the transition to GA4, follow these steps:

  1. Set up your GA4 instance to establish historical data, running it at the same time as your existing UA instance. Link your Google Search Console and Google Ads accounts to GA4 for comprehensive analysis and data sharing. Here is how you can export historical UA date before they become inaccessible after July 1, 2023. If you need help saving historical data - simply book a call with us so we can help you with that. 
  2. Validate reporting by comparing GA4 data with UA and create custom reports in GA4 to ensure a smooth transition. Exclude internal IP addresses for accurate data. Review and adjust default event tracking in GA4, duplicating UA events through dual tagging for a historical record.
  3. Verify event tracking configuration to ensure all UA-tracked events are also tracked in GA4. Modify or create custom events as needed, considering platform-specific implementations for technologies like Gravity Forms.
Unlock the full potential of your data-driven strategies
  1. If you are a data professional or a technically equiped marketer - you can get GA4 certification, leveraging the available resources and learning paths to deepen your understanding of the platform. The certification will enhance your analytics skills and enable better decision-making for your marketing efforts.

Step-by-Step Migration Process

To migrate to GA4, follow these steps:

1. Check your Analytics account to identify properties that need migration. Use a desktop browser for the migration process, completing it in one session.

   

2. Create a GA4 property:

  • Admin Access Google Analytics and click.

   

  • Ensure the desired account is selected in the Account column.

  • Click GA4 Setup Assistant, the first option in the Property column.

   

  • Choose "I want to create a new Google Analytics 4 property" to proceed.

   

  • On the Create a new Google Analytics 4 property screen, select one of the available options based on your current site tagging.

  • If you choose "Create and continue," follow the instructions on the Set up a Google tag page to manually install the Google tag or select the most suitable option for your situation.

  • If you already have a Google tag on your website, you may see different options to reuse or add a different tag for GA4 data collection.

After completing the setup process of your new GA4 property, take note of the successful connection message displayed on the Google Analytics 4 Property Setup Assistant page. Remember your GA4 property's name, which typically follows the format "Example property - GA4" if your Universal Analytics property is named "Example property."

To continue setting up your GA4 property, click "See your GA4 property" to open the Setup Assistant. This tool provides guidance on recommended features and settings for the final setup steps.

Keep in mind that it may take up to 30 minutes for data to appear in your new GA4 property. To verify data collection, navigate to the Realtime report section after browsing your website. You should observe activity in the Realtime report.

If you have an existing Firebase project, you can link your GA4 property to it. However, this linking process must be done from Firebase.

Data Retention and Historical Data Considerations

Data retention in GA4 is crucial for accurate reporting. Imagine setting the retention period at two months and a user visits your site, only to return three months later. In a custom report covering this time frame, that user would appear as two new users. Why? Even with the "Reset on new activity" option enabled, if a user fails to initiate a new session within the two-month period, their data is deleted. Consequently, they are treated as a new user.

Fortunately, adjusting the data retention setting in GA4 is a breeze now. Head to the Admin section of your GA4 profile and navigate to Data Settings -> Data Retention. We recommend a standard retention period of 14 months, suitable for most organizations. 

But what about your historical data? If your retention period wasn't set to its maximum or has already elapsed, your data is permanently wiped from Google's servers. To preserve this valuable information, consider exporting it to BigQuery or another cloud-based system. Remember, the data retention setting only affects Explorations and not standard aggregated reports.

Conclusion: Embracing the Power of GA4 for Enhanced Web Analytics

With Google Analytics 4 replacing Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023, it's time to make the switch and unlock the future of web analytics.

By embracing Google Analytics 4, you gain access to advanced features, enhanced user tracking, event-based data collection, AI-powered insights, and seamless integration with other platforms. You can track user behavior across devices and platforms, analyze user journeys in-depth, and make data-driven decisions with confidence.

To ensure a smooth transition, follow the step-by-step migration process, validate your reporting, and adjust data retention settings. Remember to preserve your historical data by exporting it to external systems.

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FAQ

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  • What is the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics 360?

    While GA4 is the next-generation analytics platform replacing Universal Analytics, Analytics 360 is the enterprise version of Universal Analytics, offering additional features and support tailored for larger organizations with more advanced analytics requirements.
  • Why is Google switching from Universal Analytics to GA4?

    Google is switching to GA4 to provide businesses with enhanced capabilities, such as advanced machine learning, cross-device tracking, and improved user engagement analysis, to meet the evolving needs of data-driven decision-making.
  • What is the advantage of GA4 vs Universal Analytics?

    GA4 offers advanced features, enhanced user tracking, event-based data collection, AI-powered insights, and better integration with other platforms for a more comprehensive and insightful web analytics experience.