GA4 vs Universal Analytics: Learning the Difference
As of July 1st, 2023, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will officially replace Universal Analytics, marking a significant transition for website owners and marketers. This change brings with it new features, enhanced tracking capabilities, and a more comprehensive understanding of user behavior. In this article, we will explore the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, helping you navigate the transition seamlessly.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google’s web analytics service. It’s designed to offer a more comprehensive view of your website’s performance by integrating data from different sources, including mobile apps and websites. Unlike Universal Analytics, which is based on a session-based model, GA4 uses an event-based model that focuses on user interactions. This means that GA4 tracks user behavior across multiple sessions, devices, and platforms, and provides a more complete picture of how users engage with your website.
Differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics
- Tracking code: The tracking code used by GA4 is different from the tracking code used by Universal Analytics. If you’re currently using Universal Analytics, you’ll need to update your tracking code to use GA4.
- User interface: The user interface for GA4 is different from the user interface for Universal Analytics. If you’re used to using Universal Analytics, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the new interface.
- Reporting: GA4 offers different reporting capabilities compared to Universal Analytics. For example, GA4 provides more granular data on user behavior, such as scroll depth and video engagement.
- Data retention: GA4 has a shorter data retention period than Universal Analytics. While Universal Analytics allows you to retain data for up to 26 months, GA4 only allows you to retain data for up to 14 months.
How to transition from Universal Analytics to GA4
- Create a GA4 property: The first step in transitioning from Universal Analytics to GA4 is to create a new GA4 property. This will ensure that your existing data is not affected, and you can start collecting data using the new tracking code.
- Update your tracking code: Once you’ve created a new GA4 property, you’ll need to update your website’s tracking code to use the new GA4 tracking code.
- Set up data streams: GA4 allows you to track data from multiple sources, including websites and mobile apps. You’ll need to set up data streams for each source you want to track.
- Set up custom events: GA4 allows you to track custom events that are specific to your website or business. You’ll need to set up custom events to track the metrics that are important to you.
- Familiarize yourself with the new interface: As mentioned earlier, the user interface for GA4 is different from the user interface for Universal Analytics. You’ll need to take some time to familiarize yourself with the new interface and learn how to navigate it.
- Compare data between Universal Analytics and GA4: Once you’ve set up GA4 and started collecting data, you can compare the data between Universal Analytics and GA4 to ensure that your new tracking code is working correctly.
One of the biggest differences between GA4 and UA is the data model. GA4 uses an event-based data model, while UA uses a session-based data model.
In an event-based data model, each interaction with your website or app is captured as an event. This includes things like page views, button clicks, and form submissions. Events can be further classified by category, action, and label.
In a session-based data model, only the first interaction with your website or app in a given period of time is captured. Subsequent interactions are not tracked.
The event-based data model in GA4 is more flexible and scalable than the session-based data model in UA. This is because it allows you to track a wider range of interactions and to track users across multiple devices and platforms.
GA4 also offers a number of new reporting features that are not available in UA. These include:
- Cross-platform reporting: GA4 can track users across multiple devices and platforms, so you can see how they interact with your content across all of their devices.
- Attribution modeling: GA4 offers a number of attribution models that can help you to understand how your marketing efforts are driving conversions.
- Automated insights: GA4 can automatically generate insights from your data, so you can quickly identify areas where you can improve your website or app.
GA4 is also designed to be more privacy-focused than UA. This is because it uses a privacy-preserving measurement protocol that helps to protect the user’s privacy.
The privacy-preserving measurement protocol in GA4 works by encrypting data before it is sent to Google. This helps to protect the user’s identity and to prevent Google from collecting more data than it needs.
GA4 is a significant upgrade over UA. It offers a number of new features that are designed to make it more flexible, scalable, and privacy-focused. If you’re currently using UA, I recommend that you start planning your migration to GA4 as soon as possible.