Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics: The Ultimate Guide

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

It’s been a few months since Google announced the release of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and we still see a lot of confusion around the main differences between GA4 and the old Universal Analytics.

Google analytic 4 is not an upgraded version of Universal Analytics. This is a completely different new version of the anal which is based on an event-based model and also comes with a different set of reports.

Comparing Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Let’s take a deeper look to understand What’s the differences between the two Google Analytics platforms, and why it’s important that you’re aware of them.

The Data Model

universal analytic vs GA4 data model
Google Analytics Universal event model is session-based, the Google Analytics 4 data model is event-based.

The most important change is the measurement data model. Universal Analytics has a session-based data model; which is based on sessions and pageviews. That means Universal analytic collects and store information like pageview, event, and transactions as a hit. and every action was taken by the user in a given time frame.

Whereas GA4 uses the model based on events and parameters  In Google analytic 4 even a “pageview” is considered as an event. This means GA4 uses an event. event-based model to track data.

For example, in GA4 there is an event called pageview and this event contains the parameters like page_location, page_referrer, and page_title.

Reporting Interface

Universal analytics vs GA4 interface

As shown in the above image you can see that reports are grouped differently: In Universal Analytics, under the reports categories, there are Realtime, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. But in Google Analytics 4, the categories are different. Instead of having subcategories to explore like in UA, GA4 charts have drop-down lists and the ability to see additional details.

Businesses shouldn’t expect to see the same reports that are available in Universal Analysis because GA4 has a different set of reports. In the GA4 view you will see a different set of reports and some of the reports are not shown in the GA4 view. Because many reports are only displayed when start tracking events.

Tracking IDs

If you have set up Universal Analytics property then it uses tracking ID (and not Measurement ID) and this tracking ID begins with Characters “UA”-

For example UA-3934546-3

google analytic 4 measurement ID

If you have set up Google Analytics 4 property with a web data stream then it uses Measurement ID and ID begins with Characters “G”-

For example G- WE2GH89KEM

If you want to know how to set up GA4 you can watch here.

Privacy Consent Mode

Due to stricter regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, many organizations have had to sacrifice data to meet those who opt-out of tracking.

Google has published the consent mode to allow you some level of tracking while ensuring compliance. It won’t help you target or identify users, but you can continue to report content, conversions, and attribution.

Changes to Data Limits

Another important difference between Universal Analytics and GA4 is the Changes to Data Limits.

The free version of Universal Analytics had a data limit and that limits include:

  • 10 million hits per property
  • 200,000 per users per day
  • 500 hits per session
  • There are also limits to the number of hits you can send in a second.

But those kinds of limits do not apply to GA4.

GA4 uses a queuing system developed by Google so that multiple events can be grouped together in the same network request, which means less load on Google servers.

However, In GA4 there are other limitations present. Google has placed various limits on the number of separate events you can track and the number of parameters per event, as well as the character length of those parameters. You can check out the full list of limits here.

Configuration Limits

GA4 gives you the opportunity to track an endless number of parameters with events but you can’t access directly each one from the interface. You have to select your top 50 text parameters to map as custom dimensions.

Spam data prevention

One of the common problems in Universal Analytics has been spam referrals and anyone can send spam hits to a Google Analytics property using a measurement protocol.

Now it’s impossible in GA4 because spam hits have been addressed by forcing measurement protocol hits to include a secret key and that key is visible only in GA4 web data feed settings. but not publicly available. Only hits with a valid key able to send data to a GA4 property.

Measurement Protocol API secret in GA4

In the Additional Setting section of a GA4 web data stream you can access the Measurement Protocol API secret.

The property will not accept Measurement Protocol hits that if the correct secret API key is not included..

View and data stream setup

Historically, as a Google Analytics best practice, it was always advisable to have at least three different views in a Google Analytics property.

  1. Unfiltered view: It contains all the raw and unfiltered data.
  2. Test view: It contains filter, goals, and other configuration changes that you would like to test.
  3. Master view: which would contain goals, filters, and the other configuration that you tested in the test view.

In Universal Analytic you can create additional views as per your need. you have an option to create a view separately for your app and web tracking separately.

But In Google Analytic 4 you don’t have the option to create views. However, you don’t have an option to create data streams for your web and apps

Custom Dimensions

In GA4 Custom dimensions are created differently than in Universal Analytics.

new custom dimension

If you are using Universal Analytic then you can set the scope of your custom dimension to ‘Hit’, ‘session’, ‘user’, or ‘product’.

But in GA4 there is no ‘Hit’ scope. it is replaced by the ‘event’ scope.

In GA4. you can’t create a custom dimension with the ‘session’ scope or ‘product’ scope. But you have the option to create a custom dimension with the ‘user’ scope.

Custom Metrics

In GA4 custom metrics are created differently than in Universal Analytics.

GA4 custom metric

If you are using Universal Analytic then you have an option to set/change the scope of your custom metric to ‘Hit’, or ‘product’.

But in GA4, it is not possible to set the scope of your custom metric. A GA4 custom metric has only one default scope that is ‘event’ scope

Sessions

Universal Analytics session time period is 30 min in case of inactivity. and a session is a combination of pageview, events, ecommerce transactions, and social interactions.

In the case of GA4, a session_start will trigger on each new session. If 30 minutes have passed without the user generating any events, the next user-generated event will automatically generate a new session_start event.

We have 3 types of sessions-based metrics in GA4:

  1. Sessions: The number of sessions that have started on your site based on the session_start event on the web or in the app.
  2. Engaged session: – The number of sessions that lasted 10 seconds or more.
  3. Engaged session per user: The number of committed sessions per user..

Advanced Analysis Reports

advanced analysis report in GA4

The GA4 property report view comes with a new set of reports called “Analysis” that helps you to do advanced analysis.

Following are the various advanced analysis reports:

  1. Exploration report
  2. Funnel analysis report
  3. Path analysis report
  4. Segment overlap report
  5. User explorer report
  6. Cohort analysis report
  7. Cohort analysis report

BigQuery

BigQuery Linking in GA4

Google Analytics 4 comes with a free connection to BigQuery. This allows you to access GA4 raw data and execute SQL queries on it. This allows for a more accurate and multi-level analysis of your users’ data so that it is easy to understand user activities on the website.

Mostly asked questions about Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

Is Google Analytics 4 better than Universal Analytics?

The Google Analytics 4 properties combine application and web measurement. Rather, the properties of Universal Analytics are web-centric. … If your Google Analytics 4 property contains an application stream and you are looking for cross-platform information, you need to ensure that the event data collection is consistent across the application and across the web.

Can I still use Universal Analytics?

Yes, You can still use Universal Analytics properties. Although Google is pushing the new Google Analytics 4 a lot (and if you try to create a new property it will be GA4 by default), it is still possible to create Universal Analytics properties

Is Universal Analytics going away?

-While Universal Analytics won’t be going away anytime soon, Google Analytics 4 is the future of analytics. The sooner you become familiar with its functions and features, the better.

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