Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4 – what is the difference?

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Google Analytics 4 will finally replace Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023. From this date, no new data will be collected with the familiar tracking tool. A good reason to switch to GA4. But what does that mean? Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: We’ve taken a close look at Google’s two platforms for performance analysis and tell you what is really different about the new version. This much is already revealed: There are some fundamental differences in data collection.

Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: The 5 biggest changes

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As a website or application operator, you should get to grips with the Google Analytics changes and the new parameters for tracking your platforms early on. Only then can you and your company take full advantage of the new web analytics and benefit from the advantages. Google Analytics 4: What’s new? We reveal the 5 biggest changes.

1. New user interface

Let’s start with the obvious: The user interface. Not only the individual labels, but also the design has changed significantly in Google Analytics 4 compared to Universal Analytics: In Universal Analytics, reports on:

  • Real-time
  • Target group
  • Acquisition
  • Behavior
  • Conversions
 

are found directly in the sidebar on the home page. GA4 now only lists the individual reports under the “Reports” menu item. The new features and data views in the Google tool offer significantly more options, but the user interface is thus equally more complex.

But don’t worry. As soon as you get to grips with the new user interface and the Google Analytics changes for the first time, you will certainly soon come to appreciate the advantages of tracking the individual data in your analyses.

As difficult as the transition may be, the new data model and the many features offer advantages for all companies that operate an application or website and want to better understand their target group based on different dimensions and the user journey. Many users agree: thanks to Google Analytics 4, tracking data has reached a whole new level. This is also reflected in the next points, which we will discuss more in detail.

2. Users instead of sessions

The focus of the new data model in Google Analytics 4 is no longer on the sessions, but on the user. Thus, the collection of fundamental data in GA4 is already fundamentally different from UA. In addition, not only new and total users, but also active users are recorded. In contrast to Universal Analytics, a user is already considered active when he or she calls up the website or application. The measurement value “user” is defined as follows in GA4:

Users in Google Analytics 4

Total users: Total number of users

New users: Total active users excluding past sessions

NEW – Active Users: A session with interaction is recorded as an active user

While active users can be expected to be higher in the new GA4, the number of sessions may be lower, however:

Sessions in Google Analytics 4

When starting a new campaign and changing the date or after midnight, no new session is started.

As a result, fewer sessions are recorded in the metrics, while the average interaction duration (= session duration) increases.

3. Events in focus

In Google Analytics 4, each interaction is measured as an event. Thus, the individual events are the basis for the definition of user-defined targets. It is true that in Universal Analytics there was already the possibility to configure event tracking. However, in GA4, automatic event tracking is directly the default.

The prerequisite for capturing events on your website is to implement the Google Tag or the Tag Manager snippet. For an application, on the other hand, the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK must be set up.

Automatically captured web events in GA4:

  • click: the user clicks on a link to a new domain
  • file_download: a link leads the user to a common file type, for example a PDF
  • first_visit: first visit of a user to the website
  • page_view: page view of a user
  • scroll: the user scrolls at least 90 percent to the end of the page for the first time
  • session_start: a user starts an interaction with the page
  • user_engagement: the web page is in focus for at least one second
  • video_complete: a video has been completed
  • video_progress: several percent of a video has been played back
  • video_start: playback of a video has started
  • view_search_results: an internal search is being performed on the web page

You can find the individual data view of the events in your property in Google Analytics 4 under “Reports > Life cycle > Engagement > Events”.

In addition, you can and should create and edit additional custom events for your account under “Configure > Events”. Because in addition to the standard reports, there are many more parameters in Google Analytics 4 for tracking the events that are relevant to you.

4. Machine learning and modeling

Even smarter, even better: Google Analytics 4 is the future. This is also demonstrated by the algorithms for improved data analysis via machine learning and modeling. Modeling means that GA4 can access incomplete data that has arisen due to tracking errors, for example.

Another advantage: Together, these two functions form the basis for the so-called “predictive metrics”. The three predictive metrics (purchase, churn and revenue predictions) are intended to predict the future for you as a web or application operator and provide you with information about the future behavior of your users.

How well this function will establish itself and whether it truly delivers what it promises, only the future can show us.

5. GDPR

GDPR and Google Analytics: What is new? The legal problems regarding the anonymization of IP addresses of users in UA were known. The big promise of GA4: A user-friendly compliance with the GDPR guidelines and tracking without cookies. The Internet giant’s argument: After all, the new Analytics does not store IP addresses. But unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple after all.

The analysis cookies of Google Analytics 4 can only be considered absolutely necessary to a limited extent. Thus, the old familiar policy of user consent to the evaluation of the collected data after the changeover is also recommended for them.

Conclusion: Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

The comparison of Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics makes it clear that the new tool brings many changes, but also new possibilities for web analysis. Switching to the new property for data collection is a bit cumbersome in the first step, but it is worth it in the long run. In any case, we are very excited about the further developments of Google Analytics 4.

You haven’t switched to Google Analytics 4 yet? Then it’s high time! Here you can find 5 tips for the switch to Google Analytics 4.

FAQ

What are the biggest differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?

In comparison, many differences for online marketing become clear. Users and events are the focus in Google Analytics 4 when measuring your custom goals (conversions), while sessions take a back seat.

Advantages and disadvantages: Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics

The biggest drawback to switching from Universal Analytics is the initial steps involved in transitioning to the new user interface. However, GA4 subsequently offers numerous options for custom setup to analyze goals and collect data.

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André Wehr

André Wehr

About Me

As a founder and entrepreneur, I experience on a daily basis how important customer centricity is for companies.

Incorporate the essential perspective of the customer into your product genesis and marketing processes. That is what puts horsepower on the road, that it runs.

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