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What are the differences between UA & GA4

What are the differences between UA & GA4

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Google Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) are two different versions of Google Analytics. UA isn’t tracking anymore, so if you haven’t set up GA4, take a look at our Google Analytics setup guide if you need some help with the transition.

1. Data Collection Model

There are a good amount of differences between the old Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4 and the main core difference is the data models. UA was based on sessions and pageviews, whereas GA4 is based on events and parameters. What does this mean? Well if you compared the same months in GA4 and UA (let’s say February of 2023) you might see the same name for data but those numbers might not be exactly the same.

Now this shouldn’t be too much of a problem the farther we get away from the sunset of Universal Analytics. However, when doing comparisons of 2023 in GA4 and 2022 in UA, know that those numbers are collected the exact same way so take your comparison with a grain of salt.

Comparison Breakdown

Universal Analytics (UA): UA primarily uses a session-based data model. It focuses on tracking sessions and pageviews, making it more suitable for analyzing website traffic.

Google Analytics 4: GA4 utilizes an event-based data model, making it more versatile for tracking user interactions and events. It provides a more comprehensive view of user engagement across platforms, including websites and mobile apps.

2. User-Centric vs. Session-Centric

The difference here might not mean much to many, but it does give more value to Google Analytics 4. Previously, Universal Analytics was much more focused on a session and then tracking those users during that session. These days, Google Analytics 4 uses what they call “User ID” which allows the analytics to track this individual user(s) across multiple sessions and devices.

The true benefit here is viewing the user (and potential customer) journey in a more holistic way. This can give you a better understanding into of which pieces of your website/marketing strategy are truly impactful versus getting information based on one session which does not represent the whole story of a user’s journey.

Comparison Breakdown

Universal Analytics (UA): UA is session-centric which means it places more emphasis on individual sessions and user segments within those sessions. It also relies heavily on cookies to track users across sessions.

GA4: GA4 is user-centric, prioritizing the tracking of individual users across devices and platforms. It uses an enhanced user ID feature to achieve this, allowing for a more unified view of user behavior.

3. Events and Conversions

Events and conversions are where a lot of the “noise” between these two has been focused. Previously, Universal Analytics was more focused on goals. The reason this wasn’t ideal was that you had to have some sort of “completion” or page to have goals set.

With Google Analytics 4, you can set up events around pretty much anything. Do you have a video on your site that you want to know when someone completes watching? Well with UA, you wouldn’t be able to mark that as a conversion or “goal”. With GA4, you can set this up as an event first (that is tracked), and if it’s extremely important, you can mark it as a conversion.

Comparison Breakdown

Universal Analytics (UA): In UA, events are mainly used for tracking user interactions, and goals and conversions are separate tracking entities. Setting up goals can sometimes be complex.

GA4: GA4 integrates events and conversions into a more seamless tracking system. Events can serve as both interaction tracking and conversion tracking, making it easier to understand user journeys and conversions.

4. User Privacy and Consent

Privacy continues to be a hot topic (as it should be) and Google continues to address this with Google Analytics 4. Simply put, GA4 allows for more features that allow businesses to have greater control over their data to facilitate compliance with privacy regulations.

Comparison Breakdown:

Universal Analytics (UA): UA relies heavily on cookies for tracking, which can be impacted by user privacy settings and regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

GA4: GA4 is designed with privacy in mind. It allows for more flexible tracking even when users opt out of cookies and offers features to respect user consent preferences.

5. Cross-Platform Tracking

While both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 have the ability to track across different platforms (including device sessions), UA had a much more complex setup to be able to do this. With GA4 you’re able to track users across multiple devices and platforms which, going back to point 2, allows you to see the user journey from a larger perspective.

Comparison Breakdown

Universal Analytics (UA): While UA can track cross-domain and cross-device sessions, it may require additional setup and configuration.

GA4: GA4 provides enhanced cross-platform tracking by default, making it easier to understand how users interact with your brand across websites and apps.

6. Reports and Analysis

Reports, reports, reports… the big gripe among a lot of folks with this change to Google Analytics 4 (and I was one of them for a bit). When you first set up your GA4 account and log in, you might realize that there are fewer reports than what you used to seeing in UA.

With this move to GA4, Google went with a more customizable approach to how the reporting is done. At the start, you’re given the bare bones of what is available. However, the customization you can do within, and creating new reports, is pretty valuable. It’s a headache to set up but worth the price in the end.

Comparison Breakdown

Universal Analytics (UA): UA provides a wide range of predefined reports and dashboards, but customization can be limited.

GA4: GA4 offers more flexibility in customizing reports and analysis, allowing you to create custom events, funnels, and audiences more easily.

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