Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics
Google Analytics is a widely used web analytics service that allows website owners to track and analyze user behavior and engagement on their websites. Over the years, Google has released several versions of Google Analytics, with Universal Analytics (UA) being the most widely used version for many years. However, in 2020, Google released Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a new and more advanced version of its analytics platform. In this article, we will dive deeper into the differences between GA4 and UA and explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.
One of the most significant differences between GA4 and UA is the way they collect data. UA uses a session-based data model, which groups user actions into sessions. In contrast, GA4 uses an event-based data model, which tracks individual user actions as separate events.
The event-based data model used in GA4 offers a more granular level of data about user behavior. GA4 tracks more user actions, including scrolling, video engagement, and file downloads, which are not captured in UA. This allows businesses to gain deeper insights into how users interact with their website or app.
Another significant difference between GA4 and UA is how they identify users. UA uses a combination of cookies and client IDs to identify users. This method is not always reliable as cookies can be deleted, and client IDs can change, making it difficult to track users accurately.
GA4 uses a persistent identifier called Google Analytics User ID (GAID). This identifier is created when a user interacts with a website or app and is persistent across devices and sessions. This allows GA4 to track users more accurately and provide more valuable insights into user behavior.
GA4 offers a new set of reports that focus on user behavior and engagement. These reports include engagement rate, retention rate, and user lifetime value. These reports are not available in UA, making it difficult to gain insights into user engagement and retention.
GA4 provides more granular data about website traffic, including real-time data and custom insights. This allows businesses to gain deeper insights into how users interact with their website or app and make data-driven decisions.
Both GA4 and UA integrate with other Google products, including Google Ads. However, GA4’s integration with Google Ads is more seamless, allowing businesses to create audiences based on GA4 data and target them with relevant ads. GA4 also integrates with Firebase, Google’s mobile app development platform, providing more accurate data about mobile app users.
GA4 leverages machine learning to provide insights into user behavior and identify trends and anomalies in data. It also offers predictive metrics that help businesses forecast future behavior and optimize their marketing campaigns. UA does not offer these features, making it difficult to gain valuable insights into user behavior.
Transitioning from UA to GA4
While GA4 offers several advantages over UA, transitioning from UA to GA4 can be challenging. The two versions of Google Analytics have different data models and tracking methods, requiring businesses to update their tracking codes and adjust their data analysis methods.
To ease the transition, businesses should evaluate their analytics needs and goals before deciding to switch to GA4. They should also ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the new data model and tracking methods used in GA4.
- Users: In UA, there are two User metrics: Total Users, and New Users. In GA4, there are three User metrics: Total Users, Active Users, and New Users. UA highlights Total Users (shown as Users) in most reports, whereas GA4 focuses on Active Users (also shown as Users). So, while the term Users appears the same, the calculation for this metric is different between UA and GA4 since UA is using Total Users and GA4 is using Active Users.
- Pageviews: UA measures screenviews in separate mobile-specific properties, whereas GA4 combines both web and app data in the same property. If you are tracking both web and app data in your GA4 property, be sure to take the additional app traffic into consideration when comparing pageview metrics between the two.
- Purchases: In GA4, ecommerce data is sent using events, while in UA it is sent using a separate ecommerce tracking code. This means that in GA4, ecommerce data is better integrated with other event data, allowing for more detailed analysis of user behavior. However, setting up ecommerce tracking in GA4 can be more complex than in UA.
- Sessions: In GA4, a session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity or at midnight, whichever comes first. In UA, a session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity or at the end of the day. This can lead to differences in the number of sessions reported between the two versions.
- Session/Traffic based Acquisition metrics: In GA4, traffic sources are grouped into channels, which are similar to the default channel groupings in UA. However, in GA4, channels are based on the source of the session, rather than the source of the traffic. This means that in GA4, traffic from different sources can be combined into the same channel if it comes from the same user.
- Conversions: In GA4, conversions are tracked using events, which allows for more flexibility in tracking different types of conversions. However, setting up conversion tracking in GA4 can be more complex than in UA, which tracks conversions using goals.
- Bounce rate: In GA4, a bounce is defined as a session with only one user interaction event. In UA, a bounce is defined as a session with only one pageview. This means that the bounce rate reported in GA4 may be lower than in UA, as users who interact with your site but do not trigger an event will not be counted as bounces.
- Event count: In GA4, events are the primary way of tracking user behavior, and there is no limit to the number of events that can be sent. In UA, events are limited to 500 per session. This means that GA4 allows for more detailed tracking of user behavior, but it can also result in larger amounts of data to analyze.
GA4 offers several advantages over UA in terms of data collection, user identification, reporting, integrations, and machine learning. However, the transition from UA to GA4 may require some effort and planning, as the two versions of Google Analytics have different data models and tracking methods. Businesses should evaluate their analytics needs and goals before deciding to switch to GA4 and ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the new data model and tracking methods used in GA4.
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