Since 2005, Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) has measured web traffic, making it a vital tool for businesses wanting deeper insights into how people find their online properties. In a few months, Google will retire UA and make Google Analytics 4 (GA4) its premier analytics solution. If you use UA, this guide will tell you how to prepare for this change and what will happen to your account. Read more about GA4 vs Universal Analytics below.
When will universal analytics be deprecated?
On July 1, 2023, UA will stop processing new data. Google recommends users switch to GA4, which launched in 2020, before UA becomes fully obsolete in 2024.
UA is going away because the model it’s built on has become outdated, says Google. The analytics solution was designed over 18 years ago for online measurement of desktop web properties. However, the growing need for omnichannel measurement solutions that take into account mobile and app traffic means that UA has an old methodology that no longer serves a purpose in 2023 and beyond.
Starting last month, Google will create a GA4 property for you if you don’t already have one unless you opt out. The new property will be based on your previous UA settings, while all configurations for goals and audiences not marked as complete in your account will carry over to your GA property. From July 1, you can only access previously processed UA data.
What is Google Analytics 4?
GA4 is Google’s analytics service measuring traffic and engagement for websites and apps. Launched in October 2020, GA4 is the fourth major iteration of Google Analytics and will become its default option for online tracking this year.
If you created a Google Analytics property after October 2020, it’s likely you’re already using GA4, so you don’t need to do anything. However, if you created a Google Analytics property before this date, you’re probably using UA and will need to prepare for the transition to GA4.
GA4 vs Universal Analytics
There are major differences between GA4 and UA that you need to know about:
1. Advanced interface
GA4 has a far more advanced user interface than UA and looks similar to Google Analytics for Firebase. If you’re used to UA’s setup, it might take a little while to get used to GA4’s interface. However, within time, you’ll likely find it more useful for your tracking objectives.
2. Websites and apps
Perhaps the biggest GA4 vs Universal Analytics difference is that the former tracks websites and apps while the latter only tracks websites. That’s because UA launched in 2005 — before businesses started analyzing data from apps. By tracking websites and apps, you can generate more insights about the user journey and improve your campaign management objectives.
3. Data governance
GA4 was designed to protect user data when tracking websites and apps, letting you comply with legislation such as GDPR and CCPA. Unlike UA, the analytics solution utilizes privacy-first tracking, which safeguards the customer data you collect and analyze when learning how people engage with your company online. GA4 can help you avoid expensive fines for data governance non-compliance.
4. User metrics
There are two user metrics in UA: New users and total users. In GA4, you can track new users, total users, and active users. The latter is the primary user metric in GA4, providing information about the number of unique users who visit your website or app.
5. Page views
Page views are similar between UA and GA4, providing the same information within a few percentage points. However, there might be bigger differences in information depending on any filters you use on either of the platforms.
6. Hit types for GA4 vs Universal Analytics
UA and GA4 capture hit types differently. UA collects page views, transactions, and social interactions as separate interactions, while GA4 catches every interaction as a unique event. It uses event parameters that gather additional insights about an action a user takes when engaging with your websites and apps. GA4 sends some of these parameters, such as page titles, automatically. However, you can add additional parameters to your tracking activities and generate even more intelligence about your online properties.
7. BigQuery exports
In UA, exports to Google BigQuery were only available for Analytics 360 properties. In GA4, you can send raw information about events to BigQuery for all properties. Doing this won’t cost you anything as long as you stay within BigQuery’s sandbox limits.
8. Session calculations
UA and GA4 provide different insights for sessions, with UA sessions representing the amount of time someone actively interacts with your website. In GA4, different events generate different session IDs, and session information is not impacted by new campaign parameters.
9. Data streams
Data streams are a feature in GA4 that you won’t find in UA. Streams are information flows from your app or website to Google Analytics, helping you collect data at the stream level with a unique ID. You can use up to 50 data streams and 30 app data streams for each of your properties in GA4.
10. Bounce rate
There’s more of an emphasis on bounce rate in UA than GA4, with the latter calculating this metric differently. GA4 defines bounce rate as the percentage of sessions that are not engaged sessions.
Google Analytics 4 Benefits
As well as tracking information for both websites and apps and supporting data governance, GA4 has several other benefits for campaign management:
Because GA4 tracks websites and apps, it’s more focused on the user journey than UA. You can track users as they engage with your site and apps on different devices and learn how these people interact with your brand. That can help you improve campaign management and make it easier to convert potential customers in the future.
While GA4’s interface is a little more complicated than the one in UA, it simplifies campaign management by tracking every interaction as a unique event. That makes it easier to see how users interact with your websites and apps, helping you make more informed decisions.
GA4 uses more AI than UA, resulting in more accurate and valuable insights for campaign management. For example, the platform uses machine learning and statistical modeling to provide context to data and help you predict traffic for your websites and apps.
Google Analytics 4 Disadvantages
While GA4 is ultimately a better platform for analytics tracking than UA, it has a couple of disadvantages:
You need to pay for additional features
You can’t create roll-up properties and sub-properties in the free version of GA4 and will need to upgrade to a paid subscription for these features. There’s also a sampling limit of 500,000 sessions for properties on free accounts, which might impact businesses that want to track large amounts of data in the platform. Depending on how many properties you want to track, GA4 could set your company back thousands of dollars a year.
Learning curve for Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
As previously mentioned, GA4’s user interface takes time to get used to if you’ve relied on UA over the last few years. Even if you’ve never used UA, you might find GA4 comes with a steep learning curve. The good news is that Google provides lots of documentation on how to use GA4 and get more value from this platform.
Final Word About GA4 vs Universal Analytics
Google will retire UA sometime in 2024 and not allow you to process new data in the platform from July 1, 2023. If you currently use UA for analytics tracking, you’ll need to prepare for this change and familiarize yourself with GA4. There are major GA4 vs Universal Analytics that will change the way you analyze data and prepare campaigns.