6 Key differences between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4

6 Key differences between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4

June 27, 2022

Google announced that Universal Analytics (UA) will no longer be supported on July the 1st 2023.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will replace the latter as the new, enhanced property. We are encouraging all customers to start GA4 implementation ahead of 1 July 2022 to ensure that you have a YoY comparison with the two different data models.

What is the main difference between Universal Analytics and GA4?

Key difference 1 – The data model

The data model of GA4 is very different to that of UA. Universal Analytics (UA) is all about page views and session-based tracking and is constrained by timeframes. Essentially, there’s a limited amount of data that you can fit into a session.

Whereas GA4 is all about event based tracking; there is the potential to collect a lot more data, because everything can be an event.

Key difference 2 – UA views will be replaced by data streams

In GA4 there will be no more ‘Views’ but instead ‘Data Streams’ – a data stream can be either a website or an app. Multiple data streams can be added under the same property. This is a key benefit as there is a holistic view of users. So if someone was to visit both your website and app, you would be able to see the holistic customer journey.

Key difference 3 – Metrics

One key metric that is used in UA is bounce rate (When a visitor lands on your site and leaves without viewing another page) which is going to be phased out – alongside other metrics such as pages views per session and avg duration per session.

Standard metrics in GA4 will include; engaged sessions, engagement rate, engaged session per user.

An engagement session will sessions that last longer than 10 seconds or include 2 or more page or screen views.

Engagement rate covers how often one of those engagement sessions happen.

Key difference 4 – Standard Reporting

In UA, you have 30 standard reports under ‘Acquisition’ whereas in GA4 you will have much fewer reports – only 3 standard reports exist. This does not mean that reporting can’t be customised in GA as many options are available under the ‘Explore’ function.

Key difference 5 – Events

In UA, event data is set-up through Google Tag Manager (GTM) where it will have a corresponding tag or trigger. However in GA4 everything is an event, and there are 4 key categories of events you need to know:

1. Automatically collected events – The events that automatically happen i.e. session is started
2. Enhance measurement events – This is a really cool feature of GA4 as it can record things like scroll depth tracking (every time someone scrolls 90% of the way through a page) or for example a file download or external link click. These events do not need to be set-up through GTM in GA4.
3. Recommended events – These are the events that you have to set-up in Google Tag Manager but Google already has a recommended name for the event. (For example, Purchase or Form Submission)
4. Custom events – Similar to recommended events but when there is not a recommended name.

Key difference 6 – Conversions

In UA, there are 4 conversion goals that can be set-up including:
1. Destination goal (goal that is triggered by a dedicated URL)
2. Duration goal – A goal that is triggered by length of session
3. Pages per session goals – A goal that is triggered by number of pages viewed in a session
4. Event Goal – Anything that you are creating in Google Tag Manager (GTM)

In GA4 it is pretty straightforward to create conversion events – once the event is set-up you can switch on a toggle to track as conversions. Destination goals are not that easy to track in GA4 and will need to be set-up as an event first in GTM.

Why is Google pushing for GA4?

Privacy is the main reason. So, for example in UA, you have to manually set up your anonymisation of IP addresses, which can be challenging for less experienced advertisers. But in GA4, IP address data is automatically anonymised. So privacy is really a big piece; it’s up there with enhanced conversions.

What are Enhanced Conversions?

Enhanced conversions really is just about how your Google tag behaves. If someone was to accept the cookies on your sites, your Google tag will function normally and the data will behave, nothing will change.

Enhanced conversions tell the Google tag to operate in a different way when someone either ignores cookies or rejects them. Enhanced conversions hash and anonymise the login data from your signed-in browser. This makes the data privacy compliant but allows Google to have a starting point to then simulate what you’re likely to do based on that sort of data set behind that profile; which essentially allows Google to model the missing data.

We have some customers who have seen their accuracy data drop to 30% when relying on accepted cookie data alone, so there’s this big gap to fill. But by implementing enhanced conversions, these customers have been able to claw back up to 70% of the missing data, which has returned them to a much healthier possession.

Enhanced conversions are really important for customers that are tracking outside of UA and GA4; so long as you have GA4 in place, then you don’t have to worry so much about enhanced conversions.

But if you are tracking things outside of that space, then you need to have enhanced conversions going. Otherwise you might wake up one day and miss 70% of your data.

Can Push help me with implementing GA4?

Yes, we’ve done extensive research and found lots of trusted partners that can support implementing GA4. We really see this as the opportunity for every business to refresh and make sense of their tracking so do not recommend someone without experience to implement it.

If you want to find out more, get in touch with us today!


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