If you don’t know Google Analytics 4 Vs Universal Analytics now, you’ll hate yourself later
In October 2020 Google rolled out Google Analytics 4 (GA4) which is the latest iteration of the Google Analytics platform. On 16th March 2022, Google announced that GA 4 will replace Universal Analytics (UA) as the default for digital analytics measurement across the platform and GA4 will be the only option beginning on 1st July 2023. Therefore I have come up with this in-depth guide on Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics to make you understand the most important differences between these two tools.
Now let’s first understand, what is Google Analytics 4?
It is used to be called App+Web property because it can track both app and web visits in a single Googe Analytics account when it was first added in the beta version. It was a big mess before to track it on two different platforms and combined reports manually to get the whole picture of it. Now with GA4, it’s easy to manage and report both app and web from a single tool.
What Happened Before Google analytics 4?
In April 2005 Google acquired “Urchin Analytics this is where UTM (Urchin Tracking Modules) parameter got its name and it became the classic version of Google Analytics. In 2013, the Universal Analytics platform rolled out and became a new standard for tracking websites. As the Mobile app ecosystem developed the need for its tracking has also increased a lot. Therefore Google came up with a new version of Google analytics that is called Google Analytics 4 which tracks both websites and mobile apps.
This is a complete In-depth guide for Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics.
- – Different Measuring Models
- – Removal of Monthly Hit Limits
- – Free Connection to BigQuery
Different Measuring Models:
Universal Analytics and GA4 both of them are built on different measuring models. The Universal Analytics measurement model is based on sessions and pageviews. Session means the group of user interaction(hits) with a website that is done in a given time frame. Generally, the session is of 30 minutes. In a session, there can be multiple events, page views, and eCommerce transactions.
On the other end, Google Analytics 4 uses a measurement model based on events and parameters. The concept that Google Analytics 4 measurement is that anything can be captured as an event. Therefore all Universal Analytics hit types translate to events in GA4.
Image Source: Google
In all previous versions of Google Analytics and Universal Analytics, an event has a category, action and label, and its own hit type. In GA4 there is no action, category, or label. Every hit is an event and events can contain parameters (but it’s not mandatory).
For Example, in GA4 there is an event called page_view and this event contains parameters like page_title, page_location(URL of page), page_referrer(URL of the previous page)
So now let’s explore different categories of events in GA4.
Automatically collected events
When you install GA4 code onto your website then some events are automatically tracked.
I am hereby mentioning only web events there are app events as well which are automatically tracked. But for the sake simplicity, I will focus web events only in this blog.
It will track clicks when each time a user clicks a link that leads away from the current domain. It can contain no parameters.
It will track the download of files when a user clicks a link leading to a file with a common file extension e.g. document, text, executable, presentation, compressed file, video, and audio. It can contains parameters like file_extension, file_name, link_classes, link_domain, link_id, link_text, link_url.
It will track each time the page loads or the browser history state is changed by the active site.
It can contains parameters like page_location(URL of page), page_referrer(URL of previous page), engagement_time_msec.
It will track scroll when the user for the first time reaches the bottom of each i.e. when a 90% vertical depth becomes visible. It can contain parameters like engagement_time_msec.
It tracks when a user engages with a website.
There are other events like user_engagement, video_complete, video_progress, video_start, view_search_results etc.
Events tracked via Enhanced Measurement
When configuring a web data stream in GA4, we have an option to use Enhanced Measurement. It is designed in such a way that you won’t need a developer or make various settings via Google Tag Manager in order to track some of the events.
You need to go to Admin→ Data Streams → Select the web data stream, following window will open where you can see a section called Enhanced Measurement.
By default, this feature is enabled and will automatically track below-mentioned events:
- Page view (event name: page_view)
- Scroll (event name: scroll)
- Outbound link click (event name: click with the parameter outbound: true)
- Site search (event name: view_search_results)
- Video Engagement (events: video_start, video_progress, video_complete)
- File Download (event name: file_download)
In my opinion, first, have look at automatically tracked events may be those events are already tracked, and then check Enhanced Measurement events. If none of these events cover your use case take a look at the list of Recommended events.
Google has published several pages for different vectors:
There might be a use case where you want to define your own custom events. But beware that you are not creating an event that is already available in automatically tracked events, Enhanced Meseaurement, or Recommended events. Configuring custom events is almost the same as recommended events. The only difference is that you need to come up with some logical event names.
For e.g. For “Book A Demo” button event name can be. Think of some logical names like call_to_action. Don’t give names like second_button.
Removal of Monthly Hit limits:
One of the major differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 is the removal of the monthly hit limit of 10m. On the other hand in GA4 you can capture 500 different types of events. There is no limit on the volume of hits these different events can collect. There is a huge relief for big clients and because of this change they already opted for GA4.
Free Connection to BigQuery:
Another difference I am going to cover is GA4’s free connection to BigQuery. Before GA4 it was only available to GA360 customers which were one of the major difference between free and paid versions of Google Analytics.
Although I have explained a lot about the differences between Google Analytics 4 & Universal Analytics there is still a lot of questions to be answered.
Question Asked to me most frequently:
1. – Is Google Analytics 4 better than Universal Analytics?
Of course, Google Analytics 4 is much better than Universal Analytics.
2. – How do I switch from Google Analytics to Universal Analytics 4?
Keep a note that there is nothing like Universal Analytics 4 it’s Google Analytics 4. And please keep both versions of analytics until google completely deprecates the old one which is Universal Analytics.
3. – Should I upgrade to Analytics 4?
As of now use both versions of analytics after 1st July 2023 you have to focus only on Google analytics 4.
4. – Can I have both Universal Analytics and GA4?
Yes you can have both versions in a single google account
5. – Is Google Analytics 4 free?
Yes, it’s free.
6. – How do I know if I’m using GA4?
Goto Admin → Property Column → If you find Data Streams then you are using Google Analytics 4
It’s seen clearly that there have been some major changes in the new version of Google Analytics that is GA4 but for the time being my advice is to run both properties side by side. Figure out how you are going to map your UA KPI into GA4. As UA will be deprecated by next year and at that time you don’t feel completely lost. If you are confident then go ahead and switch to Google Analytics 4 right away.