How Is Google Analytics 4 Different From Universal Analytics?

Google Analytics is a web analytics service provided by Google meant to help optimize a business by collecting data on your site and tracking views and insights on your audience. Prior to Google Analytics 4, there was Universal Analytics. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google’s new web analytics service that was introduced in 2020. After that, it was announced that by July 1, 2023, Google would stop supporting Universal Analytics in favor of Google Analytics 4. 

In this article, we will discuss a little bit about Universal Analytics’ background, the key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, and what switching over to GA4 means for your company.

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Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics was introduced in October 2012. Compared to the previous versions of Google Analytics, this one can perform cross-platform tracking and includes a flexible tracking code to collect data from any device and see what kind of device it is as well. Custom dimensions and custom metrics also give more in-depth information about the users. 

Three Tracking Codes

UA released three different tracking codes to help users gain better insights about consumers visiting their page and where they were visiting from. One measures how users interact with the site. Another is for mobile tracking and the final one is to collect data from other devices. Offline data tracking was also introduced, allowing businesses to track sales offline that were generated from Google Ads as well. 

Session Tracking

UA also allowed individuals to build their metrics and dimensions to what they thought was best. For example, people can go on a site and just leave it open in their browser. Previous versions of Google Analytics would continue to track that, skewing session times. With UA, businesses can set a time limit on how long a user is inactive before the session ends. This correctly tracks the session time. Another important update to this version is it can filter through the incoming site traffic and eliminate certain sources to stop UA from reporting the same session twice. 

With the new customizable options in Universal Analytics, businesses are able to further understand their site visitors, seeing where they were coming from, the pages they interact with on the site, and measuring their session time. All of this tracking gives the business the necessary tools to understand what parts of its strategy are working and what needs to be changed to enhance the visitor’s experience with the site and the business overall.

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​​Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4

A major difference people will notice when switching over is in the composition of the two services. Google Analytics 4 is more simple, more straightforward, and easy to navigate. These changes may seem overwhelming at first but in the long run, will be more beneficial. In GA4, you will also see new terminology. For example, “Segments” is now “Comparisons” and “Channels” is now “User Acquisition.” 

Differences in Metrics

When Universal Analytics was created, it was meant for tracking desktop users. But with today’s technology, this is very out of date. UA was dependent on cookie-based tracking, meaning that a website with UA would send cookies to the user’s web browser which would then allow the platform to track that user’s session. With GA4, businesses can track user sessions across many different platforms. This ability is not just for desktop and mobile users. UA also grouped all users together while GA4 is able to differentiate between new and returning users.

Differences in Conversions

Conversions between the two platforms are also quite different. UA supports five different goal types and only counts one conversion for each user session per goal. So, if the user performs two of the same action in one session, it only counts as one conversion. In comparison, GA4 only supports conversion events and will count two of the same action in a single session as two separate conversions. This can make it difficult to compare conversion rates.

Differences in Privacy

Privacy is something else that Google Analytics has upgraded, in favor of the users. People want to know what data is being collected on them, how it is collected, what it is being used for, and for how long. 

With GA4, users can now request that businesses delete data about them. They can also control what they do and do not want to be shared and businesses must comply. You can now also set a retention period for the data you collect and you can keep that user data for as long as fourteen months. As a business owner, you also can manage what kind of data your site collects. Overall, the data that can be collected in GA4 is more limited but the other enhanced features make up for this.

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Differences in Engagement

Engagement is another metric that GA4 is able to measure that Universal Analytics cannot. Engagement is measured by the inverse of the bounce rate. This calculates the amount of time the user is actually engaging with the webpage. Bounce rates have also been changed. A bounce rate is the percentage of your visitors that clicked on a webpage without a single interaction and then exit. Bounce rates measure the user’s engagement and how effective the site is.

The majority of the time, having a high bounce rate means that the page is not meeting the user’s needs. In other words, they are having to go elsewhere to find what they need. In UA, the bounce rate is when the user is on the site for zero seconds or if they make no clicks on the webpage. This does not accurately portray the user’s session because they could be on the page for several minutes reading or perusing and leaving without clicking anywhere on the site. This would still be considered a bounce. In GA4, a bounce rate is when the user is on the site for less than 10 seconds and leaves without making any other clicks on the site. 

Differences in Data Models

The biggest difference between these platforms is that Universal Analytics is a session-based data model. This means that the data analysis is tracked in the session that is occurring on the site. With a session-based data model, it is easier to retrieve and study the data. In comparison, Google Analytics 4 is an event-based model. This tracks each action that the user does on the site. Instead of goals, there are events and conversions – and you can choose what events count as a conversion. Google Analytics 4 is able to track four different categories of events: automatically collected events, enhancement measurement events, recommended events, and custom events.

The data collected through an event-based model is usually more limited and requires a lot of customization. However, a business is able to tailor it to their needs and goals. You can now create custom lists based on user profiles and actions to target new website visitors or retarget old website visitors. An event-based data model will also collect data on the behavior of how customers interact with your business. For example, if a high amount of people are never making it to the checkout page of your site, you can locate what page they are exiting your site and see why that is.

GA4 is also able to combine the data from your website with the data from your mobile site. This gives businesses a more holistic and in-depth view of how users are interacting with them. An event-based data model will require more work and comprehensive thinking. But, that means that it is also more customizable. This allows you to better learn about and reach new and returning users. If you decide that you prefer a session-based data model, there are plenty of other web analytics platforms you could move to. While these changes may seem small, they make a huge difference in studying a user’s habits on a site. 

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Switching Over to GA4 for Your Company

Since Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are two different platforms, Google is unable to transfer data from the old platform to the new one. You must manually go into GA4 to connect and customize it to best fit your company’s needs. And this must be done before July 1, 2023, or all your old data will be lost permanently.

The best way to save your data is to manually export your data from Google Analytics into a PDF. This will help you to keep track of information to track the business’s performance over time and identify the areas to improve and predict future trends. While the platforms are similar, there are still some key differences. Make sure that your business is up to date on these changes ahead of time to maximize everything that the service has to offer. Switching between the two platforms can be difficult, but there are many resources to ensure a smooth transition.


  • When does Google Analytics 4 take over?
  • When did Universal Analytics launch?
  • How are metrics different in GA4 and UA?
  • What are the privacy differences in GA4 and UA?
  • How are the data models different between GA4 and UA?

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