Key Differences Between GA4 and Universal Analytics

Google has provided us with a suite of analytical tools over the years. Most recently, they have introduced Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a departure from the widely used Universal Analytics (UA) model. The shift from UA to GA4 has been prompted because of privacy concerns for users as well as an increased complexity in the digital landscape. This required change to GA4 is set to occur on July 1, 2023 – so time is running out to make the switch! 

Here we will take a look at a few of the Key Differences Between GA4 and Universal Analytics. But first…let’s cover a few basics.

What is Universal Analytics?

Universal Analytics (UA) is the version of Google Analytics that was released in 2013 and is the platform that we are all familiar with. The UA model utilizes cookies to track visitor data and provides an array of reporting features that include audience, acquisition, behavior, and conversion metrics. It operates on a session-based model, tracking user interactions during specific periods. Marketers have been utilizing UA to determine the success of campaigns and productive traffic sources since what feels like the beginning of time.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is the latest version of Google’s analytical tool designed to offer a more comprehensive and user-centric view of data. Launched as an answer to changing consumer behavior and privacy regulations, GA4 introduces a new way of tracking and understanding user interactions across different platforms. It utilizes an event-based tracking model, prioritizing specific user actions over sessions. Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 is built with a focus on cross-platform (website and app) tracking and privacy-centric data handling. It also leverages advanced machine learning models to fill in the gaps where user data might be incomplete.

A Side-By-Side Comparison of Some Key Differences of Universal Analytics Versus GA4

Below you will find a comparison of some of the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4.

Universal Analytics Google Analytics 4
Data Measurement
Operates on a session-based model, tracking user interactions during specific visits or sessions on a website or app.
Utilizes an event-based tracking model, prioritizing specific user actions over sessions, although you can still see user session data as you could previously as well.
User Tracking
Primarily uses cookies to track and gather data about user behavior.
GA4 does use cookies, however it has a more diversified way of collecting data including event-based tracking, user IDs, machine learning models, and first-party data.
Offers traditional, pre-configured reports covering audience demographics, user behavior, acquisition channels, and conversion data.
Provides life-cycle reports based on the customer journey, integrating acquisition, behavior, and conversion data into a single flow.
Machine Learning
Doesn’t inherently feature advanced machine learning capabilities.
Uses Google's advanced machine learning to predict future actions and fill in data gaps where user data may be incomplete due to privacy restrictions.
Ecommerce Tracking
Has a dedicated "Ecommerce" section for tracking online sales and related data.
Tracks ecommerce data through event-based tracking, providing granular insights about customer behavior throughout the purchase journey.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics (UA) represent two different approaches to understanding user behavior and web traffic analytics. While UA’s strengths lie in its session-based tracking, cookie-dependent methodology, and traditional reporting system, GA4 features event-based tracking model, cross-platform functionality, and advanced machine learning capabilities. GA4 also offers an updated user interface, focusing on a customer’s lifecycle and offering innovative features such as the “Explore” section where you can create highly customized reports and in-depth looks at user journeys on your website.

If you’re interested in exploring GA4 further or would like a quick tutorial on how to navigate the new interface, get in touch with the Studio82 Digital team today! We’re always happy to pass along any helpful information for you and your business as you navigate the digital world.


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