If you haven’t already heard, and hopefully by now you have, Google is migrating from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 on July 1, 2023. Many people, including myself, have been reluctant to leave the Universal Analytics they’re accustomed to behind to dive into the new world of Google Analytics 4. With the migration to Google Analytics 4 fast approaching, the time to leave behind your reservations and step on the new learning curve is now or never.
Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics
So, what are the actual differences between these two analytics properties? They look fairly similar, and at the same time, widely different. I should make clear, Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics are both property types within your Analytics Account. An account structure can be seen as thus; Account > Properties & Apps > Views. This leads us to our first difference.
No More Views
Views in Universal Analytics were used to segment and organize data within a property. They were essentially giant data filters. Your average account likely only had one view that showed all website activity. A more advanced account structure might have a Master view that filters out internal traffic and analytics spam and then an unfiltered view as a fail-safe. There are many more ways to customize and utilize views, but, as those are going away, I won’t get into all that.
So, what’s replacing views in Google Analytics 4? Well, nothing really. Technically, you could say Data Streams are replacing Views. The concept of segmenting and organizing data is similar but that’s where their similarities end. A Data Stream is more of a data source. You can create multiple streams from say a website, app, etc. and bring them all together into one G4 property whereas a View acts more of a traffic filter.
A New Data Model
While the missing views might be the first thing you notice about Google Analytics 4 (apart from the completely different user interface), the data model update is arguably the biggest change. Universal Analytics uses a session-based model while Google Analytics 4 uses an event-based model.
A session is anytime someone spends time on a website. If the user leaves the website and then comes back later, it starts a new session. If the user stays on a website, but is inactive for 30 minutes (time could be adjusted), then the session ends. Most metrics in Universal Analytics revolve around the session.
An event is any interaction a user has with a website. Whether it’s a click, page scroll, form submission, it qualifies as an event. Due to this change, sessions and many other metrics such as bounce rate in Universal Analytics are no longer present in Google Analytics 4.
Additional Differences Between Universal Analytics & Google Analytics 4
We’ve gone over what I would consider the main two differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, but there are many more little tweaks and changes that make feel almost likely a completely new platform.
Event Tracking: With Google Analytics 4, event tracking is much more granular right out of the gate. Many events such as video engagement, scroll tracking and file downloads would require custom tracking in Universal Analytics. These events now track automatically with the Google Analytics 4 configuration tag.
Machine Learning: Google Analytics 4 includes more advanced machine learning capabilities than Universal Analytics, such as predictive analytics, which allows you to predict future actions of users based on their past behavior.
Data privacy: Google Analytics 4 is designed to be more privacy-centric, with built-in tools to help you comply with data privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.
Data integration: With Google Analytics 4, you can integrate data from multiple sources, including offline data and third-party data, making it easier to get a complete view of your customer.
User-centric reporting: Google Analytics 4 provides a more user-centric reporting approach, where users are tracked across multiple devices and sessions, making it easier to understand how they interact with your website and app.
In general, Google Analytics 4 is a more advanced and modern version of Google Analytics that offers more granular data tracking, machine learning capabilities, and a more user-centric reporting approach, while also being more privacy-centric. Universal Analytics is disappearing very soon, so now is the time to get used to the new Google analytics property if you do not want to fall behind with your user data tracking.