The New Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics

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In the fall of 2020, Google rolled out Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the latest iteration of the Google Analytics platform. GA4 replaces Universal Analytics (UA) as the default for digital analytics measurement in GA. And now – in 2022 – Google announced that GA4 will be the only option beginning on July 1, 2023. This guide helps to answer some of those questions about Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics. These questions are taken from Google’s People also asked section and tried to answer them in the best way possible so that almost all of the major questions related to GA4 are answered accordingly. So let’s jump into details.

Millions of organizations around the world rely on Google Analytics to better understand their online visitors and create optimal experiences for them. So it is no surprise that when Google announced Google Analytics 4, (formerly known as Google App + Web) marketers and analysts had some big questions.

What Is GA4?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is now officially the recommended property type of Google Analytics. It used to be called App+Web Property when it was added in beta. Why App+Web? Well, the new property could track both App and Web visits in a single Google Analytics property instead of having those differing platform visits separated into different GA properties. In the fall of 2020, that App+Web Property was rebadged and re-released as Google Analytics 4 (GA4). And on March 16, 2022, Google announced that GA4 will be the only option beginning in July of 2023.

What’s the Background before GA4?

Google Analytics has evolved a great deal since it was first acquired by Google in 2005. In April of that year, Google purchased a product called “Urchin Analytics” (where UTM parameters or Urchin Tracking Modules come from). It became the classic version of Google Analytics.

In 2013, the Universal Analytics (UA) platform rolled out and became the standard for tracking. But following the March 16, 2022 announcement from Google about GA4, we know that UA will be deprecated beginning in July of 2023. You can read that announcement here.

What Are People Doing Now?

Well, many of us are scrambling to learn about GA4 because we know the clock is ticking. That might be you since this blog is (hopefully) a helpful comparison to orient us to GA4 by comparing it to UA. If you’re still at the starting line, let’s briefly review some of the basics of Google Analytics and the GA4 property.

Ok, so what is a Google Analytics “Property” again?

According to Google, a “property is where your company’s online data goes to get processed by Google Analytics.” It’s where the *stuff* happens in Google Analytics.

A Google Analytics property sits within a Google Analytics account. The account is the level of the hierarchy where you log in and is used to help organize your data if you have multiple properties. Data processing takes place at the property level.

In the time before GA4, a company with both an App and a Website would have a single account and two distinct properties – one for the app and one for the website. With Google Analytics 4, a single property contains both app and web data.

With Universal Analytics, each property may contain multiple views. Views allow for data filtering and configurations. This functionality does not currently exist with GA4.

Can You Have Different Views In GA4?

As of now, this is not available in GA4.

Historically, the “Google Analytics best practice” was always to have a minimum of 3 different “Views” in a Google Analytics property. One view would be the “Master” view which should contain filtered data, goal tracking, and other customizations to the data. Google also recommended a “Test” view, where new filters and goals could be tested before being incorporated into the Master view. And finally, Google recommended an unfiltered view, which would contain all raw data as a backup.

Views were a cornerstone of Google Analytics and it will be great to see if and when Google incorporates them in GA4.

How Does Google Analytics 4 Measure Users?

Data gets into Universal Analytics from “cookie-based” tracking. A website with UA sends a cookie into the user’s web browser, and that allows the platform to monitor and record web activity on the site in question during that user’s session on the site. The measurement approach is a session-based data model.

According to Google, Google Analytics 4 allows “businesses to measure across platforms and devices using multiple forms of identity.” This includes first-party data as well as “Google signals” from users who have opted into ads personalization. And Google Analytics 4 will still use cookies where they are available for tracking. Instead of tracking sessions, GA4 has an event-based data model.

In a world where privacy is becoming increasingly important, it’s fair to assume that those cookies may become less and less prevalent. This is arguably a net positive for humanity, but for now, seems like a big negative for digital marketers.

Acquisition Reports In Google Analytics 4 Vs. Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4

Acquisition reporting helps us to understand how various types of traffic are performing on our site. If we want to compare organic search performance vs. email vs. social media in terms of driving purchases or other conversions, we need Acquisition reporting. Acquisition reporting in GA4 is fundamentally similar to acquisition reporting in UA. But yet, there are some key differences.

The more important difference is that there are 3 new metrics we’ll see in our GA4 traffic reports. Read on below.

  • Engaged session: According to Google the engaged session metric is the count of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event, or had 2 or more screen or page views.
  • Average engagement time per session: Google says this is the User engagement duration per session. In other words, the amount of time the user is engaging with the page (scrolling, etc.), and the page is the primary window being viewed on the screen.
  • Engagement rate: Engagement rate is the ratio of Engaged sessions relative to total sessions. If you had 1,000 total sessions and 130 of them qualified as Engaged sessions (per Google’s definition above), the Engagement rate would be 13%.

Segments In Google Analytics 4 Vs. Universal Analytics

Explorations in Google Analytics 4

Segments allow you to analyze a subset of your Google Analytics data so you can better understand your users and our website (or app). Segments essentially work the same way in GA4 as they do in Universal Analytics. In both GA4 and UA, you can analyze up to 4 segments at the same time. However, the types of segments you can create are slightly different.

There are 3 different types of segments we can create in GA4: User segmentsSession segments, and Event segments. With Universal Analytics, we can create only 2 types of segments: User segments and Session segments.

The big difference between GA4 and UA is the process for creating segments. In GA4, segments exist in a new area called “Explorations”.

Will Google Analytics 4 Still Be Free?

Yes. Google says, “Google Analytics has always offered a free version to help businesses of all sizes and stages better analyze and improve their websites and apps. This mission hasn’t changed.”

Why Is Google Making This Shift To Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics has been evolving since its genesis, and with the rise of mobile apps, shifts in consumer behavior, and the introduction of privacy regulations, this transition in the way we collect and analyze data is timely and warranted.

Google Analytics 4 Chart

Google Analytics 4 offers a more complete cross-channel view of the customer – combining the insights we all know and love from Universal Analytics with the data model of Firebase to deliver seamless insights and data-informed decision making.