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How is GA4 different from Universal Analytics?

Apr 03, 2022

Google Analytics 4 is coming. By now you've heard of the July 2023 deadline after which the current version of Google Analytics ("Universal Analytics" or "UA") will stop recording your website traffic.

If you haven't begun planning your migration strategy and timeline, don't worry! We have you covered with our 15-point GA4 Migration Planner available as a free PDF download. It walks you through a pre-planning checklist that covers your tracking setup, data collection, historical data, and reporting needs.

GA4 and Universal Analytics are fundamentally different in these 4 areas

The most important thing to understand is how GA4 and Universal Analytics differ in how they capture, process, and visualize your website's data.

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GA4 is still in an early stage of development and lacks some of the polish and familiarity that Universal Analytics provides. However, GA4 is the future that we must prepare for...and quickly.

That preparation starts with understanding these four key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics:

User Tracking and Cookies

Universal Analytics relies on tracking cookies which are increasingly limited by browser security settings, operating systems, and ad blockers.

GA4 is less dependent on cookies and has more user-friendly privacy controls built in so you can remain compliant with GDPR, CCPA, and probable future regulations.

Sessions and Pageviews vs. Events

Universal Analytics primarily focuses on sessions (visits to a website) and pageviews to help marketers understand how visitors engage with their site.

GA4 records every interaction (including session starts and pageviews) as separate events to enable much more granular, user-centric measurement.

Gaps in Data Collection

Privacy measures, opt-outs, and regulatory compliance create large gaps in Universal Analytics tracking that can muddy the waters and make it hard to trust the data.

GA4 attempts to close this gap by using machine learning to model predicted user behavior and paint a more clear picture of conversions, attribution, and segmentation.

Reporting and Data Visualization

Universal Analytics offers basic reporting and charting options with more advanced features (and less sampling) available in their premium GA360 suite of tools.

GA4 provides many advanced analysis tools for free, such as pathing and BigQuery exports.

What is not changing in GA4?

Well, not much. As we wrote previously, even the interface and navigation elements are changing. Plan for a steep learning curve and set aside time to start learning the new platform now.

Your job as a marketer just got a little more complex...and we can help

Thinking about your approach to GA4? So are we. Our team has been using GA4 since it was first announced in 2020 and we're here to help you prepare for your GA4 set-up and migration. We've helped dozens of companies get up and running on GA4 and improve their reporting capabilities at the same time. Let us know if you want to speak to one of our experts to plan and execute your migration.