UA vs. GA4: Get to Know the Differences

ua vs. ga4

Google is set to retire Universal Analytics (UA) for Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This new version takes effect in July 2023 and replaces all other Google Analytics editions. The original name of Google Analytics 4 was App+Web when it launched in beta. That’s because GA4 tracks app and web activity in the same GA property rather than separating platform visits into different properties.

Looking Back at Google Analytics

Google Analytics has come a long way to become GA4. Take a look at the history of this web analytics service.

2005: Google bought Urchin, a web analysis program, and used it to develop the first edition of Google Analytics. Urchin’s role was to process log files in a clearer format.

2006: Google redesigned Google Analytics using Measure Map, a product of the research company Adaptive Path. AdWords analysis reporting also emerged as a tool to manage user ROI.

2007: Google updated the Analytics reporting platform to enhance collaboration and customization.

2011: Google Analytics introduced real-time reports to monitor campaigns as they unfold.

2012: Google discontinued Urchin’s client-hosted version and announced Universal Analytics. With the popularity of mobile browsing, this update supported device-specific tracking for customized metrics.

2016: Google launched Google Analytics 360 to analyze ROI and similar marketing indicators.

2017: Google announced Global Site Tag (gtag.js), a data collection methodology to unify and simplify the tagging system.

2018: Google merged Google Analytics 360 and DoubleClick Digital Marketing into Google Marketing Platform.

2020: Google released Google Analytics 4 to enhance data privacy.

2022: Google announced the end of Universal Analytics.

UA vs. GA4: What’s the Difference?

Expect the following changes when leaving UA for GA4.

ua real time capture
UA realtime capture

1. Data Privacy

GA4 has various data security updates. For starters, you can disable region-specific data and ad customization by country. Moreover, GA4 neither collects nor stores IP addresses. This is unlike Universal Analytics, which displays IP details unless anonymized. GA4 also allows you to delete records at a user’s request.

When it comes to data retention, admins decide how long to store user-specific information. Although GA4 offers a two-month default, this period can stretch to 14 months. Note that records are still accessible after 14 months—you only lose user-specific information after this period.

2. Measurement Model

The UA measurement approach relies on sessions and hits. Sessions refer to a website’s user interactions over a particular time frame. As such, sessions can relate data to a specific individual and track the user’s interactions with your website. In Universal Analytics, every session comprises various hit types including ecommerce hits, pageviews, and social interaction hits.

In contrast, GA4 tracks data using events and parameters. Event records are anonymous and focus on specific actions rather than the users taking the actions. That way, you can follow complex customer journeys across different gadgets. GA4 events fall into the following categories:

Automatically Collected Events

Your website automatically tracks these events upon installing the base code. Examples include user_engagement, first_visit, and session_start events.

Enhanced Measurement Events

Although these events are automatically collected with the base code, you can activate or deactivate them based on site functionality. Examples are page_view, click, outbound clicks, and scrolls. 

Recommended Events

Although these events are non-essential, Google recommends them to enhance user behavior measurement. However, recommended events aren’t automatic because they need more context to execute. What’s more, Google organizes events by industry, for example, retail, gaming, and travel. Examples include remove_from_cart, purchase, and share

Custom Events

You can design and implement these parameters by yourself according to site requirements. While Google currently restricts the events to 500, this limit could shift in the future.

3. Reporting Interface

The new measurement model explains why GA4 has a different reporting interface—reports have either been renamed or replaced. You might notice the interface’s resemblance to Google Analytics for Firebase since GA4 borrows a data model from Firebase. Although the homepage still has a sidebar menu, GA4 only displays four navigation tabs (Reports, Configure, Explore, and Advertising); conversely, UA displays five. At the same time, GA4’s ‘Reports’ section features the following stages of the customer lifecycle:

  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Monetization
  • Retention

While some UA features are absent in GA4, the ‘Explore’ section offers more than the pre-established reports. For example, you can view upgraded analysis methods such as segment overlap and enhanced funnel analysis. When it comes to monetization, GA4 offers revenue reports to quantify your conversions and sales. The platform merges websites and apps into one property for easier tracking of purchasing habits.

Furthermore, Google Analytics 4 combines data from various revenue streams. The first one is ecommerce purchase records that show your popular products and promotion performance. Linking GA4 to Google Ads also allows you to view information on publisher ads. Not to mention the in-app purchase reports thanks to GA4’s mobile-first approach.

4. Metrics

Most UA reports featured behavior metrics such as pages, average session duration, and bounce rate, However, GA4 offers three new metrics, including:

  • Engaged Session: It’s the number of sessions that took more than 10 seconds, recorded two or more pageviews, or involved a conversion event.
  • Engagement Rate: Ratio of total sessions to engaged sessions.
  • Average Engagement Time: It’s how long a user takes to interact with a page.

Although GA4 came without bounce rate metrics, they were later incorporated into the program. Ordinarily, bounce rate represents the users who leave your site without interacting by clicking a link, making a purchase, or joining a newsletter.

Note that UA and GA4 have different bounce rate calculations. While GA4 counts the number of sessions that weren’t engaged, UA bounce rates lack time thresholds.

ga4 realtime capture
GA4 realtime capture

Commit to Learning

Like other programs, mastering GA4 takes time. Feel free to play around with the system until you unlock its full capability. Remember, GA4 and UA are separate properties. Instead of replicating what you know from Universal Analytics, re-evaluate your preferred metrics and align your performance indicators to the measurement strategy.

Need more help making the switch from UA to GA4 or setting up online analytics altogether? Contact us at Uptick Marketing. Our experts in SEO and analytics are ready to help you refine your decision-making tactics to get the most out of your online presence and help grow your business.

About Lance

For nearly a decade, Lance has worked with Uptick in search engine optimization in some capacity, initially building our SEO department from the ground up. His expertise in the world of optimization makes him the ideal person to keep Uptick on the cutting edge of the ever-evolving SEO sphere. A graduate of Samford University, Lance is a member of Samford University’s Entrepreneurship, Management, and Marketing Advisory Board, creating the university’s first digital marketing course. He has spoken at the Birmingham chapter of the American Marketing Association, co-hosted ‘Grow With Google’ small business events, and presented to the Birmingham and Huntsville chapters of the Public Relations Council of Alabama. Currently, he spearheads Uptick’s SEO sales, business development, and overall strategies.

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