GA4 vs Universal Analytics: What’s the Difference & How to Migrate Your Historical Data

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the most recent version of Google Analytics, the widely used tracking software. GA4 is becoming the default analytics system for Google. In addition, it will be the only option for analytics tracking as of July 1, 2023. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics (UA) and why now is the time to migrate to GA4. 

What is GA4?

GA4 is the new property available on Google Analytics, replacing the current Universal Analytics. It addresses new privacy laws, including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

According to Google, GA4 is “the future of measurement.” GA4 offers a better understanding of the customer journey by combining website and app analytics under one property. It also uses the same Google Analytics Firebase (used for mobile apps), where interactions are captured as events.

GA4 vs Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics, also known as GA3, is the third iteration of Google Analytics. Aside from GA4 tracking data across your website and app in one property, another difference between GA4 vs universal analytics is how data is tracked.

Universal analytics relies predominantly on “cookie-based” tracking, a session-based model . The main issue with third-party cookies is perceived privacy invasion. Additionally, most browsers have restrictions on the length of text files (how cookies are stored). And once that limit is exceeded new cookies replace the old ones. Essentially, you’ll lose your data.

While GA4 uses an event-based model, measuring events and parameters with various new metrics. This event-based model allows for a more customer-centric data tracking and decision-making approach.

Session-Based Vs Event-Based Models

A session-based model, groups data into sessions, the foundations of reporting. A session is a group of user interactions with your website within a given time frame.

Examples include page views, events, and eCommerce transactions.

Analytics collects and stores these user interactions as hits. Depending on how a user interacts with your website, a single session can contain multiple hits.

On the other hand, in an event-based model, Analytics collects and stores user interactions with your website and app as events. Events provide insights into what’s happening in your website or app, such as page views, button clicks, user actions, or system events.

Additionally, adding parameters provides more detailed information about an event (or user experience). This information could include the purchase value, the page title, or the user’s geographic location.

Events in GA4

An event allows you to measure a specific user interaction on a website or mobile app. There are four  main GA4 event types.

  1. Automatically collected events
    Google automatically collects these events from the Google Tag or Google Tag Manager (GTM) snippet. Automated event tracking offers guidance without complex models and setup processes.

    Examples of automatically collected events:

    • Ad clicks
    • File download
    • Page view
    • Session start
  2. Enhanced measure events
    They are also collected automatically by Google Analytics. GA collects data from your website when enhanced measurements have been enabled in GA4. Enhanced measurement helps more fully specify the action the user took and add further context to the event or user.

    Some examples of enhanced measurements are:

    • Site search
    • Scrolls  (the first time a user reaches the bottom of a page)
    • Outbound clicks
    • Video engagement
  3. Recommended events
    You implement recommended events, but Google has already applied predefined names and parameters. These events are industry specific.
    Here is a complete list of recommended events.
  4. Custom events
    These are events you define. Google advises you only create a custom event when no other event works for you. This is because custom events do not appear in most standard reports. Therefore, you will need to set up custom reports or explanations for any meaningful data analysis.

     Some examples of a custom event that may be valuable for your organization are:

    • Tracking donations made on your website or app
    • If you want to track clicks on an image
    • How many people are interacting with your chat box

    You need to use GTM more in universal analytics vs GA4 to measure analytics across a wide range of events. Thus, GA4’s automated event-based model simplifies the integration process. It offers more insightful data analytics regarding user behavior and conversions.

Benefits of GA4 vs Universal Analytics

While many marketers may be hesitant to migrate to GA4, you will have to make the switch come July 1, 2023. Universal analytics no longer fits today’s marketing environment. Increased usage of mobile applications and consumers’ desire for privacy requires a more agile platform.

For this reason, it’s beneficial for marketers to integrate GA4 now.

Prioritize the Customer Journey

Designed to create a complete picture of the customer journey, GA4 uses three identity spaces. Identity spaces are identifiers Analytics uses to identify users across multiple devices. While UA only has one identity space – Device ID, which limits data collection to one device.

GA4 Identity Spaces

  • User ID – you create your own User IDs for signed-in users. It can be used across devices for enhanced reporting.
  • Google Signals – you can gather user data when a user is signed into their Google Account. They must give permission.
  • Device ID – is based on the user’s browser cookies.

Tracking a single user’s actions across devices in GA4 vs universal analytics is vital for personalization and more robust analytics reporting.

AI & Predictive Analytics

With privacy in mind and reduced reliance on cookies, GA4 has new predictive analytics metrics. These metrics allow for more data-driven decisions on a broader scale. Pulling from three identity spaces, Analytics can fill in the blanks to create a more detailed picture of the customer journey. Constantly evolving, future models will allow for further behavioral predictions where data may be incomplete. These models will improve ad campaign targeting and website performance with custom funnels for different audiences.

Scalability & Growth

GA4 was built with scalability and growth factored into the new design. The focus is on the customer journey instead of splitting into sessions, devices, or platforms like UA. Technology continues to evolve, and the new GA4 is designed to adapt to a future without cookies or identifiers (if needed). GA4 uses a flexible approach to measurement versus universal analytics, with new buckets: Acquisitions, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. Additionally, the Audience report allows you to define user definitions, tailoring events to your business goals.

How Do I Migrate to GA4?

There are three ways to migrate to Google Analytics 4.

  1. Set up Analytics data tracking for the first time. For those new to Analytics and ready to start collecting data for your website and/or app.
  2. Add GA4 to your site with Universal Analytics. The GA4 Setup Admin will add Google Analytics 4 property along with the current Universal Analytics property. UA will continue to collect data until July 1, 2023.
  3. Add GA4 to a website builder platform or CRM (content management system). Do this if you use a CMS-hosted website, such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, Drupple, WooCommerce, Spotify, Hubspot, etc.

What Happens to My Historical Data?

As stated, beginning July 1, Universal Analytics will no longer collect new data. All new data will be collected in GA4. But you will be able to access historical data reports in your UA property until October 1, 2023.

It is highly recommended that you begin to export your historical data now to avoid lost data. After October 1st, all UA reports will be inactive. And you will only be able to access analytics in your GA4 property.  Access to your historical data allows you to set benchmarks for future growth, identify where content adjustments can be made, and achieve inbound marketing goals.

For those still using universal analytics for tracking purposes, only your property details are transferred to GA4. Any property configurations or customizations not transferred must be manually migrated to the new GA4 account. Another reason to begin GA4 migration from universal analytics now is to ensure your account is completely set up before the July 1st deadline.

In Conclusion: GA4 vs Universal Analytics

Google Analytics is a critical tool for most businesses to measure performance. The current universal analytics is going away. Seamlessly migrating and navigating the new GA4 is crucial to ensuring your website has the historical data you need to make meaningful data-driven marketing decisions moving forward. Working with New Path, we can help you navigate GA4 and make the most out of your data regarding marketing and advertising decisions for future business growth.

Blog Last Updated on 12 months by New Path Digital

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