Google Analytics 4

Get More from Your GA Reports: Google Analytics 4 versus Universal Analytics

Table of Contents

Universal Analytics, as the new version of Google Analytics, entered the market in 2012. The main advantages compared to the previous version were:

  • more control over the Google Analytics settings,
  • timeouts for each session and campaign,
  • the ability to exclude referrals or search terms, and
  • custom dimensions and metrics.

But technology is advancing fast, including Google Analytics. The new version is known as Google Analytics 4 (or Google Analytics App+Web). However, it’s important to note that Google Analytics 4 is not entirely replacing Universal Analytics. Collecting the data from both analytical tools will give a more comprehensive picture of interactions with your website and your app. 

Now let’s zoom in to this latest Google Analytics version and find out how capable it is to provide marketing insights and whether it’s still worth keeping the previous version.

Meet Google Analytics 4: What’s New?

Comparing to Universal Analytics, there are some major enhancements: 

  1. More machine learning. With no more third-party cookies, analytics tools will need to rely more and more on machine learning modeling to cover the data gaps and attribute the data correctly. Thankfully, the ML-based insights were launched a while ago, so we’ve had a considerable learning period to hope for a smooth and accurate enough performance of automated insights, predictions, and smart attribution. 
  2. With new event measurement, you will see more details of the user journey on your website. The data is event-driven. And the data streaming service lets the same metrics and dimensions show both the web and the app data. So you track the path of your visitor more accurately. 
  3. No code. Yay! The no code trend has come to Google Analytics 4 as well. No more adding pieces of code or additions setups in GTM before you can start tracking on-site and in-app actions.
  4. The new ‘Lifecycle’ section enables attention to new engagements. And retention overview helps analyze the website’s or app’s ability to retain visitors. ‘Lifecycle’ section divides the analysis and enables creating reports on Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. You also get access to predictive metrics.
  5. Enhanced ad campaigns. With Google Analytics 4 audience builder, you will be able to set the campaign audiences’ parameters more precisely. As a result, the ad becomes more efficient, and the purchase conversion impressively grows. For example, the repetition of advertisements after purchasing the product is one of the typical ad issues. When you use the new Google analytics features correctly, you’ll avoid it and other targeting mistakes. As a result, the marketing campaigns will work for both the income and the brand reputation.
  6. And while we’re on the topic of Audiences: they’re getting better integrated with Google Ads. As a result, we’re getting enhanced cross-channel synchronization, with the audience lists updates based on user actions across both web & app. 
  7. User privacy and data controls with more intelligent tracking tools. The opportunity to exclude specific properties from ad personalization makes data collection a more transparent process for both users and programmers. The users are more likely to stay on the website they trust. A more intuitive system of control over the data collected makes your online resources more reliable for all types of users. With fewer cookies, the visitor’s concerns will decrease, leaving more space for interactions with your brand. And the last but not least: that’s a great option facilitating compliance with GDPR and other related private data protection regulations.
  8. Future updates. The new analytics updates and features will be focused on Google Analytics 4, so this is the version where you’ll get all the improvements, new tools, and first access to new releases. 

It also becomes easier to track and optimize ROI with advanced analytical tools.

Comparing Google Analytics 4 to Universal Analytics

In terms of their settings, there are some differences between Google Universal Analytics and the latest Google Analytics 4. Let’s look at the interface and describe each of them.

Sessions.

In Universal Analytics, a session starts with entering the site and ends in 30 minutes of inactivity or with another action qualified as reset. The session includes multiple page views, interaction, and commercial transactions. Meanwhile, in Google Analytics 4, sessions are automatically connected with the first and the last event, where events are the user’s actions.

The main difference here is automatic data collection in Google Analytics 4 and manual data collection in Universal Analytics. So, Google Analytics 4 is a better tool for collecting information about active users. For example, when a user downloads an app, Google Analytics 4 will recognize him as an “active user,” while Universal Analytics won’t do it automatically. Another difference in terms of sessions is the connection to Campaigns. In Universal Analytics, the new session starts a Campaign, while in Google Analytics 4, there is no such connection.

Custom Dimensions and Custom Metrics

In Universal Analytics, custom dimensions/metrics’ purpose is to collect data. In Google Analytics 4, events or event parameters take over this function. There is a guide to mapping custom dimensions and metrics to events and event parameters that correctly jump to the new version.

Differences in Content Grouping.  

You were creating a logical structure of the content with Content Grouping in Universal Analytics. Then, you compared metrics by the group names. In Google Analytics 4, there is a parameter for a group of content. It is a “content group” in gtag.js or “Content Group” in Google Tag Manager. This parameter is predefined in the new version of Google Analytics.

User ID remains the User ID in Google Analytics 4 property, but the new version is cross-platform. So, it unites the data about the users, including visiting the site from different devices. Now the individual’s interactions are gathered into a single user journey. And the reporting includes User ID natively from all the kinds of analysis and insights. So, Google Analytics 4 doesn’t require a separate view for reporting User IDs.

Parameters are a feature of Google Analytics 4. They specify the actions or the context of the event.

Google Analytics 4 Properties are User Properties that specify the features of your site’s visitors. The Analytics collects some of the user properties automatically.  

Report Data.

As Universal Analytics keeps working at your online resources while it’s kept in the gtag.js or GoogleTag Manager, reporting from both versions may intersect. To have the correct results, please make sure that:

  • you’re collecting data from the same web pages (Tracking ID in Universal Analytics and Measurement ID in Google Analytics 4),
  • the tag implementations are equivalent,
  • your tags are working correctly (GoogleTag Assistant will help you to verify this),
  • the time zone is the same for Google Analytics 4 and the previous Analytics version,
  • at the time of reporting, both kinds of Google Analytics collect the data for at least 30 minutes, enabling comparing the data in Real-time reports.

Google Analytics 4 in Action

The analytical tool can function separately. But in an effective software ecosystem, its value grows dramatically.

SemRush connected GoogleAnalytics and Google Searching Console to its Organic Traffic Insights tool and got a comprehensive dashboard for Search Engine Optimization:

“With Google Analytics alone, you would see “(not provided)” in the column about the keywords that are driving organic traffic to your pages.

But, when you connect Google Search Console to this tool, Semrush can cross-reference the pages and keywords from GSC and tell you which search queries that your top pages rank for.”

HubSpot recommends connecting Google Analytics to the websites for collecting data about all the visitors. Their guide has an important note considering GoogleAnalytics 4 version:

“If you are using a Measurement ID instead of a Tracking ID, you will need to add the Google Analytics tracking code directly to the header HTML for your domains.”

And this is how Ken Williams, “Search Diversity”, describes the need for implementing the new version of Google Analytics:

“Google Analytics 4 is completely different from the Google Analytics we know and love.  Data is collected differently, it is stored and filtered differently, and even the way we create reports has changed. Familiarizing yourself with GA4 can be overwhelming, but the time has come to start learning.”

Universal Analytics Isn’t Saying Goodbye.

Despite all the apparent improvements and a brand new way of collecting data, Google Analytics 4 should not be an either/or solution forcing you to drop Universal Analytics. At least for 2021, we recommend dual tagging across the websites. This way, you will combine the unified data model with cross-device user identification and get more value from your analytics reports.