Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 (GA4): What is the difference and how to set it up?

With more and more businesses realizing the importance of digital presence, the competition is becoming heavy in the digital space. Businesses are under pressure to make even a single penny they’ve invested in marketing count and Google Analytics is a tool that greatly helps in this issue. Millions of businesses across the globe rely on Google Analytics to understand customer preferences, improve customer experience, and improve business performance. In mid-October 2020, Google officially rolled out Google Analytics 4 (GA4) (Formerly known as App + Web), the latest version of the Google Analytics platform. GA4 has been in beta for over a year and it has now replaced the older version, Universal Analytics. 

So, what are the key differences between universal analytics and Google Analytics? How to set GA4? Let’s dive deep into Universal Analytics Vs Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is Google’s famous data collection and web traffic analysis software. It is a reporting tool widely used by millions of businesses and websites to track user interaction across web domains, mobile apps, and offline APIs. Most businesses use Google Analytics to track the amount of web traffic they get, monitor important marketing channels, and to measure their main KPIs. The latest version of Google Analytics is Google Analytics 4 that is very different from the traditional Universal Analytics.

What is a ‘property’ in Google Analytics?

‘Property’ is an important term you need to know when you’re working with Google Analytics. According to Google, a ‘property’ is where your company’s online data goes to get processed by Google Analytics. Your Google Analytics ‘Property’ sits within your Google Analytics Account. Before GA4, for your app and website, you would have a single account and two distinct properties- one for the app and one for the website. One distinct feature of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is that a single property contains data for both app and web. With Universal Analytics, each property may contain multiple views that allow for data filtering and configurations. GA4 doesn’t have this functionality.

Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 (GA4):

Interface Design

The biggest difference between Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4 is the user-interface. Unlike in the older version, many reports are only generated when you start tracking events. The Universal Analytics features three tiers of data organization (Account>Property>View) whereas, in the new GA4, there are only two tiers (Account and Property). 

Hit Types

Google Analytics 4 measurement is event-based. All the interaction types in Google Analytics are events. But there are different types of activities in Universal Analytics such as page views and events (automatically collected events, enhanced measurement events, recommended events, and custom events).

Event tracking

 A UA event has a category, Action, and Label and is its own hit type. GA4 events have no notion of category, action, and Label. Since every “hit” is an event, there is no distinction between hit types.

Meaning of Sessions

In UA, a session can comprise multiple page views, events, social interactions, and eCommerce transactions. Here, sessions usually end if there is a 30-minute period of inactivity or if another qualifying reset has occurred. In GA4 session metrics are derived from an event called ‘session_start’. The duration of a session is based on the time span between the first and last event in the session.

5. Content grouping: Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Content grouping in Universal analytics lets you group content into a logical structure and then view and compare metrics by the group name. But in the latest version, GA4, content grouping does not exist. 

Additional benefits of Google Analytics 4:

  • With GA4, you can measure, unify, and de-duplicate user interaction data. This helps you understand the user journey.
  • Powered by an advanced machine learning algorithm, GA4 reveals intelligent business insights that help us take meaningful business decisions.
  • GA4 gives you powerful user-centric metrics and dimensions that use AI to predict customer actions and value. It helps to more effectively take action on your data to achieve goals.
  • Google Analytics 4 gives web and app owners and their users more precise control over what personal data is collected. 

How to set up Google Analytics 4?

Here is how you can get started with setting up a property alongside your existing Universal Analytics.

  • Sign in to your Analytics account with your website’s existing property. 
  • Navigate to the Admin section.
  • Go to the Account column and select the desired account in which you want to create the property.
  • In the Property column, select a Universal Analytics property for your site.
  • Select “Upgrade to GA4” and follow the prompts.
  • In case if this option is not available, select “Create a property” and then follow the steps to create a new “Web + App” property. This will lead to a new GA4 property.

So, should you discontinue the use of Universal Analytics? The answer is not yet. There aren’t clear guidelines from Google on this. Even though GA4 is now the default version for all newly created properties in Google Analytics, there would be no issue for already existing properties. Most digital marketers plan to still use Universal Analytics as the primary measurement standard until they completely learn how to implement and use GA4. So, once you get a hold of the new GA4, you can set up GA4 measurement to gain a better understanding of users across your website and app experiences, and for the new reporting experience.