What are the key differences between Universal Analytics & Google Analytics 4?

What are the key differences between Universal Analytics & Google Analytics 4?

View profile for Jamie Stevens
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Google will be officially retiring Universal Analytics at midnight tonight (30 June). If you are still using Universal Analytics and have not upgraded to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) yet, it is essential that you upgrade as soon as possible or use another analytics solution if you want to keep tracking information like the number of visitors to your website, how popular certain pages are, and how well your visitors are converting.

Below I have written some key differences between Universal Analytics & Google Analytics 4, so if you have not upgraded yet, or you are still new to using Google Analytics 4, you can understand a bit more about why it works the way it does:

Differences in how users are tracked

In Universal Analytics, tracking users was based on page views as Universal Analytics was built from the ground up for use on the web. However, in Google Analytics 4, everything is counted as an event. This is because Google Analytics 4 is based on a product called Firebase, that was original built for analytics on mobile apps, for which pageviews aren't really a thing.

Although Google Analytics 4 does track page views, they are treated as an event, just like an enquiry form submission, or someone clicking on a link. As the models for tracking users are so different, this means that historic data from Universal Analytics cannot be transferred into Google Analytics 4.

Differences in how conversions/goals work

Due to differences in how Universal Analytics & GA4 track events, any existing goals, events, or conversions that you are tracking will in most cases need to be set up again in a different way. If you use Google Tag Manager to send events to Google Analytics currently, this can be as simple as just setting up a new GA4 event with the same triggers as you used previously. However, some specialised software, such as call tracking and chat bots may require their code to be updated to work correctly with GA4.

Bounce Rate is Out and Engaged Sessions is in

Bounce rate is a metric that is often mentioned by marketers; however, it has never been a particularly useful metric as it only tracks whether someone leaves your site after looking at one page. If a user visits your site, reads the page and then decides to pick up the phone and call you, that would be counted as a bounce, even though it is a conversion! In GA4, there is a new and better metric called "Engaged Sessions". Google defines an engaged session as:

"An engaged session is a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews."

This will help to differentiate between users who leave a page immediately and users who actually engage with your content.

No separate "views"

In Universal Analytics, you were able to create separate "views" within Google Analytics to exclude certain types of traffic. For example, at Conscious, all of our Universal Analytics projects have a "Filtered View", which excludes traffic from our clients' offices, our office, and any other traffic that should be excluded.

We also have an "Unfiltered View", which shows all traffic. With GA4, this is no longer possible, and any filters must be applied to the whole Google Analytics 4 property.

Better integration with other Google services

GA4 works much better with other Google services than Universal Analytics, including Google Ads, where you can utilise data from GA4 to increase conversions and improve targeting. Google BigQuery, which is Google's data warehousing solution, could previously could only be used with Analytics 360, which was Google's enterprise analytics solution.

Automated tracking of certain user interactions

Under Universal Analytics, Google was only able to track page views by default and anything else that you wanted to track had to be done by either creating an event in Google Tag Manager or adding some additional code to your website. However, with GA4 some of these events are now tracked automatically. These events include:

- User scroll events

- Clicks

- Site search

- Video engagement

- File downloads

Preventing Spam Referrals

Spam referrals, where a spammer sends fake referral traffic to your Google Analytics to try a sell a service, were a huge problem on Universal Analytics, and filters had to be regularly updated to keep spammers from ruining your analytics data with fake traffic.

Google has solved this issue in GA4 by requiring that anything that sends data to your GA4 property must have a "secret key". If you want to track a conversion or event from external software in GA4, you may be asked for this secret key, so that the software can send events to your Google Analytics property.

These are just a few of the many changes in Google Analytics 4.

The upgrade process can be overwhelming, so if you need any help setting up Google Analytics 4 or advice on how to use it effectively, or if something in this blog post doesn’t make sense, please get in touch with us on 0117 325 0200 or sales@conscious.co.uk.

And we’ve covered how to access GA4 reports in this Conscious Conversation, which might be beneficial to your firm.