Chapter 2: Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: 10 Key Differences

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics—it's no longer a question of "why" or "which," but "when." 

Google will officially phase out Universal Analytics in July 2023. With Google Analytics 4 just around the corner, website owners need to prepare for future changes. 

This chapter highlights the key differences and similarities between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics

Table of Contents

  • Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics: An overview
  • The evolution of Google Analytics 4
  • Top 10 differences between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
  • What remains the same with Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
  • What to consider when switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4
  • Visualize Google Analytics 4 data with Polymer
  • People Also Ask
  • Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: Which Analytics Tool Wins?

Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics: An overview

Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of the go-to website analytics software on the internet. It future-proofs your web analytics system with "cookie-less tracking," true multi-platform support, modern data visualizations, and a ton of front-end improvements for a better user experience. 

Google Analytics 4 is set to fully release in July 2023. In the meantime, businesses, marketers, and individual website owners can stick with Google Analytics 3—AKA Universal Analytics. 

In recent years, Universal Analytics is regarded as the gold standard in website analytics. It defined behavior analytics, enabled multi-device tracking, and enhanced the platform's overall usability.  

The evolution of Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 is the product of nearly 18 years of continuous improvements. 

Here's a review of the evolution of Google Analytics: 

  • 2005: The first version of Google Analytics was released after Google's acquisition of the web statistics software "Urchin." 
  • 2007-2009: Classic Google Analytics (Google Analytics 2) was released, followed by the use of synchronous and asynchronous code in 2009. 
  • 2014: Google Analytics 3, or Universal Analytics, came out of beta and introduced behavior tracking and better usability. 
  • 2020: After six years of Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 was introduced with a focus on event-based tracking and the consolidation of mobile app and website analytics. 

Must-read: Google Analytics 4: A Complete Guide

Top 10 differences between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

In July 2023, Universal Analytics will stop processing data to usher in the rollout of Google Analytics 4. 

Below are the changes users should expect when their Universal Analytics properties are automatically switched to Google Analytics 4: 

1. Data collection method

Understanding Google Analytics 4 metrics and dimensions is a major roadblock to Google Analytics 4 adoption. Unlike Universal Analytics which can only collect data using "hits" (page hits, user timing hits, etc.), Google Analytics 4 tracks everything as events, including user interactions and conversion goals. 

2. Different metrics

The departure from the hit-based data measurement model means some metrics need to be rebuilt or renamed in Google Analytics 4. "Pageview" and "Unique Pageview," for example, are combined into a single Google Analytics 4 metric called "Views" (one of the automatically-collected events).

3. User privacy

Google Analytics 4 puts an end to IP address collection and storage. You no longer have to manually anonymize user IP addresses like in Universal Analytics since the information isn't collected in the first place. 

4. Reporting interface

Google Analytics 4 introduces an overhaul of the dashboard's reporting interface. The navigation menu is also simplified and more organized as related data sets are consolidated into "Life cycle" report pages. 

5. Custom dimensions and metrics

Both Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics let you create custom dimensions and metrics. But in Google Analytics, you have the option to archive unused custom dimensions and metrics, whereas you can only disable them with Universal Analytics.  

6. New functionalities

Universal Analytics won't receive updated tools, including X advanced Google Analytics 4 features that bolster the platform's capabilities. This includes Explorations, the Advertising workspace, and enhanced measurement events. 

7. Report templates

Google Analytics 4 reporting templates will differ slightly from Universal Analytics templates to accommodate new data collection features. Create custom reports with templates to speed up the initial configuration process and simplify data analysis.

8. Multi-device analytics

With Google Analytics 4, you don't need Firebase or similar tools to track mobile apps. Mobile app data and website data for the same property are automatically combined from the start—as long as the correct data streams are used.

9. Machine Learning (ML) capabilities

Google Analytics 4 can leverage ML technology to forecast predictive metrics, like purchase probability and predicted revenue. ML is also used to analyze user behavior patterns to create "predictive audiences," like users who are most likely to convert.

10. Session IDs

Universal Analytics tracks sessions by measuring the elapsed time from the user's initial engagement to session-ending conditions, like 30 minutes of inactivity, browsing past midnight, or triggered parameters from other campaigns. With Google Analytics 4, sessions will no longer end past midnight or whenever new campaign parameters are met (sessions still end after 30 minutes of inactivity). 

Must-read: Google Analytics 4: Event Tracking Ultimate Guide

What remains the same with Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

While Google Analytics 4 introduces a world of changes, a few things remained the same:

  • Your Google Analytics property access: Setting up a Google Analytics 4 property (without UA) will not delete your Universal Analytics property. Both your Universal Analytics property and Google Analytics 4 property will remain accessible from the same account. 
  • Free version: Similar to Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 and its core features are also free to use. Small businesses and individual site owners can still leverage the next generation of website analytics to sharpen their decision-making.
  • Similar interface design: Despite the new navigation systems and reports, the dashboard layout of Google Analytics 4 remains similar to that of Universal Analytics. New features like using Google Analytics 4 reports and Analysis Hub adds to the learning curve, but it should be an overall smooth experience.

Must-read: How to Set Up Google Analytics 4: eCommerce Tracking

What to consider when switching from Google Analytics 4 to Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4 is superior to Universal Analytics across the board. However, you need to consider a few things before switching.

First, any third-party integrations and add-ons you have with Universal Analytics may cease to work. 

For example, if you use an external Business Intelligence (BI) tool to process data from Universal Analytics, check if it supports Google Analytics 4 first. Otherwise, back up your data and import it to your new Google Analytics 4 property. 

Your dashboard configurations, fine-tuned property settings, and report templates may also stop working with Google Analytics 4. As such, it's important to learn how to implement these tweaks on your Google Analytics 4 property beforehand.

Must-read: How to upgrade to Google Analytics 4 (From UA)

Visualize Google Analytics 4 data with Polymer

Good news—Google Analytics 4 seamlessly integrates with Polymer, just like Universal Analytics. 

Polymer is a cutting-edge Business Intelligence platform that will help consolidate your data, manage dashboards, and generate visualizations without spending hours on learning resources. 

Here's a quick overview of Polymer's features:

  • Drag-and-drop dashboard components: Add pivot tables, highlight outliers, and generate scatter plots—Polymer provides drag-and-drop blocks that let you construct interactive data dashboards in a matter of minutes. 
  • AI-based suggestions: Polymer automatically analyzes your datasets and recommends the best visualizations with the right configurations to communicate your data. 
  • Integrations: Polymer's rapidly expanding list of integrations lets you connect with a range of software, like Google Sheets, Google Analytics 4, Airtable, Facebook, and Stripe. 

Must-read: Google Analytics 4 for SaaS/Product: Complete Guide

People Also Ask

1. Is Google Analytics 4 better than Universal Analytics?

Yes, Google Analytics 4 is better than Universal Analytics in almost all aspects, be it from a reporting or data collection standpoint. Google Analytics 4 is very easy to use and comes with more features and back-end improvements that help you organize and manage your website data efficiently.

2. Is Google Analytics 4 replacing Universal Analytics?

Yes, Google Analytics 4 will replace Universal Analytics in July 2023. Google announced that Universal Analytics properties would stop processing data by the deadline. 

3. Which version of Google Analytics is best?

Google Analytics 4 is, by far, the best version of Google Analytics. It successfully utilizes machine learning and event-based tracking to enable deeper, more actionable traffic analysis—across multiple platforms.

4. Can you migrate data from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4? 

No, you can't migrate data from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, but you can migrate your custom events and goals via the GA4 Setup Assistant. Universal Analytics' historical data isn't compatible with Google Analytics 4's new data measurement model. 

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: Which Analytics Tool Wins?

Google Analytics 4 is clearly superior to Unversal Analytics. 

The reliability of event-based data, paired with the usability and reporting capabilities of Google Analytics 4, make it the obvious choice if you want to prepare for the next stage of website analytics. 

Google Analytics 4 is also fully supported by Polymer, the best data management and BI solutions in the market.

Create a free Polymer trial account today and explore your data at unprecedented depths.

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