Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be replacing Universal Analytics on the 1st of July 2023. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend getting started with GA4 as soon as possible so you can start collecting historical data and familiarise yourself with the new platform. If you aren’t sure what GA4 is, and how and why you need to upgrade, you can read our guide here.
So what is the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics? Below, we will identify the main changes between the two Google Analytics platforms, and why it is important to be aware of them.
GA4 has simplified its reporting. There are fewer, predefined reports to help you analyse data.
The lifestyle collection is broken down into 4 categories – acquisition, engagement, monetisation and retention. This allows you to see user activity during each stage of the customer user journey.
The user collection is broken down into two categories – Demographics and tech. These collections allow you to understand the people and the way they are using your website. For example, you can see their age, interests, device, operating system and browsers etc.
GA4 continues to collect real-time data, however, the reports show users in the last 30 minutes, while Universal Analytics collects data on users in the last 5 minutes.
Universal Analytics collects data based on page views and sessions. However, GA4’s measurement model is based on events and parameters. Any interaction tracked by a user will now be captured as an event such as any page views or clicks.
Sessions are a key metric in Universal Analytics that start when a user first lands on your website and when a user lands on your site from a new source mid-session.
Session endings remain the same in GA4, where they end after 30 minutes of user inactivity.
Average pages per session are no longer tracked by default.
GA4 has introduced a new metric called engagement rate. This is the percentage of users engaging with your website and doing something meaningful.
Google states that: “An engaged session is a session that lasts 10 seconds or longer, has 1 or more conversion events, or has 2 or more page or screen views.”
The way bounce rate is measured has changed in Google Analytics 4. A bounce rate in GA4 is the percentage of sessions that were not engaged. Therefore, the engagement rate is the opposite of the bounce rate and provides a more effective way of measuring the rate at which customers engage with your site.
Universal analytics measured bounce rate as the percentage of users who viewed only one page and then left. This does not consider any timescales, so a user could have spent a lot of time reading a blog post for example and then clicked off after reading it, which would be considered a bounce. However, they were engaging with the content and could have spent 10 minutes on your page.
Bounce rate data is no longer available by default in GA4 reports, but you can add it by customising your reports.
IP addresses are automatically anonymised compared to UA where you needed to configure analytics to anonymise IP addresses.
Universal Analytics tracks web and app data in separate mobile-specific properties, whereas GA4 combines both web and app data in the same property. Therefore, when collecting app data, you will need to consider this when analysing your data.
Universal analytics measures two user metrics, total users and new users. However, Google Analytics 4, has introduced a new metric, active users as well as total users and new users. An active user is any user who has an ‘engaged session’, which is defined as a session that is 10 seconds or more or involves more than one-page view or conversion, as stated by Google.
Generally, there should be little change in data for pageviews in Google Analytics 4 but this can differ depending on any filters you may have set up.
Unique pageviews have been removed completely from GA4, therefore you will not be able to see the number of page views that are from the same person, in the same session.
Google Analytics 4 has a very different data structure and collection compared to Universal Analytics, where it collects event-based data instead of session-based data.
It allows businesses to analyse user journeys across both websites and apps.