Google Analytics 4 Vs Universal Analytics – Should you switch over?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is very different to the previous version of Google Analytics (GA) also known as Universal Analytics (UA) and has a completely different User Interface (UI).

GA4 does not support third party APIs yet and lacks full eCommerce reporting. So it won’t be ready to replace UA until the end of 2021 at least. 

However it does have some great features like AI powered insights and improved real time reporting. So for this reason we recommend setting up GA4 alongside your existing version of GA. To start collecting data from both, in parallel.

This gives you chance to learn GA4 and work out whether you will be able to integrate your systems into the new data model. It will also give you time to gather the same data you are currently reporting on in UA, allowing you to compare data from GA4 to historic data from UA when you are ready.

GA4 does not collect data retroactively. The data is only collected from the date you install the tracking code (or connect your web property to GA4.) So it’s worth connecting now.

Web analytics data

What is Google Analytics 4?

GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics. The 4th version. The previous version was Google Analytics 3 which is also referred to as Universal Analytics. 

Each version of Google Analytics requires different tracking code. So you will need to add the new tracking code to your website in order to start using the new version of GA.

  • GA3 (aka Universal Analytics) uses the universal analytics tag (analytics.js)
  • GA4 uses the new global site tag (gtag.js)

There is nothing to stop you having both installed. In fact, this is what we recommend doing. You just need to add the additional tracking code to your website.

What is the difference between UA and GA4?

The biggest advantage of GA4 is that it tracks both website and mobile app usage. UA only tracks website data, so up until now you’d need to use Google Analytics for Firebase as well as UA.

GA4 combines web  and mobile app data in unified report, allowing anyone with both a website and a mobile app to monitor the customer journey across both platforms.

The GA4 interface looks completely different to UA. It has different sets of reports and a whole new learning curve.

UA is based on sessions and page view measurement, whereas the new GA4 is based on ‘event’ tracking. Examples of events would be watching a video, visiting a page or scrolling down the page. 

Google Universal Analytics home screen view
Universal Analytics interface

In Universal Analytics the reports are accessed via the following four main categories:

  • Acquisition
  • Audience
  • Behaviour
  • Conversions

Whereas the new Google Analytics 4 property is divided up into the different stages of the sales funnel, as follows:

  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Monetisation
  • Retention

So the structure of the reporting is very different, meaning it’s not as simple as switching from one to the other immediately if you’re looking to make comparisons between current and historic data.

Google Analytics 4 Versus Universal Analytics

Why use GA4 at all?

Google is likely to discontinue UA at some point, so for this reason it’s worth learning and collecting data via GA4, as soon as possible, even if you continue to use UA for your reporting.

GA4 does have some powerful new features:

  • New identity methods
  • Improved real time reporting
  • Filters and property settings can be applied retroactively (though not before the date the tracking code was installed)
  • Ability to create segments based on events
  • Easier set up of goals to track KPIs
  • AI powered insights and predictions

Our Verdict

GA4 is a very different beast to UA. The UI, reporting structure and terminology have changed, so there’s a lot to learn.

Given GA4 is not yet fully developed and lacks 3rd party integration,  it’s unlikely to meet the requirements of most businesses yet.

However, due to it’s unified web and app reporting and some other powerful features, along with the likelihood that UA will be phased out eventually, we have set up GA4 alongside our existing UA reporting and will run both in parallel until GA4 has everything we need.  In fact Google recommend running both together for the time being.

So we recommend the same for our clients.

Need help with Google Analytics?

If you’re struggling to set up Google Analytics or analyse data for your website and need help, please get in touch.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.