What’s the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?

With Google’s Univeral Analytics going away starting July 1st, 2023, lots of folks have been asking what is the big difference between the old Google Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4.  So… We asked AI to tell us and I think it did a pretty good job.  So without further ado, here’s what we learned from AI:

The main difference between Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics lies in their underlying data models and tracking mechanisms.

Here are the key distinctions between the two Analytics:

Data Model:

  • Universal Analytics: It uses a session-based model, where data is organized into hits, sessions, and users. Hits represent individual interactions (pageviews, events, transactions), sessions group hits together within a specific timeframe, and users are identified by unique IDs.
  •  GA4: It employs an event-based model, focusing on individual events and their parameters. Events are central to GA4 and can represent various user interactions, such as pageviews, clicks, video plays, and in-app actions. GA4 also introduces the concept of user properties, allowing for additional user attributes.

Tracking Code:

  • Universal Analytics (Old): It relies on the traditional analytics.js library and uses JavaScript-based tracking code on web pages. Customization and configuration are primarily done through modifying the tracking code or using Google Tag Manager.
  • GA4: It utilizes a new global site tag (gtag.js) that offers simplified implementation across multiple platforms, including web, mobile apps, and other devices. The gtag.js library combines multiple Google products, including Google Analytics, into a single tracking code.

Data Collection:

  • Universal Analytics: It primarily tracks client-side interactions, such as pageviews and events, using cookies and JavaScript. Custom dimensions and metrics can be set up to capture additional data.
  • GA4: It aims to provide more comprehensive data collection by incorporating both client-side and server-side tracking. Server-side tracking allows sending events from the server, enabling measurement of actions that occur outside the user’s device.

Reporting and Analysis:

  • Universal Analytics: It offers a wide range of reports and features tailored to the session-based data model. The reporting interface includes standard reports like Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion reports, along with customizable dashboards.
  • GA4: It introduces a more unified and cross-device view of user behavior, allowing for enhanced analysis and measurement. The reporting interface focuses on the exploration of events, providing a flexible and customizable analysis experience. AI-powered insights and predictive metrics are also emphasized in GA4.

It’s important to note that GA4 is the future of Google Analytics and represents a more advanced and flexible platform compared to Universal Analytics. However, since GA4 is relatively new, some features and capabilities of Universal Analytics are not yet available in GA4. It’s recommended to consult the official Google Analytics documentation for the most up-to-date information on both versions. If you haven’t already updated to GA4, you need to do it now to continue receiving data in Analytics about your website. If you need help, DigitalHipster can help. We specialize in digital marketing, SEO and web design.

About Matt Ross

Matt Ross is the President and Founder of DigitalHipster Inc. est. 2009.  Matt and his Wife Wendy have two adult sons. He's a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Alumni, a member of The Society of Martin Scholars at The University of Akron, and an active member in a few book clubs. When he's not deep in code and cranking music, or trying to keep up with the latest Google Algorithm, Matt is gardening, mountain biking, off-roading in his Jeep, writing for fun or being a guinea pig for his wife's yoga instruction. He lives and works in Highland Square Akron, Ohio. For the 15 years prior to launching DigitalHipster Inc.  Matt worked as a Senior Advertising Account Executive and Integrated Sales Director for major television stations and newspapers in the Akron, Cleveland, Phoenix and Las Vegas markets. He has successfully planned, sold and executed millions of dollars in innovative multi-platform advertising campaigns consisting of television commercials, web video, content integration, multi-carrier mobile WAP sites, print ads, and radio. Matt says, "During my years working in broadcast and print media, I learned how to gather real-time advertising response rates and develop cost-effect creative that works for my clients.  By working for over a decade on the sales side with millions of dollars of advertising revenue, I learned how to spot bargains for my clients and see what worked and what didn't. We're not just a team of graphic designers, or artists that take chances with your ad budget. We have real advertising experience across all the major advertising channels."