Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: A Beginners Guide

Scott Skerritt.

Scott Skerritt Head of Digital

July 25th, 2022

The world continues to change various industries, and technology is no different. We all now live in a time where digitisation is key to success and growth, and there continues to be regular updates that businesses (and even consumers) should be aware of.

As one of the largest and most successful companies in the world, Google is one business leading the way and implementing change before any other. One of which is introducing Google Analytics 4.

And, as Google has announced that the standard Universal Analytics (GA3) will be discontinued from 1st July 2023, it has left many marketers and businesses wondering what this means for them in terms of reporting and collating data.

Without switching to GA4, you will lose crucial year-on-year data and have no way of retrieving it, which is one of the many reasons switching is best.

Throughout this blog, you will find out everything you need to know about Google Analytics, what GA4 is and how it is different, as well as the differences between GA3 and GA4. We will also explain exactly why it is better to switch – sooner rather than later.

Here is our beginners guide to Google Analytics 4...

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is an online analytics service that provides businesses (and individuals) with statistics and tools to support search engine optimisation (SEO) and marketing.

The platform can track a variety of things, including the below;

  • Visitor and user insights

  • Website performance

  • Traffic

  • Success of marketing activities

  • Goal completions

  • Purchases

  • Patterns and trends

  • User engagement and behaviour

As well as this, Google Analytics is also used to track metrics, such as bounce rate, sessions, session duration, new sessions, and page views.

What is GA4 (Google Analytics) and how is it different?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is described as the next generation of Google Analytics, and the new GA4 property has been designed for the future of measurement.

It will prioritise privacy-first tracking, cross-channel measurement and artificial intelligence-based predictive data and its new main goal is to shift the way data is shown – with a predominant focus on the user journey.

As well as this, it will also;

  • Collect website and in-app data to help businesses better understand the customer journey

  • Use events, as opposed to session-based data

  • Include privacy controls, such as behavioural and conversion modelling, and cookie-less measurement

  • Direct integrations to media platforms to help drive actions

  • Use predictive methods to offer guidance without complex models

For businesses that aren’t able to understand their complete customer base due to users opting out of cookie usage and data collection, this is where GA4 comes in as it will simply fill in the gaps for them.

How to set up GA4

There are three different ways to use GA4, providing you have access as an editor or administrator.

  1. If you’re new to Google Analytics, simple set up data collection

  2. Add GA4 to a site with Universal Analytics

  3. Or, add Google Analytics 4 to a website builder or content management system

The new and improved Google Analytics 4 comes with a variety of features that will allow its users to do the following;

  • Create predictive analytics, such as predictive audiences that can be used as comparative segments

  • Create custom reports, allowing users and businesses to add their own unique information and data

  • Create and track up to 300 events – per property!

  • Create and track (and delete) up to 30 conversions

  • Customise automated tables in any reports – and save them!

  • Utilise anomaly detection to see what was going to happen to the website, but didn’t

  • Use and create segments without having to save them via the comparisons tool

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

For now, Universal Analytics – also known as GA3 - and Google Analytics 4 are both analytical tools on offer by Google, however this will come to an end on 1st July 2023 when GA3 is discontinued.

Universal Analytics is based on page views and sessions, whereas GA4 uses an entirely different model that focuses on events and parameters. So, while they have the capability to collect, process and report the same data, they do so in a very different manner.

Here are just a few changes you can expect to see when switching from GA3 to GA4.

  1. Reports

The way in which you report will look entirely different. Some of the features you are used to seeing in GA3 may have been replaced or removed entirely in GA4 – along with some new additions.

  1. Tracking

Tracking is another change that users can expect to see in Google Analytics 4. In GA3, tracking is set up via GTM using the tracking ID, whereas now, in GA4, users can still set up any type of tracking via GTM, however, it is now done using ‘measurement ID’.

  1. Measurements

As previously mentioned, the way in which GA4 measures activity is significantly different. Universal Analytics currently uses a measurement model that is based entirely on sessions and pageviews, whereas the new GA4 is based on events and parameters.

As part of GA4, even the likes of a ‘pageview’ will now be considered an event, as is every tracked activity. This will allow for further detail and information to be provided in comparison to before.

  1. Debugging

Currently, debugging isn’t something that can be done via GA3, however, with GA4, the platform now provides a DebugView report. This allows users to validate analytics configuration from within the reporting interface.

  1. Engagement Metrics and Custom Metrics

While engagement metrics have always been provided via GA3, GA4 provides a brand-new set of engagement metrics that are far more accurate.

Whilst GA3 previously used the likes of pageviews and bounce rate, GA4 engagement metrics consist of engaged sessions, engagement rate, engaged sessions per user and average engagement time.

GA4 will not include any metrics in regard to bounce rate, nor will it be possible to change the scope of a custom metric.

Benefits of Google Analytics 4

GA4 comes with a plethora of benefits for businesses and if you’re a business that isn’t yet utilising the platform – then we advise that you start, now.

Benefits of GA4 include;

  • An improved and more visible user journey

  • An enhanced focus on user engagement via analysis tools

  • More powerful measurements, which mean more powerful audiences

  • Better user privacy and tracking features

  • A simplified and streamlined ‘goals’ and ‘events’ setup

  • An improved reporting function

Should I switch to Google Analytics 4?

Whilst Universal Analytics (GA3) can still be used, it will be redundant come July next year and so, with that in mind, we advise getting a head start and starting using GA4 now so that it can begin collecting that all important data.

The new and improved features make Google Analytics 4 the perfect tool for businesses looking to up their game and enhance their business’s performance.

Don’t leave it too late to switch, as you will miss out on important historical comparative data!

Frequently Asked Questions

There we have it – Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics and why switching is best. For more information on Google Analytics 4 and how it can help your business, our SEO audit services can drive your tangible business outcomes. Contact our team today!


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