Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: 4 Main Differences

Author's avatar Analytics UPDATED Nov 3, 2022 PUBLISHED May 26, 2021 7 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    By now, you have probably heard that Google Analytics is not just a simple upgrade to Universal Analytics, but almost an entirely new product.

    But what does that mean exactly? What are some new features that GA4 offers that make it different from Universal Analytics? And why are some marketers so excited to make the switch?

    Google Analytics is a tool that is used by almost 30 million websites in an effort to understand user behavior and create optimal user experience. So, it’s no surprise marketers and website owners had a lot of questions when Google announced the switch to GA4.

    Wondering how GA4 vs. Universal Analytics compare? Keep reading.


    Now, for the details:

    GA4 and Universal Analytics are based on different models

    Google Analytics 4 is centered around an event-based model, whereas, Universal Analytics stands on a session-based data model. As we mentioned in the beginning, GA4 is not an upgrade to Universal Analytics. but actually a different version of GA that works on event-driven-based models.

    In addition to the measurement model, there’s also a difference in tracking IDs. Unlike being based on sessions and pageviews, GA4 has an event-based measurement model that sees metrics like pageviews as events that trigger data tracking.

    Different’s Richard Garvey explains this further. “Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 creates a single user journey from all the data that is associated with the same user ID. GA4 allows Google to track how a given user actually interacts with your website, providing you with a lot of valuable information for optimizing your website.”

    Due to this difference in the way events are defined, reports in GA4 vs. Universal Analytics are also different as Logan Mallory from Motivosity points out.

    “Universal Analytics uses the Event Category, Action and Label structure while events in GA4 start with an event_name while other parameters provide more description about the event,” Mallory elaborates.

    “Reports also look different in GA4 and we had to tinker around a bit to explore all the templates available and figure out how to build a custom report that is closer to what we’re used to.”

    GA4 is more beginner-friendly than Universal Analytics

    This is mainly due to the models the two web analytics versions use. Commenting on GA4 vs. Universal Analytics, Andrew Raso from Online Marketing Gurus notes, “UA is built upon the old belief that page views are the most important thing to track above all, hence if you want to look at other metrics, you need to have a somehow advanced skill to make it track other more specific things.”

    “On the other hand, GA4 is built around the concept that page views alone do not necessarily reflect enough analytical data,” Raso carries on. “This is why tracking events like button clicks and video plays are already built-in here, no need for extra settings. Because of this, GA4 is a more beginner-friendly tool thanks to its less intimidating moving parts.”

    GA4 offers more cross-device reporting, which is limited in UA

    Next up, there’s also difference in reporting across devices. And why, you ask? It’s because of the difference in the way these platforms record user interactions.

    Phil Strazzulla from Select Software Reviews expands on this. We already know that “Google Analytics 4, to stay ahead of web privacy trends, will start using event-based tracking to record user interactions. Events are defined as any user interaction on a site, including page views, transactions, and social interactions,” in Strazzulla’s words.

    On the flip side, Strazzulla shares, “Universal Analytics uses session-based tracking, which records and groups user interactions based within a given time frame.”

    Due to this difference in the way event-based and session-based recording unfolds, one platforms offers cross-device reporting, but other doesn’t.

    Related: The 22 Most Useful Google Analytics Reports in 2021

    As Strazzulla puts it, “the benefit of these event-based recordings is that it allows for cross-device reporting. Universal Analytics had limited support for cross-device reporting and usually required roll-up reporting to support it.” But the new Google Analytics 4 model solves this. This cross-platform and cross-device reporting will help you get a better grip on customer behavior across websites.

    Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 offers predictive audiences and metrics

    Another significant difference between the two platforms is in the machine learning that Google Analytics 4 leverages.

    “The ‘predictive metrics’ feature uses machine learning to model future transactions and revenue,” highlights Huan’s Gilad Rom. “Predictive audiences enables advertisers to target ads to visitors that are more likely to purchase within the next 7 days.”

    So how can machine learning you? Here’s how Rom’s team is benefiting from the features: “We are using GA4’s predictive analytics to identify and understand the user base that is most interested in purchasing our products. We have added our GA4 predictive audience list into Google Ads to boost our engagement.”

    Gentle Dog Trainers’ Emily Matthews adds to this: “the new ‘predictive metrics’ feature will likely be more accurate in coming up with trends and future analyzes. You won’t even need to worry about privacy issues in the future. It can use accurate modeling, powered by AI, to paint a picture of visitor behaviors by filling in gaps where user data is not available. In my opinion, its AI will definitely stand out and control the market for years to come.”


    In short, GA4 vs. Universal Analytics differ in terms of their working model with one tracking events and another tracking sessions, respectively. Consequently, GA4 gives you more customer-centric insights – allowing you to trace steps customers take across your site to accomplish a task. And, in case, you miss a detail or two, AI fills in the gaps in the customer journey.

    Wondering what else can you do to track the entire user journey from the first visit to final conversion? Create an entire lifecycle report in Databox by combining your Google Analytics 4 data with data from other data sources you’re using in one place.

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    Masooma Memon

    Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.

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