What are the Differences Between UA vs. GA4

Yvonne Wu |
 March 07, 2023

If you're currently using Universal Analytics (UA) to track your website or app traffic, it's important to know that Google will be sunsetting UA in July 2023. That means it's time to start thinking about migrating to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) if you haven't already!

But what's the difference between GA4 and UA? Let's break it down together.

Changes in Tracking Goals and Events

First things first, the biggest difference between GA4 and UA is the way they track data.

In UA, goals are a way to measure specific actions that users take on your website or app, such as completing a purchase or filling out a form. Goals are defined in the Admin section of the Google Analytics account, and can be based on a variety of criteria, such as URL destination, time on site, and pages per session.

In GA4, goals are replaced by conversions, which can be based on events or metrics. Conversions are defined in the Conversion section of the GA4 interface, and can be based on a variety of criteria, such as event parameters, user properties, and audience membership.

In UA, events are used to track specific user interactions with your website or app, such as button clicks or form submissions. Events are defined using the Google Analytics tracking code, and can include custom event categories, actions, and labels.

In GA4, events are still used to track user interactions, but the event tracking code has been simplified. Instead of tracking individual events using custom parameters, GA4 uses pre-defined event types that capture more data automatically. For example, the scroll event in GA4 automatically captures scroll depth, while the video event captures video playback data.

In addition to event types, GA4 also includes a wider range of built-in events, such as search, page_view, and view_item, that provide more detailed tracking of user behavior across platforms and devices. Custom events can still be defined using the GA4 measurement protocol or APIs, but the process is more streamlined and flexible than in UA.

Data Reporting

UA reports data in terms of dimensions and metrics, which are customizable and can be segmented to create custom reports. GA4, on the other hand, organizes data into events and parameters, which can be analyzed in real-time using the Analysis Hub feature.

In UA, reports are organized into tabs such as Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions, each containing a variety of customizable reports. In GA4, the Analysis Hub provides a flexible interface for creating custom reports and analyzing data in real-time. The Analysis Hub allows you to explore user behavior, identify trends, and create custom segments and audiences.

Cross-Platform Tracking

Another big difference between GA4 and UA is the way they handle cross-device tracking. GA4 includes a unified data model that allows you to easily track user behavior across multiple platforms and devices, without the need for custom configuration like UA.

With UA, if a user switches devices (e.g. from mobile to desktop), it's counted as two separate sessions. GA4, on the other hand, uses a technique called "cross-device tracking" that can tie together multiple sessions from the same user across different devices. This helps give you a more accurate picture of how users are interacting with your site or app.

Machine Learning

One of the biggest benefits of GA4 is its machine learning capabilities. GA4 includes machine learning models that can identify patterns in user behavior, such as which events are most likely to lead to conversions, and which users are most likely to churn. The insights generated by these models can help you optimize your website or app and improve user engagement. This feature is not available in UA.

User Privacy

Another advantage of GA4 is its privacy and data control features. With GA4, you can choose to collect data in a way that respects users' privacy preferences.

GA4 includes features such as user-centric measurement, which provides better user privacy by using a unique user ID to associate data with individual users, rather than relying on cookies. GA4 also includes built-in consent controls that allow users to opt-out of tracking and control how their data is used.

Overall, GA4 provides a more advanced and flexible approach to tracking user behavior across multiple platforms and devices, with features such as event-based tracking, machine learning, and user privacy controls.

Of course, there are also some drawbacks to GA4. For example, because it's a newer product, it may not have all the features or integrations you're used to in UA. Additionally, if you've already been using UA, transitioning to GA4 may require some additional setup and learning.

However, with UA being sunsetted in July 2023, transitioning to GA4 now will ensure that you're prepared for the future. So what are you waiting for? Start exploring GA4 today and see how it can help you gain valuable insights into your website or app traffic!

If you'd like to learn more about how we can help you unlock the power of your own data by migrating to GA4, we'd be happy to discuss it with you in a free audit of your Analytics platform.

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