Google Analytics 4 Vs. Universal Analytics

Updated: Sep 14



In Spring 2022, Google announced it will officially sunset Universal Analytics (GA3) on July 1, 2023, to make way for the newest iteration of Analytics – Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This doesn’t come as a surprise. Google introduced Google Analytics 4 in October 2020 and has allowed businesses to connect both versions of its Analytics product to their websites.


Google Analytics 4 has some familiar functions users of Universal Analytics will recognize. However, the seasoned Universal Analytics user may be surprised at how much GA4 differs from the previous version.


Reporting Interface Gets a Facelift

When you look at your new Google analytics 4 Home page, you’ll notice many of the reports you’re used to seeing in Universal Analytics have been replaced or removed entirely. This is to be expected since GA4 is built on an entirely different measurement model (which we’ll touch on more below).


Most notably, Google Analytics 4’s reporting interface will look somewhat empty compared to Universal Analytics. This is because most reports will only be generated once you start tracking events – another area with major changes in GA4.


One of Google’s main goals with this newest update is to create a streamlined reporting tool that allows businesses to identify actionable insights more quickly from their website data. Essentially, once you build out your event reports in Google Analytics 4, you should see everything you want, and very little of what you don’t need.


Changing How We Define Metrics

There is a wide range of changes to how Google defines specific metrics from UA to GA4. From slight changes to existing metrics such as Pageviews to completely rehauled metrics like Events, you can expect to see updates in your Google Analytics reporting once you implement this newest version. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most important changes. For a full list of updated metric definitions, read this Analytics Help article.


Events

Google says its updated definition for Events represents a fundamental difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 properties.


In Universal Analytics, tracking events focused on three dimensions – event category, event action, and event label – and one metric – event value. With Google Analytics 4, users can take advantage of a more custom approach to event tracking. GA4 allows you to choose an event name, two or more custom parameters, and an event value. While Google has offered a full list of recommended event names for GA4, you can name your events in a way that works best for your business. To illustrate these changes, let’s use the example below of a newsletter sign-up event.

In simple terms, the new version of events used in Google Analytics 4 allows for a greater level of customization to meet your business goals and objectives. In GA4, you can provide more detailed information about events through parameters such as where, why, and how the event occurred.


Bounce Rate Vs. Engagement Rate

Bounce Rate is a key metric in Universal Analytics that measured the percentage of single-page sessions on your website in which there was no interaction with that page. For example, if a user came to your website and only read content on your homepage but didn’t click on anything or visit other pages, that session would count as a bounce.


Google notes that the way websites are structured, and the way people interact with sites have changed. It’s more common now for users to view a single page or app and leave without triggering an event (click, download, etc.) so bounce rate is no longer the most effective way to measure website engagement. In comes the new metric, Engagement Rate with Google Analytics 4. Engagement rate measures the percentage of engaged sessions, which Google defines as “the number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event, or ad at least 2 pageviews or screenviews.”


Engagement Rate is one of the most notable improvements in Google Analytics 4. It provides valuable information about how often visitors stay on and interact with your website instead of just showing when they leave.


Comparing Your Data in Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

Universal Analytics and GA4 collect, process, and report the same data in different ways. Since the data models and metric definitions vary between the two versions, it’s unlikely you’ll get the same results.


Before Google officially sunsets Universal Analytics in July 2023, you can use both versions to identify data anomalies and tweak your new GA4 properties to perfectly fit your needs. Having both versions tracking simultaneously can also help you learn more about how Google Analytics 4 works and how best to use it.


If you are already using Universal Analytics, setting up your new Google Analytics 4 properties is easy. Check out our step-by-step tutorial and start tracking with GA4 today.


Google Analytics can be complicated, but our Google Analytics-certified team can help you build your tracking events, create reports, and explain insights so that you can focus on exceeding your business goals. Looking for help with your Google Analytics? Contact TotalCom to get started. Tuscaloosa: 205.345.7363 | Huntsville: 256.534.6383

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