May 17, 2022

Universal Analytics and GA4: What’s the Difference?

In October of 2020, Google announced the launch of their newest edition of Google Analytics, Google Analytics 4. While many marketers took note, most agreed that there was no urgency to switch over to the new platform until Google gave Universal Analytics a time of death. Well, the time has finally come. 

Earlier this year, Google announced that Universal analytics would stop collecting data in July 2023, and all data recorded would be deleted by the end of that year. If you’re here, you’ve likely heard something about all of this and are trying to figure out why and how you can approach the shift. We’re here to help!

Why Change?

For the past decade-plus, Google Analytics, now often referred to as Universal Analytics, has been at the forefront of website analytics. The user-friendly interface today offers over 150 reports in a matter of clicks. Even the savviest of users were likely using a mere fraction of that number, and Google knew this too.

GA4, while maintaining insight, consolidates the reports into more digestible and actionable reporting all about the customer lifecycle. With this type of reporting and customizability, you can:

For more information about the uses of these features in GA4, check out their product experts taking a deep dive into these features back when the product was announced in 2020.

More than anything, Google has been emphasizing that GA4 is “event-based” whereas Univeral Analytics was “session-based.” This means that rather than displaying data through the lens of a user’s session, GA4 goes straight to showing you the events that Google automatically collects

After reading all of this, it sounds great, right? If only it were that easy.

Where Do I Start?

We certainly don’t claim to know more about Google’s products than they do, so we recommend you use Google’s migration guide when you begin the migration process from Universal Analytics. The steps we’re outlining below can give you a high-level overview of getting the most out of GA4 right off the bat.

Setup Your GA4 Property

The first thing you‘ll need to do is add a GA4 property to your existing Google Analytics Account. A feature of GA4 is choosing up to 3 data streams per property, allowing users to combine data from more than one website, iOS app, or Android app into one place. This won’t affect you unless you have multiple websites or an app.

The simplest way to start collecting data with GA4 is to use your Google Tag Manager and set up a Google Analytics 4 Configuration tag.

Start Collecting as Much Data as Possible

We are fans of the Boy Scout motto, “Always be prepared.” Part of that is making sure that you have as much information as possible to work with. If you want to ensure your future self is set up for success, we recommend collecting as much data as possible right from the start!

You’ll want to go through every portion of your new GA4 property and connect any other Google platforms you may have. This includes Google Ads. You’ll also want to turn on “Enhanced Measurement,” which will record more events like page views, scrolls, and outbound clicks. You can enable this feature by going to your GA4 property, clicking “Admin” in the bottom lefthand corner, going into “Data Streams,” selecting your property, and turning on “Enhanced Measurement.”

By taking advantage of these data sources early on, you’ll have a complete set of historical data should you ever need it. Plus, there’s no time like the present to ensure you have the data you need to conduct year-over-year analysis come July 2023 and beyond.

Redefine Your Audience

Your next step for success is taking the existing audiences and segments you’ve curated in Google Analytics and transferring them to GA4. This process will likely feel a little frustrating because Google will not have all of the dimensions available that Google Analytics has due to a higher priority being placed on user privacy. 

Learning how you can separate your users in the future today will only prepare you for future data storytelling. If you’re starting from scratch, we recommend starting with identifying your buyer personas and using them as a foundation for what users are most valuable to your business. 

Be Careful

For the most part, following Google’s migration guide will keep things from getting confused. However, there are a few concerns to keep in mind as you begin your transition. 

Pay attention to tracking any extra events, as not all parameters have the same naming conventions as Universal Analytics. Take a look at Google’s “recommended events,” a list of pre-made events that you can be easily implemented into your property.

Also, some of your data may look different in a GA4 property versus the same data in a Google Universal Analytics property. If this happens, check to see if you have any filters on the original UA property. GA4 currently does not support filters, so any data that used to have a filter on it will likely have different values. 

What’s Next?

As with any new tool, the best approach to Google Analytics 4 is to expect a learning curve and be ready to make changes as you learn more about the possibilities of this platform — and there are a lot of them.

Look forward to Google’s new anomaly detection. For the first time, your analytics will automatically alert you if there’s any significant shift in your data that you may need to know promptly. If your website stops collecting data overnight, you can be alerted to it instead of finding out after losing hours of data.

GA4 looks to be Google’s most user-friendly analytics platform yet. With the simplified metrics, options for creating detailed reports, and hundreds of FAQs already answered, Google has also implemented Autosuggest into GA4. This handy feature displays data and recommends searching metrics based on your previous history.

What if I’m Still Confused?

If this is a little too overwhelming, don’t worry, it’s not just you. When you have a business to run, the least of your concerns is learning how to use a new tool that takes hours to master and collect data. That’s where our expert marketing team can come alongside you to set goals, collect data, create strategies, and measure the success of your marketing efforts, all while you continue to build your business. Get in touch with our team today to see how PHOS can benefit your business.

Julie Anne Christmas

As an Inbound Marketing Executive, Julie Anne is passionate about using storytelling to communicate a client’s brand effectively. She believes in the power of clear messaging and interpersonal relationships for building a client’s engaging marketing strategy.

When away from her desk, you can find Julie Anne looking at airplane tickets, planning a dance party, or singing in the praise band at church. Her travels include over 10 states and 6 countries, but she is always looking to add another stamp to her passport. She loves her family, baking, and singing at the top of her lungs while driving.