Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 Differences

Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 Differences

If you have been using Google analytics for a while now, you probably have seen the notifications about Google changing over to what they called Google Analytics 4, or G4 for short. Now, if you have been using the current version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics, for a while now, you are probably reluctant to change. However, come summer 2023 you will have no choice as Google will stop collecting data through Universal Analytics. So, what is G4, and what are the differences between Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

What is Google Analytics 4?

In simple terms, G4 is Google’s attempt of tracking web views and app views under one single property. It used to be called App+Web Property when it was first added in beta. It makes sense when you think about it, as there are a lot of companies now that have both a website, and an app which has forms or call to actions.

Differences between Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4?

How data is tracked

One of the biggest differences between the two is how data is tracked between Google Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.  With Universal Analytics, data comes from “cookie-based” tracking. A website with UA sends a cookie into the user’s web browser, and that allows the platform to monitor and record web activity on the site during that site’s session

G4 has an event-based data model. G4 does not measure things based on sessions and pageviews. Instead, G4 measures an assortment of different events to understand user behavior.

What is event-based data model?

G4 is built on an event-based model where analytics collects and stores user interactions with your website or app as events. Events looks more at what’s happening in your website or app, such as pageviews, button clicks, user actions, or system events. The data is more geared toward the action the user took or to add further context to the event or user. As a non-profit organization, this means that you will see a different set of data than you are used to because the data being recorded is different.

Types of events

Puling from the Google Developers guide for G4, they list 4 different types of events. The first two are automatic and can be setup during creation of your G4 property.

Automatically collected events

  • Session Start: This event fires when a user first launches a session with a website (or app).
  • First Visit: Was it the first time this particular user has been on the site or the app? If so, the first visit event will fire.
  • User Engagement: A user engagement event will fire when a visitor has been on a page for 10 seconds OR has viewed two pages OR has completed a conversion event. It is tracked automatically by G4.

Enhanced measurement events

Enhanced measurement events are specific events that you can toggle on or off within the G4 platform. If you click into your Data Stream in the Admin section of your G4 property, you’ll see these enhanced measurement events. Page views, scrolls, outbound clicks, site search, video engagement, and file downloads are all examples of Enhanced measurement events.  All but pageviews can be toggled on or off.

The other two are recommended and custom events. In both cases, custom code is required in tag manager to implement these two. The only difference really is recommended already has a set of names and code that can be used.

To bring this all around, with event-based reporting, you will get a more in depth view of what is going on your website.

Differences in reporting

One thing about UA was it felt like it had a good set of pre-defined reports built into the system. G4 has less pre-defined reports and is more built to create custom reports and exporting data. In many cases, further report customization is needed to create some similar data comparisons, like source/medium. These can be either created in exploration reports or through Looker (formally Google Data Studio) Exploration reports are a new way of building custom reports, meant to give you more control over the data you want to see.

New metrics in G4

There are 3 new metrics added to G4 that was not in UA. These replace some metrics that are no longer available in G4 including average session duration, pages / session.

  • Engaged session: According to Google the engaged session metric is the count of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had 2 or more screen or page views.
  • Average engagement time per session. Google says this is the User engagement duration per session. In other words, the amount of time the user is actually engaging with the page (scrolling, etc.) and the page is the primary window being viewed on the screen.
  • Engagement rate. Engagement rate is the ratio of Engaged sessions relative to total sessions. If you had 1,000 total sessions and 130 of them qualified as Engaged sessions (per Google’s definition above), the Engagement rate would be 13%.

For some smaller non-profits, this is where the frustration will set in. You may have to explore the reporting section of G4 in order to get the data you are looking for. We understand that frustration all to well. If you are having issues with understanding your data, contact us and we will try and help you make sense of what you are seeing.

We understand that this is a lot to take in. That is why Google is not just completely cutting the cord on UA, instead they are sunsetting it as of July 2023. That should be enough time to get users of UA to acclimate to G4, regardless of if you are a fan of G4 or not. Change is not usually comfortable, but it is usually for the better in the end.

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Chris Hughbanks
Chris Hughbanks

Chris is the owner of Hughbanks Design, a Houston web design and digital marketing company.