How is Google Analytics 4 Different from Universal Analytics?

In Web Analytics by Matt ChieraLeave a Comment

Tracking the performance of your website is the only way to know what’s working, what isn’t, and how you can improve moving forward. Google Analytics has long been the standard for tracking activity on your site, and that doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon. What has changed, however, is the platform itself, as Google Analytics 4 has recently been released and is in the process of replacing the Universal Analytics platform that has been used for many years by millions of sites.

As a site owner or operator, it’s important to understand the differences between the new Google Analytics 4 – or GA4 – and the traditional Universal Analytics – or UA. We’ll use this article to dive into the differences, so you can start using this powerful tool correctly from day one.

Some Fundamental Differences

The best way to get started on this discussion is simply to lay out some bullet points that highlight the key changes you will notice when switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.

  • Event-based data collection. Perhaps the biggest change, and one that can be a little tricky to understand, is the shift toward measuring everything in terms of events. Previously, it was sessions that served as the core of Universal Analytics, and things like page views happened within those sessions. That has changed with GA4, so now everything that happens on your site will be recorded as an event.
  • Easier to use. This one will be music to the ears of countless business owners and managers who have struggled for years to get UA to do what they needed. While it was a powerful tool in its own right, UA could be complex for those who don’t work with it all day, every day. GA4 promises an easier user experience for the business owner who wants to sort through the data to pull out useful insights.
  • Seeing the future. There is also more looking forward to be done with GA4, rather than just looking at what has happened in the past. Leveraging the power of AI to predict visitor behavior moving forward, there is a lot to be learned in the Predictive Metrics section of this tool.

A Customizable Experience

One of the things you are likely to enjoy about GA4 is the way it can be customized to collect and report the data that is most important to your business. Every organization is unique, and you are likely to have data needs that vary from those operating in other industries.

Of course, data collection and reporting start on a foundation of the basics, so everyone who installs GA4 will be collecting standard statistics like page views, the first page visited, etc. Also, you’ll be able to see when your site is searched and what it was searched for, as well as what clicks took visitors away from your site.

While necessary for an accurate view of your site, things like page views aren’t exactly new or particularly exciting. What is a bit more interesting and powerful, however, is the ability to create up to 500 custom tracking events within your GA4 account. For example, you could build a custom event to track how items listed in your menus are clicked by site users. This may help you better understand if your menus are working effectively to get people to the pages they want to visit. Building custom events does take some practice and a bit of technical know-how, so you could reach out to a professional for help if you want to build specific events that will capture valuable site data for your business.

Should You Make the Switch?

The decision of whether or not to switch from UA to GA4 has been made for you – Google is going to gradually start putting UA to bed over the coming months. Once the calendar flips to July in 2023, UA will be in the past, and using GA4 will be the only option. With that in mind, getting started as soon as possible with GA4 is a good strategy. Getting started now will help you get comfortable with the new system and see what it can do for your data collection efforts before you are forced into action in 2023.

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From tracking website visits to creating marketing campaigns and much more, there is always something to be done to help your business bring in customers and clients. When it all starts to become too much, or when you’d simply like to optimize your approach and improve results, reach out to us for assistance. Thanks for visiting!

About the Author

Matt Chiera

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Matt Chiera is Founder & Principal Consultant at Ice Nine Online. Since forming the company in 2014, he’s helped Ice Nine Online’s clients generate millions of dollars in revenue from digital marketing. Matt taught digital marketing strategy and tactics at the Tribeca School’s Digital Professional Institute. Matt’s book “Digital Marketers Sound Off” has been ranked as the #1 book in the Web Marketing category on Amazon.

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