GA4 vs. Universal Analytics: How Google Data Analytics is Changing in 2023

GA4 is “designed for the future of measurement” and has great potential to shape the future of digital marketing.

Google Analytics has become an indispensable tool for digital marketers, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and more. With the introduction of the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) property, and soon the only analytics property, many wonder how it will measure up against its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA).

Previously, we gave you a quick infographic guide about what to expect with GA4. Here are the seven benefits of GA4 that we mentioned in the infographic:

  • The new user focused and event driven data model creates a better picture of the user journey.
  • Revamped analytics tools will be more focused on user engagement.
  • More powerful measurements will help generate high-value audiences for ad campaigns.
  • More intelligent user privacy and tracking features will improve compliance with privacy regulations.
  • The setup of valuable goals and events will be much more simplified – requiring little to no code.
  • Vastly enhanced visualizations and reporting.
  • Vast selection of parameters that help to further specify user actions.

But how does GA4 measure up to UA? In this article, we’ll provide a detailed comparison of GA4 and UA. We’ll take a look at their data collection, predictive metrics, and cross-device tracking capabilities in an effort to discover their potential to enhance data analytics for digital marketers.

Data Collection: Events vs. Hits

One of the most significant differences between UA and GA4 lies in their native data collection models. UA collects hits and then bundles those hit types into “sessions” as the basic method of data collection. GA4 will collect hits and define them as separate “events”.

In UA, hit types are packages of descriptions sent to the Analytics servers, representing user interactions with a website or app. The session-based model of UA groups these hits into sessions or containers, providing a general overview of user behavior. This model focuses more on outcomes rather than the specific pathways leading to those outcomes. It is possible to track specific interactions within the UA platform, but you can only accomplish this by using GTM (Google Tag Manager).

Data Collection: Events vs. Hits

GA4’s event-based data collection model prioritizes user actions, prompting a better understanding of the user journey. GA4 emphasizes the individual events triggered by users by not grouping them into predetermined containers. This shift in data collection does come with a learning curve because although specific user interactions will become the priority, proper setup is needed to ensure all data is collected, discernable, and correct.

GA4 comes equipped with automatically collected events enabled once a GA4 tracking code is implemented on a website. GA4 is also capable of collecting three other categories of events:

  • Enhanced Measurement events
  • Recommended events
  • Custom events

Enhanced Measurement Events

These events, similar to automatically collected events, require no custom code or the input of any parameters to be enabled. They do, however, have the option to be toggled on or off. From the start, on every property, these events are toggled on.

Some events that are measured are:

  • Page views
  • Scrolls
  • Outbound Clicks
  • Site Searches
  • Video Engagement
    • Start
    • Progress
    • Completion
  • File Downloads
  • Form Interactions
    • Form Start
    • Form Submit

These added events dive a bit deeper into the user journey, helping digital marketers optimize strategies for specific KPIs.

Recommended Events

A step beyond the enhanced measurement events are the recommended events. These are events Google suggests will help you “measure additional features and behavior as well as generate more useful reports.” Because these events are not automatically recorded and can’t be toggled on, implementation through Google Tag Manager (GTM) is needed.

Once the setup is complete, you’ll have access to a more detailed picture of how users interacted with a given webpage. For example, you could create the recommended “share” event which would allow you to find out how many users shared a specific piece of content to a social platform.

Google’s support page lists events recommended for all properties in all business verticals. Also recommended are other events for specific business verticals including online sales and gaming properties. You’ll also be able to find the parameters for each event through that support page.

Custom Events

Just like recommended events, custom events require implementation through GTM. A positive is that the process is not much different from implementing recommended events. The only difference is that a unique event name is needed.

Custom events are exactly that – events created for specific user interactions to gain insight into data relevant to a business’ goals and reports. With the ability to create custom events, digital marketers can discern a more detailed and tailored picture of the user journey.

Machine Learning & Predictive Metrics

Both UA and GA4 leverage machine learning to provide valuable insights into user behavior, site performance, trends, and more. In UA, the Analytics Intelligence section features pre-made questions that generate data-driven answers in the form of charts, reports, and statistics.

Machine Learning & Predictive Metrics

GA4 not only retains this feature but also enhances its machine learning capabilities, making it even more beneficial for digital marketers. One such enhancement is the introduction of predictive metrics, which enable marketers to forecast future user behavior using the following metrics:

  • Purchase probability
  • Churn probability
  • Predicted Revenue

To utilize this powerful tool, GA4 requires that certain prerequisites be met each day. Failing to meet these criteria, such as maintaining at least 1,000 returning users who trigger a qualifying conversion, will result in GA4 ceasing to update the related predictions. While this is a stringent standard, it ensures that marketers have access to accurate and actionable data.

Cross-Device Tracking: Overcoming Universal Analytics Limitations with GA4 Advancements

Cross-device tracking is vital in digital marketing (especially for those in the ecommerce industry), as it helps marketers comprehensively understand user interactions across multiple devices. Universal Analytics struggles to provide a complete view of these interactions, mainly due to its cookie-based approach and the challenge of consolidating data from different platforms. UA’s tracking relies on cookies, which attach to specific devices rather than users, hindering the acquisition of a holistic view of user interactions. This issue is compounded by the widespread adoption of privacy-focused browsing settings and ad-blocking technologies, which interfere with cookie functionality.

Cross-Device Tracking: Overcoming Universal Analytics Limitations with GA4 Advancements

In contrast, Google Analytics 4 introduces advanced cross-device tracking capabilities that attempt to abate UA’s limitations. GA4 adopts a user-centric approach

by assigning unique identifiers to users, allowing it to monitor their behavior across various devices, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. This all-encompassing perspective on user behavior is crucial for developing personalized marketing campaigns and enhancing the overall user experience.

Furthermore, GA4 efficiently merges data from different platforms, such as web and mobile apps, into a single reporting view. This streamlined approach enables marketers to easily recognize patterns and trends in user behavior across devices and platforms, ultimately leading to more effective marketing strategies.

Proof Digital: Marketing with GA4 and Beyond

Since 2020, when GA4 was announced, the marketing team at Proof Digital has been preparing for the shift in data collection and analytics. We’ve let our clients know that we are on top and ahead of this major change, and their expectations of data-driven results and high-quality outcomes from us do not need to be lowered.

We know that our efforts will be enhanced by Google’s new property. No matter what changes are thrown at us, we embrace, understand, and apply everything new in our industry so that we can continue being a market leader and partner for our valued clients.

To learn more about our services and case studies, please visit our website and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions! We will be releasing more valuable content and insight on GA4 in the near future. Stay tuned and be sure to follow our blog!

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