The Path from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

October 6, 2022

UA has been the standard for user data collection since it was introduced in 2012. It has revolutionised the measuring of user behaviour using unique tracking codes:

· Analytics.js – measures user interactions

· Google Analytics SDKs – manages mobile tracking

· Measurement protocol – offers data collection from various other devices

Additionally, UA solved a problem which had plagued businesses looking for more accurate consumer data: user IDs. Before UA, a user accessing a website from different browsers and/or devices would present as several unique users. User ID has allowed businesses to recognise various data points to be from the same user.

Offline data, such as information about in-person transactions, further increased the data businesses could use to measure consumer behaviour. Businesses taking an interest in their SEO ranking had access to full account configuration options to see things like organic search traffic, session lengths, and recognised search terms.

UA has become the backbone for plenty of online businesses, but Google Analytics aimed to take the best of UA and integrate it with up-to-date solutions to improve its efficiency and security.

Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4

There are a host of differences between these two platforms, so we’ve decided to highlight the main ones you should be focusing on:

Session-based vs event-based data models

Universal Analytics uses a data group termed a ‘session’ to refer to a group of user interactions taking place within a certain amount of time. These interactions, logged as ‘hits’, can be pageviews, events, or transactions, among many other examples. The session-based model uses this framework to communicate information about user behaviour to you.

You can still view session data in GA4, but the core metric for engagement is the event. Each event is a unique interaction (such as a pageview or button click), with data like purchase value or location attached to the logged report.

This level of specificity was possible using Google Tag Manager in UA, but GA4 has built tiered categories to automatically sort relevant data. You can still create custom event tags but getting the important information you need is now easier than ever.

Simplified Interface

UA allowed online businesses to access a huge amount of data that they could use to analyse which decisions were giving them the best ROI. For many years, it’s been standard to learn which available metrics should be used in which way to determine the degree of success.

GA4 simplifies the process by using data-driven attribution, a system that correlates conversions with conversion events. Using machine learning algorithms, GA4 shows the connections between important factors such as time from conversion or the number of ad interactions.

This means that your business can easily classify which conversion methods are most effective, taking the time and guesswork out of strategizing.

Improved Customer Security

Online security and data safety are hot-button issues. UA’s session-based model required the use of tracking engagement through cookies, which has come into conflict with consumer privacy.

GA4 doesn’t do away with cookies completely, primarily its first-party cookie (_ga). But it limits the usage of cookies by using machine learning to effectively analyse and extrapolate consumer data based on the factors it collects.

This security change has been one of the more controversial changes. Although it’s an unquestionable win for user privacy, businesses have access to a less accurate view of their data. However, ensuring consumers that you prioritise their security is a major mark of trustworthiness, and businesses that want to prioritise more detailed tracking can promote voluntary opt-in options, such as lead generation forms.

Switching Over Now

While built on the same general format as UA, businesses will benefit more from GA4’s unique abilities given more time to get used to it. Instead of rapidly switching at the deadline, you can gradually ease your business into the new platform. Once your business familiarises itself with GA4, you’ll gain access to a valuable set of tools and metrics that can show you how to get the most out of your business’s online presence.