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Universal Analytics (GA3) Vs. Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

It is crucial for organisations to select the appropriate analytics solution given the rapid evolution of digital marketing and the rising demand for precise data analysis. The two popular Google Analytics versions, Universal Analytics (GA3) and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be compared in this article, along with their features, advantages, and differences.

In October 2020, Google rolled out Google Analytics 4 as its default property type for analytics accounts. The new update comes as a re-build of GA from the ground up, with more user-centric events and tracking them all through their customer journey.

As a Universal Analytics user, you will find that GA4 entails a major layout shift, along with a stream of several new features.

GA4 offers several exciting new features for digital marketers, including the ones which were earlier available to GA360 users only. When compared to the older version, GA4 heavily focuses on the event-driven data model.


How is Google Analytics 4 (GA4) different from Universal Analytics (GA3)?

Google Aanalytics 4 is not mature enough to replace the Universal Analytics completely. So, it makes sense to parallely keep experimenting with GA4 and continue with Universal Analytics setup.

The differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics can be categorised in three main categories:

  • The way users are tracked – User-centric view
  • Reporting – Event-based measurement
  • Set up – Reporting interface changes

The way users are tracked – User-centric view

The first difference is how the new version tracks users. The previous version (Universal Analytics) tracks users via sessions. Whereas Google Analytics 4 is event-based.

So, instead of creating a new session when a user returns to the site, GA4 records all events they complete. It emphasises on what users do on your website instead of just counting their visit.

In Universal Analytics, web-users and app-users are counted separately, which means 1 user is potentially counted twice i.e. once as web user and second as app user.

In Google Analytics 4, users are deduped across the web and app, which provides better insight into cross-platform and cross-device journeys.

The User ID must be implemented across web and app with the same identifier and type. It will help provide insight into how users are learning, shopping, and purchasing across different platforms.

Reporting – Event-based measurement

The second main difference you notice is in reporting. In Universal Analytics, there exists a set report with some possible customisation features. Whereas GA4 has top-level built-in reports and if you want specific reports, you can find it under the Analysis tab. It gives you great freedom on how your reports look and lets you analyse the most critical data.

There are different types of activities in Universal Analytics, such as page views and events; every user interaction type in Google Analytics 4 is an event. Pageviews, conversions, clicks, everything. So, a pageview in UA is now a screen/page view event in GA4.

Categories of events in GA4: automatically collected, enhanced measurement, recommended (vertical-specific), and custom (named and implemented).

Instead of an event category, action, value, and label, 25 user properties can be passed with each event.

The key to success is measurement consistency. If the event names, parameters passed, parameter names and parameter values are identical across the web and app; they will be comparable in reporting an accurate picture of the cross-platform journey.

In GA4, it is necessary to register parameters in the reporting UI to be available for use.

Set up – Reporting interface changes

The third difference is how it is set up. Universal Analytics uses a property and view setup while GA4 allows you to combine data from your apps and website.

And all this happens through a single property and GA data streams.

The user reports are grouped differently. In Universal Analytics, they come under the following categories:

  • Realtime,
  • Audience,
  • Acquisition,
  • Behaviour, and
  • Conversions

In GA4, the categories are:

  • Users,
  • Demographics,
  • Behaviour,
  • Ecommerce, and

Instead of sub-categorising like in UA, GA4 charts and graphs have dropdowns and the ability to see additional details.

The most of difference in reporting is how Google Anlytics 4 replaced the ‘Customisation’ option (along with many other reports like custome reports, dashboards, custome alerts, saved reports) with ‘Analysis’.

Analysis has the following options:

  • Analysis Hub,
  • Exploration,
  • Segment Overlap,
  • Funnel Analysis,
  • Path Analysis,
  • User Explorer, and
  • Cohort Analysis.

Analysis in GA4 is a 'drag-and-drop' report builder where the user is presented with a list of segments, dimensions, and metrics from which to build the report and the ability to choose from countless settings and filters to customise the report.

In Universal Analytics, most custom reports as a 'Flat Table' and Analysis is similar to that but with so many more options and is so much more user-friendly.

If reporting within the UI is too limited compared to Data Studio, GA4 does not have a data connector yet; it requires a connection via BigQuery. Prior to GA4 only premium users could stream data to BigQuery, but now GA4 it comes with a free connection to BigQuery.

What do we recommend?

We recommend setting up GA4 measurement to better understand users across your website and app experiences and for the new reporting experience.

However, keep the old 'Web Property' active at least until GA4 is more mature. You understand the way reports will differ, both in design and in content, due to the different counting methodology.

When you add a new property, it will default to GA4, which means this is ready for general use and we are looking forward to seeing how the product evolves and grows in the future.

How can Webplanners help?

We know Google Analytics is an integral part of business success and gives you valuable insights for your marketing success. Without the in-depth knowledge of advanced-features, you may miss out on invaluable user insights or reporting skewed data.

At Webplanners, we offer full Google Analytics support to all our clients right from setting it up to creating custom dashboards. We help all through setting up channel set to advanced targeting.

Need help with Google Analytics 4?

Webplanners does provide a range of Google Analytics counsulting services; including Google Analytics 4 setup, implementation, and upgrade from Google Analytics. 

To know more about Webplanners' Google Analytics Consulting services, give us a call at (03) 9510 0717 or drop an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and learn how we support Google Analytics Services.


Should I upgrade from Universal Analytics (GA3) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

It is recommended to upgrade from GA3 to GA4, as the new version offers advanced tracking capabilities and enhanced reporting features. However, the decision depends on individual business needs and requirements. It is advisable to consult with analytics professionals or follow Google's guidance on the migration process.

Can I continue using Universal Analytics (GA3) alongside Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

Yes, businesses can run both GA3 and GA4 concurrently. This allows them to gradually transition to GA4 while still accessing the existing data and functionality of GA3. It is important to properly configure and manage both versions to avoid data discrepancies and ensure accurate tracking.

What are the steps involved in migrating from Universal Analytics (GA3) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?


A: The migration process typically involves setting up a new GA4 property, implementing the GA4 tracking code, and configuring data streams to collect data from websites or apps. Additionally, businesses need to consider mapping existing GA3 reports and configurations to the new GA4 structure. It is recommended to consult Google's documentation or seek assistance from analytics experts for a smooth migration.

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Sunday, 16 June 2024