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    Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs. Universal Analytics (UA): The Difference Explained

    Analytics & ReportingChannels

    What is the difference between GA4 and UA?

    Ah, Google. The almighty, the all-knowing, the ever-changing. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on their analytics offerings, they go and release something newer, better, and often, a little more confusing.

    Take GA4 (Google Analytics 4) and Universal Analytics, for example. They both collect data about your website’s traffic and user behavior, but they do it in different ways. Plus, one is newer, and one is… well, not.

    So, what exactly is the difference between GA and UA? And what should you be using for your website? To answer that, we first need to understand what each is. Let’s start with Google Analytics.

    What is GA4?

    Throughout the fall of 2020, Google released a brand new version of their analytics platform: Google Analytics 4, or GA4. This versatile platform can be used to measure just about anything, from apps to websites to in-store purchases. GA4 replaces Universal Analytics, or UA, as the default analytics platform for businesses and organizations using Google products.

    As we enter the mid-way point of 2022, it’s safe to say that GA4 is not only here to stay, but it’s also the future of Google Analytics. We now know that as of July 1, 2023, GA4 will be the only version of Google Analytics available. It’s faster, more reliable, and can scale to handle larger data sets than its predecessor. Plus, it comes with a host of new features designed to help you get a better understanding of your customers and their journey to purchase.

    What is Universal Analytics?

    Universal Analytics is a Google Analytics variant that established a new bar for data collection and organization. It was first released in the fall of 2012 and has been used by businesses and organizations worldwide to track website data ever since. It includes newer tracking codes for websites and features that can more accurately track user activity.

    As we know, both Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics (UA) are available to users, but only GA4 is the future of Google Analytics. So, what does that mean for UA?

    Universal Analytics: The End of an Era

    As the sun sets on Universal Analytics, we say goodbye to an analytics platform that has served us well for nearly a decade. It’s been a long ride, but all good things must come to an end. And plus, it’s not really a bad thing when the thing that’s ending is being replaced by something that’s newer, better, and more versatile. So, farewell UA, and hello GA4!

    universal analytics

    Do you know the difference between the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics (UA)? If not, there's an important discussion to be made.

    GA vs. UA: The Difference Explained

    One of the primary questions we get here at Adcore is, “what’s the difference between GA and UA?” And it’s a valid question! After all, they both collect data about your website’s traffic and user behavior. So, what sets them apart?

    Well, it’s not so much what sets them apart, but rather just how they go about doing what they do. To shed some light on the matter, we list a few of the most crucial differences between GA4 and UA, so that you can have a better understanding of what to expect from both. 

    The Data Model

    At the very heart of the platform, is the ultimate difference between GA and UA: the data model. The data model is the foundation on which all of your data is built, so it’s essential to understand how each platform structures information.

    Universal Analytics uses a traditional session-based database model. This means that data is organized by sessions or interactions between a user and your site. Within each session, there is a hit type, which includes a number of page views, events, and other interactions that are tracked.

    Google Analytics, on the other hand, uses an event-based model. Each event is distinguished by a set of parameters, which are used to categorize and label the event (for example, event_name parameter). This data is then organized in a way that makes it easy to see how different events relate to each other. For instance, you can see how many times a user added an item to their cart before making a purchase.

    You won’t find the built-in Event Category/Action/Label taxonomy in GA4. Instead, you’ll see a series of event parameters that give you the flexibility to organize your data in any way you see fit.

    Privacy Consent Mode

    Since the introduction of GDPR and CCPA, data privacy has been a hot topic in the world of analytics. And rightfully so! These regulations put strict limits on how businesses can collect, use, and store personal data.

    To help businesses comply with these regulations, Google Analytics introduced a feature called Consent Mode. This mode grants you the ability to allow some level of tracking, while still respecting the user’s right to privacy. While you may not have the ability to target or identify users, you will still be able to report content, attribution, and even conversions.

    Changes to Data Limits

    Universal Analytics has tracking events that are rate-limited. This means that if a user triggers too many events in a short period of time, some of those events will not be recorded. While this may not seem like a big deal, it can actually have a pretty significant impact on your data.

    For instance, imagine you have an ecommerce site, and a user adds several items to their cart within a few seconds. If those events are rate-limited, then you may not have an accurate record of how many items were actually added to the cart.

    The free version of Google Analytics imposed limits on the number of events that could be tracked. The following are the limits for the free tier in Google Analytics:

    • 500 hits per session
    • 10 million hits per property
    • 200,000 per users per day
    • There are also restrictions on how many hits you can deliver in one second.

    In GA4, data limits work a little differently. As it stands, there is no limit to the number of events that can be tracked in a given period of time. The limits above do not apply to GA4 because it uses a queuing system that batches and sends data in intervals. This way, Google servers take less of a beating, and data is still delivered in a timely manner.

    It’s important to note that although the above limitations do not apply to GA4, there are still other limits in place. For example, Google has imposed numerous limits on the number of distinct events you’re able to trace and the number of parameters per event. They also track the length of characters in each parameter, so be mindful of that as well.

    You can find a full list of GA’s data limits here.

    ga4 vs ua

    Fake Data Prevention

    Google Analytics takes data security and integrity seriously. To that end, they’ve implemented several features to prevent fake data from being injected into your reports.

    In Universal Analytics, a common problem that arose was spam referrals. As the GA Universal property ID allowed bad actors to populate the Referral path field with whatever they wanted, this resulted in a lot of fake data being injected into reports. The Measurement Protocol was also susceptible to this type of abuse.

    In the GA4 vs. UA debate, GA4 comes out on top here, with it now being virtually impossible to inject fake data into your reports. This is thanks to the use of Measurement Protocol, which includes a secret key that is observable in the web data stream settings of GA4. However, it’s important to note that it is not publicly obtainable. Hits with a valid key are the only ones that will be processed to GA4 property, meaning that any attempts to inject fake data will fail if not done with a valid key.

    Content Groupings 

    Content Groupings is a feature in Universal Analytics that allows you to group content for reporting purposes. This can be helpful if you want to get an overview of how different types of content are performing on your site.

    For example, let’s say you have a blog with articles about various topics. You could create a content grouping for each topic, and then see how those groups are performing in terms of pageviews, bounce rate, etc.

    Content Groupings is not available in GA4. However, you can achieve similar (or even better) results by using event parameters and custom dimensions. This will replicate the content groupings that existed within Universal Analytics, and will provide you with more granular data that can be segmented and analyzed in any way you see fit.

    Why to Consider a Move to GA4 Today 

    ga4 vs ua the difference explained

    With new technology, next-generation features, and increased data security measures, there are plenty of reasons to consider making the move to GA4 from UA. The above differences are just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many more incredible features that will really help you take your data analysis to the next level.

    The more data you have, the better equipped you are to make informed decisions about your marketing strategy. So if you’re not already on GA4, what are you waiting for? And if you already have a UA account, what’s stopping you from making the switch to GA’s latest and greatest version?

    Here are a few more things to look out for in GA4:

    • Unique tracking paradigm: GA4 is an events-based platform, which means you have the freedom to track whatever you want, however you want. There are no predefined parameters or dimensions – it’s all up to you.
    • Predictive understandings: With machine learning at its core, GA is constantly discovering and evolving. This means that it’s able to provide you with predictive understandings of your data, which can be incredibly valuable in terms of making decisions about your marketing strategy.
    • Built for the future: The cookieless future is amongst us, and GA4 is prepared for it. With GA’s new approach to data collection, you have a solid foundation for many years to come.

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      Your Next Steps 

      Now that you know the answer to the all-important questions ”what is GA4” and ”What is Universal Analytics”, it’s time to take your next steps. In the UA vs. GA4 debate, it’s clear that GA4 is the superior platform.

      The future of web analytics is here, and it’s time for you to join the GA revolution. We highly recommend making a move to GA4 now, as you’ll be able to take advantage of all the latest features and functionality that it has to offer. 

      The sooner you join, the sooner you’ll be able to start collecting data that will give you a real competitive edge.

      Conclusion

      GA4 is not merely an upgrade to Universal Analytics – it’s an entirely new platform that offers so much more in terms of features, functionality, and data security. If you’re not already on Google Analytics 4, now is the time to make the switch.

      With a solid foundation for the future, predictive understandings, and unique tracking paradigms, GA4 is the obvious choice for anyone looking to take their web analytics to the next level.

      We hope you found this article helpful in understanding the difference between GA and UA. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about GA, feel free to get in touch with the experts at Adcore. With knowledge of both platforms, we’ll be able to help you make the best decision for your business.

      Hanging on to an older version of Google Analytics can only mean one thing – you’re falling behind. Don’t wait any longer; make the switch to Google Analytics 4 today!

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