Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics – what’s new?
- Google Analytics 4 – new features and changes in comparison to Universal Analytics
GA 4 is a browser-based tool created by Google to analyze and provide statistics on website traffic, quickly becoming one of the most important tools for Digital Marketing. The first version was launched in 2005 and has since been developed often under different names (causing some confusion) with new or different functionalities. GA 4 is the next iteration of the software and is considered an upgrade from the previous Universal Analytics, which had been widely used until late 2020, and many companies still use it this day. Fortunately, you can currently test GA4 without deleting the data from the previous iteration of the tool, which means that marketers do not lose valuable historical information. There are key differences between GA 4 and UA, and we outline some of them below.
Google Analytics 4 – new features and changes in comparison to Universal Analytics
The latest installment of GA is an important step forward in many ways. As the notes for the latest iteration take a lot of space, we will highlight just some of the new features.
The side menu itself has gone through some changes. It features a waterfall design with an additional sidebar and a big number of options. GA 4 gives users the ability to create customized reports to display only the information deemed most relevant. The reports are now grouped based on specific factors.
This is probably the most fundamental change in GA4 compared to its predecessor. Contrary to the previous focus on page views for web versions of GA, in an effort to create a system that would cover both mobile and desktop, a complete transition to event-based tracking was made. Events have become a unifying, overarching concept. You can define those events on your own and add some extra information to them (a parameter) to make them more descriptive. Careful planning is the key to maximize the benefits of the tool.
Machine learning supporting custom insights
The combination of machine learning and the ability to set custom conditions result in insights tailor-made for the user’s specific needs. Any major fluctuation in a trend that a user follows can be automatically reported through an email notification, increasing the chances of a timely reaction to an opportunity or problem. In September 2021, Google has also introduced attribution insights which are focused on showing conversion paths.
Native integration with BigQuery
In a nutshell, BigQuery is a tool for analyzing huge chunks of data, which can be of great help to users who manage websites with a lot of traffic. The tool provides free access to raw, unsampled data. There was no free integration with BigQuery in Universal Analytics.
A new set of engagement metrics
With Google Analytics 4, we get updated methods of measuring user engagement. Instead of page view metrics which we had in Universal Analytics, the section is now divided into 5 columns – New users, Engaged sessions, Engagement rate, Engaged sessions per user as well as Average engagement time, all of which help measure engagement more accurately.
A solution for spam
Efforts have been made to make it much more difficult to send spam data to the new GA. The tool now requires that hits be equipped with a key available only to users with access to the analytics of a specific website.
Built-in and always on IP anonymization
GA4 is more cautious with user data than UA. The software now features built-in, always on, IP anonymization that cannot be disabled. All in an effort to avoid problems with privacy regulations.
Improved integration with Google Ads
Improving upon its predecessor, the software is now more tightly integrated with Google Ads, providing a way to organize customized audiences to maximize the benefit for your clients.
The reporting interface in Google Analytics 4 enables the user to validate the configuration of analytics through a debugView report.
Google maintains a steady stream of updates for GA4, either improving the tool or introducing new features once or twice per month. It’s safe to say there is a lot to look forward to and if you haven’t transitioned from Universal Analytics yet, it might be a good time. The customization-oriented approach alongside the support for both mobile and desktop make GA4 a flexible and future-proof solution that will serve experts for years to come.