Difference Between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4

Whether you’re new to the analytics scene or you consider yourself a seasoned expert, the looming conversion of Universal Google Analytics into Google Analytics 4, or GA4, is uncharted territory. There’s a lot to learn about this update, and with many businesses already transitioning into the new era, there’s no time like the present to learn more about what’s coming!

Late Hit Counts

In Universal Analytics, better known as the current, though soon to be largely redundant, Google Analytics interface, Google processes hits, or an interaction on your website by a user, even if it comes in as late as four hours after the day in question has ended. GA4 processes these same late hits for up to 72 hours, meaning you may see some higher sessions in GA4 versus Universal Analytics because of this change.

Total Users Versus Active Users

Universal Analytics relies on tracking your total users as its primary metric for user data. GA4 has made a big change here by putting the main focus on active users, which is defined as any user who has an “engaged session”. These engaged sessions are defined by lasting 10 or more seconds, having 1+ conversion events, or 2+ page/screen views. All-in-all, GA4 is more focused on providing you data about users who were significant on your website, rather than users who came onto your site and quickly bounced without taking any action.

Hit Types & Events

These website interactions, or hits, have many different categories in Universal Analytics, including event hits, page hits, e-commerce hits, and social hits. Each one of these helps define what kind of action was taken on your website. GA4 is focused on events rather than hits, which means all these hits would be considered “events” with no categories separating what type of action generated them. That doesn’t mean they’re not labeled, though – for example, if someone views your website, a page hit in Universal Analytics would now be a “page_view” event in GA4. Essentially, you’re still able to see what happened, as well as where and when, without having to sort through the category, action, and label to figure it out.

Goal Types -> Conversion Events

Universal Analytics supports five types of goals: destination, duration, pages per session, smart goals, and event goals. With each goal, Universal Analytics only tracks one conversion per session. For example, if you define an event goal as being a form submission, and then a user submits two forms in the same session, only one event goal will be counted. Instead of goals, GA4 now has conversion events. In this same form submission scenario, GA4 would count two conversion events for both form submissions, to more accurately reflect user activity in the session.

No Monthly Hit Limits

Universal Analytics has a limit of 10 million hits every month, which means it will not track any data that happens after this number. More popular websites were having trouble collecting their entire scope of data with this limitation. GA4 has adjusted this by taking away the quantitative limit to website hits, and instead limiting users to create up to 500 kinds of events. This means that an unlimited amount of data can come in, but has to be categorized in one of 500 ways. This offers much more flexibility for larger websites, which can now curate the data they need in the way they need it.

Privacy Updates

There have been two major updates to privacy measures in GA4, to help better protect user data. The first update affects the collection of IP addresses. IP addresses are unique to your device, and reveal information about your physical location when you connect to the internet. In Universal Analytics, IP addresses were automatically collected, and account managers would have to manually anonymize them with a settings feature. In contrast, GA4 only collects anonymous IP addresses, and account managers are not able to change this feature. The second update is data storage duration. GA4 will only let you store your user data for either 2 months or 14 months, to protect users from having their data stored on websites past when it’s needed for analysis or retargeting.

We hope this article has helped you comprehend some of the most major changes happening with Google Analytics in the coming months! It’s important to start transitioning your Google Analytics accounts from Universal to GA4 as soon as possible, so you don’t risk losing data when Google officially transitions. If you need help figuring it out, don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d be more than happy to walk you through the transition process, one-on-one, from start-to-finish.

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