The Future of Website Analytics: Google Analytics 4 to replace Universal Analytics July 2023

Business owners, marketers, web developers, and the assortment of other roles involved in tracking and examining website data are probably familiar with Google Analytics. More specifically, they are probably familiar with Universal Analytics (UA). This is because UA has been around since 2012 and was the default property type for websites prior to October 14th, 2020. Anytime Google Analytics was added to a website over the past decade, the default UA was used and gave people easy access to things such as bounce rates, landing page data, demographic data, and more. It provided excellent customization, allowing users to process useful information for their website analysis. However, in July 2023, Google will switch from UA to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for good.

Google notes, “Google Analytics 4 is our next-generation measurement solution, and it’s replacing Universal Analytics. On July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data. We strongly encourage you to make the switch to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible.”

If UA works so well, why is Google changing to a new property type? In addition, how do UA and GA4 differ from one another? Let’s examine both questions:

Why is Google changing from UA to GA4?

To answer the first question simply, Google is changing to a new property type because they have their eyes set on the future. They will be implementing machine learning algorithms with GA4 which will help with things such as creating automated insights, detecting irregularities in data, and coming up with predictions based on patterns. Google wants to stay ahead of the curve as machine learning and AI have improved drastically over the last couple of years.

In addition, they will be updating the Google Analytics interface. This will help condense what was before a massive amount of data into smaller and easier to manage information hubs. It will also provide enhanced charts/visualization making the information more simple than ever to make sense of. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on reports in GA4. These reports are based on the average customer lifecycle (acquisition > engagement > monetization > retention) and provide valuable information for each phase of the process.

Lastly, with the switch to GA4, there is a large focus on improving privacy which is something that has increased dramatically in terms of concern from when UA was first used. With newer data collection regulations all over the world such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the USA’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Brazil’s General Personal Data Protection Law (LGPD), and more surely to come soon – Google wanted to be proactive and build its next property with privacy top of mind. Some examples of how they plan to achieve this include not logging or storing individual IP addresses, disabling the collection of granular location and device data, and much more.

What are the key differences between UA and GA4?

For the second question, there are a number of key differences between the two properties. A few were briefly touched on above but here are some additional ones:

A fundamental difference between UA and GA4 is their data models and how both measure their data. UA uses a session-based model which only supports pre-defined types of user interactions. Some of these pre-defined interactions include page views, ecommerce/transaction hits, user timing, etc. Compare this to the new GA4 event-based data model, where every user activity is captured as an event which can be attached with parameters to describe its context. This provides room for customization that wasn’t possible before. Below are the event types in GA4:

  • Automatically collected events (ex. video_complete)
  • Enhanced measurements events (ex. file_download)
  • Recommended events (ex. add_to_cart)
  • Custom events (ex. newsletter_signup)

Engagement metrics are another way UA and GA4 differ in a substantial way. The outdated way of doing it was how UA handled engagement with metrics such as bounce rate and average session duration. Bounce rate doesn’t take into account how long users stayed on a page before navigating away. Combine that with average session duration being calculated even if your site was left open on a tab in the background and it starts to become difficult using these data points for anything truly meaningful. GA4 changes this by concentrating on engaged users. Data is only collected when a web page is in focus on the browser – providing the most accurate data to date for your audience. Every second calculated in GA4 is relevant since it helps you to identify your most engaging content and tells a story about your users’ behavior and tendencies.

One final difference we want to bring up is UA and GA4 vary in their set up in addition to how data from multiple sources is collected. The structure looks like this now:

  • UA: Account > Property > Views
  • GA4: Account > Property > Data Streams

In UA, data from websites is sent to a UA property and then users can create views to look at the data partially or as a whole. Compare that to GA4 which doesn’t have the concept of a view. Instead, they use “data streams” to aggregate data from your websites or apps into a single GA4 property. This gives you the ability to track your users across websites and apps – making it a better tool to understand today’s cross-platform and multi-device users.

Are you having difficulties adjusting to the new GA4 after being used to UA for so long? We understand if that’s the case and are here to help! Get in contact with us today to learn more about GA4 – you won’t want to wait until the last second to learn about it before it sunsets!

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