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GA4 vs. Universal: Traversing The Differences

Dec. 15, 2023 | Perfect Afternoon

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Step into the realm of analytics evolution with our latest winter webinar, Warm Up Your Data. We deeply compared Google Analytics 4 (GA4) against its predecessor, Google Universal Analytics, from unraveling user journeys and how to navigate through the platform to exploring dashboards and reports and their associated metrics. Understanding the importance of these changes is key to seamlessly navigating through this substantial update to Google Analytics. As a festive treat, we present a webinar recap to ensure you conclude the year on the right analytical note and better understand GA4 vs. Universal.

What is Google Analytics 4?

In October 2020, Google officially announced the launch of Google Analytics 4, which marked a significant shift from Universal Analytics. This change helped to focus on user-centric measurement, machine learning-driven insights, and improved cross-platform tracking.

Another main focus point for GA4 was improving the privacy controls to protect users. Throughout its history, Google Analytics has evolved to meet the changing needs of online businesses and marketers. GA4 represents a forward-looking approach to analytics. It incorporates machine learning, user-centric measurement, and improved cross-platform tracking to provide more relevant and actionable insights in an increasingly complex digital landscape.

GA4 vs. Universal: How Dashboards Have Changed

Regarding GA4 vs. Universal, we have to start with the dashboard. It’s one of the first things you will see when you go into Google Analytics. At first glance, the Univeral and GA4 dashboards may not look too different but don’t be fooled.

Some key differences give each dashboard its own distinct identity. Navigating Google Analytics easily is essential for exploring the data that awaits you. Both versions of Google Analytics have great dashboards. There are a lot of important insights that are presented to you once you get into it. How do these differ, though? Below are examples of what sets each dashboard apart from one another.

  • Google Analytics 4 (GA4): GA4 features a more modern and visually smooth design. It emphasizes user-centric reporting and a cleaner, more intuitive layout.
  • Universal Analytics: The interface is functional but may appear somewhat dated compared to GA4. It follows a traditional layout with tabs and menus that lack ease of use for users.
This shows differences in dashboards for GA4 vs. Universal.
The home page and its visual differences between GA4 and Universal.

Overall, there are significant improvements to the visual design of Google Analytics with GA4. The new modern design makes the initial data on the screen easy for users to digest and show to others. Universal has wonderful information on the dashboard, too, but navigating through different tabs to display the data you want to look at quickly may not be enjoyable.

What Happened to Bounce Rate in GA4?

Within Universal, the bounce rate metric was readily available on the reports as a default option, but it’s not in GA4. Fret not — you can add this back into your reporting. In our winter webinar, we discussed how you can add this. To do this, you will have to customize your report. Once you are in the Reports tab,

  1. Go to the Life cycle section
  2. Tap either Traffic or User Acquisition
  3. Then “Customize Report”

From there, you can add or remove different metrics. Bounce rate is listed as an option, so select that, and it will now be included in your report. Adding this back into your report is a bit of a headache and is one of the few aspects where GA4 falls flat in the Universal Analytics vs. GA4 discussion.

Below are the key differences in reporting between the two.

  • GA4: Introduces event-based tracking as a core feature, offering more flexibility in defining and tracking specific user interactions. Enhanced machine learning capabilities provide insights into user behavior.
  • Universal Analytics: Relies on a more structured setup involving goals, events, and conversions. While robust, it may not be as dynamic as GA4 regarding event tracking.
How to add bounce rate in GA4
Add additional metrics to your standard reports for the customization you need for your company.

The Shift To A User-Centric Model

GA4 introduces event-based tracking as a fundamental feature, providing users with increased flexibility in defining and monitoring specific interactions. This shift allows for a more granular understanding of user behavior, emphasizing individual interactions rather than session-based metrics. Additionally, GA4 incorporates enhanced machine learning capabilities to deliver insightful analytics, enabling businesses to understand user engagement patterns better.

On the other hand, Universal Analytics relies on a more structured setup that involves goals, events, and conversions. While this approach is robust and well-established, it may not offer the same dynamism as GA4, especially in event tracking. Universal Analytics excels in providing a solid foundation for standard tracking needs. Still, it may require additional configurations to match the evolving demands of businesses seeking more nuanced insights into user interactions across various touchpoints.

Cross-Platform Tracking Made Easier

Another topic that was discussed in our webinar was cross-platform tracking and the importance of it. Cross-platform tracking in Google Analytics is vital for businesses wanting to grasp the intricacies of user interactions across different devices and touchpoints. Nowadays, we live in a digital landscape where users seamlessly transition between mobile devices, desktops, and other platforms.

Understanding their behavior on each of these channels is essential. Cross-platform tracking ensures businesses gain a holistic view of user journeys, enabling them to identify patterns, preferences, and potential pain points. This comprehensive insight facilitates more informed decision-making, empowering businesses to optimize their online presence and marketing strategies based on a thorough understanding of how users engage with their brand across the entire digital ecosystem.

Below is a summary of the key differences between Universal Analytics vs. GA4 regarding cross-platform tracking.

  • GA4: Places a stronger emphasis on cross-platform tracking, accommodating the growing trend of users interacting with websites across various devices.
  • Universal Analytics: Tracks user interactions within individual sessions but might require additional configurations for comprehensive cross-device tracking.

GA4 vs. Universal: Who Wins the Fight?

The winter webinar was full of insightful information on using Google Analytics 4.

While we are always partial to Universal, GA4 is an extremely powerful tool when set up and used correctly. There are many significant upgrades in GA4 like how easy they made it to track the user journey using cross-platform tracking in one place. It also provides a new dashboard similar to Universal but makes it slightly easier to find everything.

As we navigate this newer tool and features, let us become your partner and help you understand the power of your data to have a successful fiscal year or understand your audience’s behaviors and patterns. If you’re interested in our webinar recording, send us an email at [email protected]; or in data or marketing consulting, leave us a message.