UA vs GA4: The 4 Big Differences – Google said earlier in 2022 that standard Universal Analytics (UA) properties will stop processing data on July 1, 2023, and that Google will no longer support UA because it will be replaced by Google Analytics 4. (GA4).
It’s important to note that GA4 is not just a new version of the old tool, but a whole new set of tools. As if this wasn’t enough, starting January 1, 2024, all historical data from Universal Analytics will be deleted.
All of this points to one thing: people will have to move from UA to GA4.
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But the big question is still: How is GA4 different from UA? Will you still be able to use the same tracking and metrics? And what does GA4 look like?
Here are the four most significant changes :
The 4 Big Differences
1. Reporting interface
First of all, if something looks different, it may actually be different. The new interface for GA4 is also quite different.
Behind every well-thought-out design is a lot of careful thought. With GA4, the idea was that data shouldn’t be kept in separate places. The new reporting interface is designed to get rid of data silos and bring together data from your website, Android apps, and iOS apps in one place. This will let you track the journey of your customer across all devices.
You can still see the side navigation bar on GA4’s home page. But it has one less navigation tab than UA’s homepage. The four tabs that are left are:
- Reports – These are a group of standard reports that show the most common ways to use reports.
- Explore – Gives you more information about how your customers act.
- Advertising – Helps you analyze and improve your online advertising campaigns.
- Configure – It lets you change metrics like events, conversions, audiences, and more.
Also, the Reports section shows the customer lifecycle stages in a way that looks like the AARRR funnel. So, these are the stages that show up in GA4:
At first glance, not too much has changed when you look at the reports from UA and those from GA4.
So, the audience is now under the user section, the acquisition is still called acquisition, behavior is now called engagement, and conversions are now called monetization.
Just like UA, GA4 has real-time reporting so you can know what’s going on as soon as it happens.
2. Measurement Models
The way they measure things is one of the most important differences between the two versions of Google Analytics.
On the one hand, UA uses a model based on hits and sessions. A “session” is a group of user actions or page views that happen on a website over a certain amount of time. This means that UA can keep track of more than one-page view, event, or transaction during a single session.
The GA4 model, on the other hand, is based on events and parameters. In this case, every time a user does something, that is recorded as an event. This gives you more options because you can measure how users interact on different platforms and devices.
3. Data collection & User Privacy
UA relies on cookies which are increasingly limited. However, GA4 is less dependent on cookies and provides a bigger privacy control. Some of these pro-privacy GA4 features include IP anonymization, Data storage duration, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and Google Consent Mode.
Let’s examine each of them one by one.
A. IP anonymization
A big change in GA4 is that IP addresses are now hidden. Before GA4, Analytics let you see every IP address that went to your website. Now, you can’t see any IP address or save it.
B. Data storage duration
Until UA, you could store collected data for up to 64 months—a little over 5 years. With the latest version of Google Analytics and to comply with GDPR, the length of time that data is stored is now much shorter.
In GA4, you only have two options for personal data storage: 2 months or 14 months, depending on your activities. That said, if you want to store data longer than that, it is possible to do so using Google’s data warehouses, such as BigQuery.
C. Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
PII, or personally identifiable information, can no longer be collected. Article 4 of GDPR says, “Personal data means any information about a known or identifiable natural person. An identifiable natural person is one who can be identified directly or indirectly, for example by a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier, or one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural, or social identity of that natural person.”
In other words, you can no longer collect the following PII:
- name and surname
- home address
- an email address such as email@example.com;
- identification card number;
- location data (i.e. location data function on a mobile phone)
- IP address
- a cookie ID
Also included in personal data are:
- ethnic origin
- political opinions
- religious or philosophical beliefs
- genetic data
- biometric data ( used for identification purposes)
- health data
- sex life or orientation
Since you can’t store all of this data, the question is clear: what kind of data can you store? These are the three main types:
- company registration number;
- an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org;
- anonymized data
Don’t forget that GDPR isn’t the only law that stops you from collecting PII. You also need to follow the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework, the Digital Services Act, and the General Personal Data Protection Law.
D. Google Consent Mode
So, with the new GA4 consent implementation, you can now tell GA4 to track how users act based on how they want to give consent.
5. Data Streams
As we saw in the Reporting interface, Google wants to give you an omnichannel experience where you can see how users interact with all your properties, no matter what device they use. In GA4, you can do this by using data streams.
Data streams are sources of information that send information to a GA4 property. This information could come from the Web or an App (iOS, Android).
And here’s the kicker: views are being replaced by data streams. Before now, views were mostly about filtering data and choosing what kind of data you wanted to see in the reports for a certain view. But data streams can be used as different points of contact between apps and websites on a user’s path. Google says that you shouldn’t use data streams to separate data like you used to do with views. This is because it defeats the point of streams, which is to link users across different data sources.
Moving from UA to GA4
People will have to move from UA to GA4. So it needs to be done. But in what way?
Here are the steps you need to take to move your data from UA to GA4 without losing anything.
1. Link your Universal Analytics account that you already have
Map everything in your current analytics account and write it all down so you can be sure everything is transferred to GA4. Remember that some of the UA features are not yet available on GA4. So, when Google makes new features, it will be easy to move everything that has already been mapped to GA4.
2. Clean up your data
It’s important to move your data, but it’s also important to only keep what you need. For the migration to go well, you will need to review, fix bugs, and clean up anything that isn’t needed or was done wrong.
3. Set up everything for GA4
Time to get down to business. A full GA4 setup has the following:
- Account structure
- Data streams creation
- Activation of Google Signals
- Google Ads Integration
- Google Search Console integration
- Mapping of all custom events, goals, and conversions from all views and tracking them on GA4
- Audiences migration
- Migration of e-commerce data collection
- Custom dimensions/metrics, referral exclusions, product link extensions, all the important bits and bytes to the detail
- Data import (if necessary)
4. Tag Manager mapping and migration
Everything about tags, triggers, and variables is covered in this step.
Depending on how much time you have and how much you know, it can be very hard to move successfully. If this is you, don’t worry about it. We offer GA4 migration services at an affordable price. If you need help setting up GA4 or moving to it, just let us know.