Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: Benefits of GA4

Carl Hiehn Senior Account Strategist at Pedestal Search

Carl Hiehn Senior Account Strategist

May 12, 2022 | 4 Min Read

Article updated on July 8, 2022

Google has announced a surprising update in recent weeks – the shutdown of Google Universal Analytics. Yes, Google will switch Universal Analytics off on July 1st, 2023. Hits will no longer be processed from this date forward.

The switch comes from the push to move data processing to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which is now the default property. All businesses will have to transition to GA4. With that said, you might not feel 100% comfortable with the new platform and might feel a sense of nostalgia as UA turns off. But there’s no reason to fear the unknown.

In this post, we’ll examine Google analytics vs. Universal Analytics so that you can see the benefits of Google Analytics 4 for yourself.

What is the Difference Between GA4 and Universal Analytics

The key difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics is how they collect data. Universal Analytics is hit-based, recording data such as page hits, events, ecommerce details, and social interactions. On the other hand, Google Analytics is event-based, recording all interactions as such.

With Google Analytics, any interaction (event) gets classified as one of four event types, broken down into more detail in an “Enhanced Event Structure” view. The four-event types are:

  • Automatically collected events – Events GA4 tracks automatically.

  • Enhanced measurement events – Events you can track without having to configure in Google Tag Manager.

  • Recommended events – Events GA4 recommends to you based on their relevance.

  • Custom events – Events that you can create.

We’ll explain these events in further detail below. Aside from having a different data collection method, Google Analytics 4 presents data differently than the Enhanced Event Structure mentioned above. Google Analytics 4 has also done away with views and uses “data streams” instead. With this new feature, you can adjust filters to study data similarly to Universal Analytics.

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: The Breakdown

After reading this section, you’ll see why we told you not to fear the “unknown.” The benefits of Google Analytics 4 overshadow those of Universal Analytics – the switch makes data collection and interpretation easier.

One of the standout benefits of Google Analytics 4 is better detection of data anomalies, which allows you to explain discrepancies easier to clients. A further look at Google Analytics 4 reveals that it’s more streamlined than Universal Analytics regarding how it presents data and the reporting options it provides. Of course, this is just a surface-level breakdown of its advantages.

GA4 Focuses More on the User Journey

Google Analytics 4 allows you to measure user interactions across all platforms, which offers you an all-encompassing, holistic view. For example, if a visitor arrived at your site via mobile device, hit “sign up,” and then downloaded your app, you could track their journey from start to finish. You can piece these individual datasets together and analyze them in one hub.

GA4’s User Interface is More User-Centric

The user buckets we’re familiar with in Universal Analytics are great but not quite in line with marketers’ goals. Google Analytics 4 allows for more user-oriented reporting thanks to its four buckets – “audience,” “acquisition,” “monetization,” and “retention.” You can even drill down your “audience” report to define specific types of users, such as mobile users, purchases, etc.

Easier Conversion/Event Tracking

GA4 allows you to mark any event as a conversion, a feature that Universal Analytics didn’t have. And unlike Universal Analytics which only allowed you to track 20 conversions per reporting view, GA4 will enable you to track as many conversions you need. Lastly, you can modify or create a new event based on the occurrence of other events (and parameters).

Automated Event Tracking

Here’s a feature that you’ll love as it saves time and effort. Google Analytics 4 lets you automate certain events, which you couldn’t do in Universal Analytics. These events include outbound link clicks, video engagements, file downloads, and scroll activity.

Easier Cross-Domain Tracking Setup

You’ve probably had your share of hiccups trying to keep track of multiple domains in Universal Analytics. Fortunately, GA4 streamlines cross-domain tracking. Simply configuring your domains in the Admin section allows you to conduct cross-domain tracking without additional tagging like Universal Analytics.

GA4 Offers More Custom Dimensions & Metrics

Universal Analytics was limited to providing just 20 custom dimensions and metrics. GA4, on the other hand, supports 75 of them – 50 event-scoped custom dimensions and metrics and 25 user-scoped custom dimensions.

Quick Data Validation & Auditing

Debugging your setup is a necessary part of validating your analytics configuration. Of course, it can be very time-consuming and a hassle depending on your experience. Fortunately, GA4 simplifies debugging with DebugView, a real-time reporting tool that monitors event data. You can even isolate data sets to analyze data from specific devices if you need to.

Google Analytics 4 Offers Predictive Analytics Capabilities

A highly anticipated feature of Google Analytics 4 is its predictive analytics ability. Using machine learning, GA4 can predict the potential actions of users, allowing you to spot visitors who may convert. Its predictive ability also generates probabilities on churn (users who may not be active after seven days) and revenue potential.

Other GA4 Features

GA4 allows other handy features. One capability many users will enjoy is its ability to collect data for both websites & apps. This newer platform also features more robust and user-friendly data visualizations, making data interpretation easier and faster.

Google Analytics 4: The Future of Marketing Data Collection

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably seen at least one or two (if not more) features that you would welcome. If you agree, remember we told you not to fear the switch from Universal Analytics – the benefits of Google Analytics 4 will make you wonder why you hesitated in the first place.

Of course, using Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics doesn’t change the need to have good interpretative skills. It also doesn’t make the ability to make decisions based on data insights obsolete. If these skills aren’t your forte, don’t hesitate to contact a marketing agency such as Pedestal Search to help you interpret your data and build marketing strategies around it.

Are you looking to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy? Get in touch with us to make help you get started.


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Carl Hiehn Senior Account Strategist at Pedestal Search

Carl Hiehn

Senior Account Strategist

With over seven years of digital marketing experience, Carl leads Pedestal's Account Strategist team. He holds a degree in professional writing from York University and a certificate in digital marketing from the University of Toronto. Before narrowing in on SEO at Pedestal, Carl worked as a content writer, social media manager, and digital ads manager in the travel & tourism industry. He has worked at internationally lauded companies such as Intrepid Travel and Outward Bound Canada, as well as boutique businesses such as Out Adventures.