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Let’s compare Google Universal Analytics to GA4!

Y. Espinal / April 29, 2022

With the sunsetting of GA4, OrbitWeb is comparing both Google Universal and GA4. Let’s check it out! 

Right off the bat, GA4 looks different than Universal, but aside from the aesthetics, GA4 is a fundamental redefinition of analytics and how data is collected. This change better reflects how people use the web and apps today!

It’s All About Those GA4 Sessions

One of the biggest change is how data is collected!

Universal is all about sessions and those sessions contain hits, which are things like individual pageviews, and then they can be collected under a user. So, a user could have multiple sessions and those sessions each could have multiple pageviews. 

In GA4 there are sessions, but the way in which it’s collected is very different. There are only two types of data in GA4, user properties, and events

You can see a comparison here of what that means for the type of data you’re collecting.

 

In GA Universal, you would have something at a hit scope, which is the smallest scope a piece of data could be collected at, whereas in GA4, that would be an event or event parameter. 

In Universal, something would be user scoped, in GA4, those are user properties and in Universal session scoping existed, which is no longer a thing in GA4.

Those scopes Universal meant that for example, it was difficult to see a conversion rate when looking at pageviews, because conversion was a session scoped event, while a pageview was a hit scoped event. If things weren’t at the same scope level, you couldn’t easily compare them, but now, in GA4, that doesn’t really matter anymore because scopes are gone. 

Let’s Look a Bit More Deeply at Events in GA4. 

To begin with, here’s a list of the different hit types that Universa had:

In GA4, as you can see that everything has been replaced with an event. 

An event in GA4 can be lots of things. It can indicate the start of a session or a pageview or a transaction, or someone’s very first visit to your site. 

Events are extremely flexible and are no longer bound by the category, action and label terminology that we became used to in Universal. GA4 also has automatic event tracking. In Universal we would need to set up events for everything except for pageviews. In GA4, these events are automatically captured, pageviews, of course, 90% scroll depth, outbound clicks, site searches, video engagement, and file downloads.

Of course, if you want to track things other than this, such as a form fill, you would need to set up events for that, but the fact that we have this base tracking already is great!  You can see a list of what GA4 automatically collects at this link.

Additionally, bounce rate is gone from GA4 and good riddance, it was never actually measuring what people thought it was measuring anyway. Now we have what might become the new bounce rate, unfortunately, engagement rate, but engaged sessions are better than bounce rate. 

An engaged session by default means that someone actually had your website open in the foreground for 10 seconds, they completed a conversion event or they viewed two or more pages or screens during their session.

Wait there’s more…

Another exciting new feature is that you can edit events in GA4. Name something wrong? You can fix it. That was never possible in Universal. You can even create new events based on events, which is great for things like audience behavior tracking. 

GA4 and Conversions

Conversions are also totally reworked. With the 20-goal limit removed and the ability to turn conversions off and on as needed, instead of needing to reuse old goals if you had to go over that 20-goal limit. 

You do specifically need to have an event that you then mark as a conversion, so, you’ll need to think about how best to deliver individual events that you can then mark as conversions. If, for example, you need to record a specific pageview as a goal, then you can use “the create” an event based on an event feature to fire an event when someone visits that specific page and then mark that new event as a conversion. GA4 also includes a free integration with BigQuery, whereas with Universal you had to pay for a tool or write your own scripts to get your data out of Google Analytics. 

There are lots more exciting features, including better visualizations, better identity management, improved audience creation, real-time debugging, and more. 

Transitioning to Google Analytics 4 is inevitable. With GA4, set to affect the way, we measure online behavior going forward, getting a head-start on planning, strategy, implementation, and education is essential for organizations. OrbitWeb is a Google Partner that can help any organization prepare for GA4. Contact us to learn more.