GA4 is the latest version of Google Analytics. It was first released as a beta in November 2019, and then it was formally released on October 14, 2020. We’ll go into detail here about the differences between Google Analytics GA4 and Universal Analytics, the previous version.
The great thing about Google Analytics 4 is that it tracks data for your app and your website within one property. With Universal Analytics, data could only be tracked for your app or your website. So you would need more than one property to track data if you had both an app and a website. FYI: Universal Analytics is the previous version of Google Analytics 4.
Moreover, while UA would have counted someone as two people if they accessed their property from two different devices, GA4 can track users across devices and count them as one person. As of now, there is no formal end-of-life date for UA. (Update as of March 16, 2022: Google announced that it will stop processing Universal Analytics data on July 1, 2023)
Data tracking in GA4 is “event-based” instead of “hit-based” like UA. Event-based data tracking allows for more specific information and context to be collected from users. GA4 is also less reliant on cookies than its predecessor (though cookies can still be used). Since online data privacy has become an important issue to users globally, cookies’ place in websites and apps will be diminished.
They may still have a role, but it will be far less prevalent and very different than their current role. Laws like Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US have expedited the transition away from cookie use. Coinciding with the privacy items mentioned above, IP anonymization is a default setting in GA4.
One downside of the data tracking in GA4 when compared to UA at this time is that attribution modeling in GA4 is restricted to first-click attribution or last-click attribution. UA offers other options including position-based attribution, time-decay attribution, and linear attribution. Attribution modeling is especially useful to marketers who want to understand user behavior that ultimately leads to a conversion.
However, GA4 does utilize machine learning & AI to constantly evolve, whereas UA relies on “firing events” or “hits” to track data. Because GA4 utilizes machine learning and AI, it allows for predictive metrics, which are incredibly valuable from a business perspective. Additionally, GA4 can track events happening on your website/app in real-time.
If you’re thinking about transitioning from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, you ought to view event data collection from a new perspective in GA4 rather than move events data collection directly from UA. While GA4 and UA may share a lot of the same attributes and even naming conventions, because of the fundamental differences in the two versions’ data collection, it is not advised to compare data between GA4 & UA.
If you’re interested in learning more about Google Analytics 4 and need technical expertise, schedule a free consultation with one of our marketing tech experts. Engine Room is ready to help you make the best possible website and mobile app!