The latest Google Analytics version is Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It was built from scratch to focus on providing valuable insights made possible by machine learning. Eventually, Universal Analytics (UA), the current version, will be replaced by Google Analytics 4. 

First released in October 2020, GA4 has become the default GA version for new properties. For now, you can still set a UA property up. However, this option will probably not be around for long. If you need to set a new analytics property up, it is recommended that you simultaneously build UA and GA4 properties. 

Universal Analytics (UA) vs. Google Analytics 4

There are several unique features contained in GA4 compared to those found in Universal Analytics. The following is a breakdown of the new features that GA4 promises and how they compare to what is offered by Universal Analytics. 

Combines reporting and data from apps and sites

GA4 has been designed for markers who would like to combine their data from multiple properties like mobile apps or websites. Traditionally, it has been challenging to track users across multiple properties, particularly when attempting to attribute revenue (mobile app purchases or e-commerce transactions) to multiple touchpoints within the customer journey. 

In order to do that, GA4 enables users to have multiple Data Streams set up in each property. Data Streams may be a website, Android app, or IOS app. Conversion data, engagement metrics, and user data from each of the Data Streams get merged into the GA4 reporting interface to provide a more comprehensive picture of the way travel between apps and websites on their path towards making a purchase. 

Advantage: Google Analytics 4

Machine learning-driven insights 

According to the GA4 launch announcement, at its core GA4 has machine learning to automatically surface useful insights ad provides you with a comprehensive understanding of your customers across platforms and devices. 

The insights are displayed within the analytics interface and frequently include details that a human analyst might miss. For example, anomalies (e.g. Users from Arlington, VA this week are 150% higher than expected) or comparisons of time periods (last week vs. this week) can help marketers to identify fast-moving trends and act on them. 

As GA4 continues to collect data over longer periods of time, the feature will become even more powerful. 

Advantage: Google Analytics 4

Reporting based on following the customer lifecycle 

The premise of GA4 is that a similar pattern is followed by each customer from Acquisition to Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. The hierarchy of the reports matches that pattern. There are pre-built reports for each of the steps within the customer’s journey. That will make it easier to find data as well as address performance issues within each customer lifecycle phase. 

That makes sense intuitively. However many of the basic reports in Universal Analytics that people rely on are not yet available in GA4. even within the custom report builder. That seriously limits the ability to identify areas to improve site performance and conduct more thorough analyses on user behaviors.

Advantage: Universal Analytics

Event-driven conversions and tracking 

Marketers are used to tracking conversions within Universal Analytics using events or pageviews. However, all conversions in GA4 are tied to user-driven events (e.g. button clicks, scroll depth, form submissions, etc) that have to be customized within each property. At first, that appears to be limiting since the implementation is more technically challenging. However, once this is mastered it provides marketers with more flexibility in terms of reporting on and tracking conversions across platforms and devices. 

Advantage: Universal Analytics

Designed for a future that is focused on privacy 

GA4 recognizes a likely future reality that includes enhanced privacy regulations and/or cookieless tracking for consumers. As cookies become blocked or phased out by government regulations, browser developers, or device manufacturers, modeling will be used by GA4 that is driven by machine learning to provide insights into visitor behaviors through filling the gaps in when user data is unavailable. Conversion models will not provide the same level of detail that marketers currently enjoy, so there are drawbacks, particularly when it comes to smaller sets of data. 

User-specific data controls make it possible for marketers to customize the way they collect, store, and track user data. Users are also able to opt-out of Google Analytics 4 tracking by installing the opt-out browser add-on from Google Analytics.

Advantage: Google Analytics 4 (over the long run)

Audiences and predictive metrics 

Maybe the biggest game-changer provided by GA4 is being able to predict future outcomes that are based on historical data. Machine learning is used by this new predictive metrics feature to model likely future revenue and transactions for e-commerce websites. Also, predictive audiences make it possible for advertisers to use targeted ads on Google properties to those visitors that are considered to be more likely to make a purchase within the next 7 days. 

These predictive features are currently available for e-commerce sites only and are based on churn metrics, revenue, and transactions. We can envision a future where GA4 can identify visitors that are the most likely to convert based on marketing goals like video views, lead form submissions, and other forms of engagement.  

Advantage: Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 Initial Limitations 

Google Analytics 4 is a new product. It is still immature and is not ready at this time to meet more advanced marketers’ needs. The following are some of the critical shortcomings that future updates will hopefully address.

Historical data cannot be accessed by GA4

New Google Analytics 4 properties immediately start to collect data. However, no historical data is imported from Universal Analytics. Hopefully, that feature will be added in the future. However, until that time. GA4 is seriously limited until you are able to accumulate enough history to allow the insights from machine learning to work properly and to give you year over year data to make comparisons.

GA4 was launched with a small feature set that is still growing 

Some of GA4’s features have not been fully baked in yet. We are watching closely to see how they develop to meet marketers’ needs. Like previous Google Analytics generations, we expect that Ga4 will have new features added that Universal Analytics does not provide.

Limited granularity in custom and built-in reports 

Many of the reports that Universal Analytics provides are not available in GA4 yet. GA4 Google Ads reports, for example, only include ad group level and campaign detail. Performance by ad creative, audience, or keyword is not available. We assume this is on the way, but for most marketers, these are mission-critical components. 

Should you upgrade right now to Google Analytics 4?

Google is clearly building a future around GA4. However, don’t get rid of Universal Analytics just yet. There is not a public timeline yet for the phasing out of Universal Analytics, so most likely GA4 and UA will co-exist for quite some time given the huge number of users who rely on UA. 

This doesn’t mean that GA4 should be ignored. We recommend that you add a GA4 property to your current Google Analytics account. Google Analytics 4 is able to run side-by-side with UA so your Universal Analytics data remains accessible and intact. This allows you to experiment with GA4 while it matures and gives you the best of both worlds.

Author

Sumit is an aspiring writer with an increased interest in Asian politics.Residing in New Delhi, he often writes about Diplomatic Relationships, Trade and International Business. Reach Sumit on Facebook / Twitter.

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