10 Things You Need to Know When Switching from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

Laura Caveney
25th November 2022

If you’re setting up Google Analytics 4 and want to know the key things to expect when you switch over, then this blog is what you need. 

Hopefully, you’re all set up with Google Analytics 4.

But if you’re still not sure what you’re doing, don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

In November 2022, we found that 30% of marketers still hadn’t made the switch to Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics.

And it’s hardly surprising. For most marketers, getting to grips with it is taking time. 

UA is due to sunset on July 1 2023 meaning you need to migrate to GA4 sooner rather than later.

Related: Limitations of Google Analytics

But while switching accounts is important, remember, you don’t need to cancel your UA just yet. Just make sure you have GA4 and all the data you need running through before January 2023. That way you know you’ll have a full year of data to look back on in Google Analytics 4. 

To help you migrate, we’ll walk you through some key reporting features to check out in Google Analytics. Keep reading to learn: 

Let’s get stuck in. 

What is Google Analytics 4? 

Google Analytics 4 is an analytics tool that allows businesses to measure their website and apps, plus look at how marketing channels feed traffic into their website. 

Google Analytics 4 is the updated version of the Google Analytics dashboard. GA was first brought about in 2005 and we haven’t seen a major update since then so it’s high time that the software was fully refreshed. 

To aid the migration, Google has kept its previous version, Universal Analytics, live while GA4 was launched in late 2020 with plans to sunset UA in July 2023. 

Should you switch your reporting to Google Analytics 4?

Before we dig into what the differences are between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, the first question to ask is “should I quit Universal Analytics and move straight to GA4?”

The short answer is no. Ideally, you want to set up GA4 and use it alongside Universal Analytics.

Remember, Universal Analytics won’t be around forever. The sooner you start making the move to GA4, the better.

GA4 hasn’t rolled out all of its capabilities yet – capabilities that you’ll be missing from Universal Analytics if you turn it off and move.

Plus, as you’ll see later in the blog, you’re getting different data between Universal Analytics and GA4.

Related: Metrics you need to track in Google Analytics

Our recommendation is to get started with GA4, even if you just copy your Google Analytics property and make sure to do dual tagging.

Then, when GA4 features are further along, you’ll be ready to make the move.

💡 Pro Tip

Whether you’re using Universal or GA4, we have to ask, are you getting the data you need from your dashboard? And by that, you know we mean revenue. B2B marketers or those dealing with offline conversions often struggle to get the right data in place.

Guide to tracking marketing revenue in GA to make it a breeze.

Now, let’s go through the major differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 so you can see what you need to prepare for.

🔗 Want to learn more? Follow Laura on LinkedIn to keep up to date with tips and tricks on tracking the impact of your marketing in Google Analytics

Key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4

The whole reason Google created GA4 separately from Universal Analytics is so that they could create a beta version that they could upgrade.

Universal Analytics was first launched in 2005.

And it goes with saying that the way we buy, and the way we market, has completely changed.

Google Analytics 4 is very different from Universal Analytics, so it’s best to upskill as much as you can before you dive into the data. 

Setting up GA4 is easy so it’s best you set up your data stream as soon as possible.

Related: How to set up Google Analytics 4 and what data to expect 

Next, you need to dive into how GA4 tracks users on your website and how events and conversions work. 

💡Pro Tip 

We’ve done the hard work and outlined the key info on events in GA4 plus how to set them up.

Complete guide to GA4 events

Understanding how GA4 works compared to Universal Analytics is tricky when you’re getting started. 

To help, we’ve outlined some key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics that you need to be aware of:

Let’s go through them, plus some other FAQs when it comes to GA4.

Reporting interface

At first glance, the differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 seem enormous as the reporting interfaces are very different.

This is because many of the reports and metrics you’re familiar with have either been removed or replaced.

When first logging into GA4, you may also notice considerably fewer reports than Universal Analytics.

But don’t worry just yet; GA4 reports are mostly generated once you start tracking events that require some manual setup.

Reporting views

In Universal Analytics, you can have up to 25 reporting views to give you control of your data. For Google Analytics 4, there is only one reporting view available.

But don’t worry, you can create new ‘Audiences’ and ‘Data streams’ and use these in place of filtered views.

Measurement model

GA3 (Universal Analytics) uses measurement based on sessions and pageviews whereas GA4 uses a measurement model based on events and parameters. We’ll get into what this means a little later on.

What’s important is that every activity taken by a user will be counted as an ‘event’ in GA4. It means that you’ll end up with much more detail on how users are engaging with your website.

Sessions

In Universal Analytics, a session is a combination of page views, events, transactions or more taken by one user within a given timeframe. You can think of a session as a container for all the actions a user takes while on your site.

Related: Everything you need to know about sessions in Google Analytics 4

In contrast, Google Analytics 4 sessions aren’t limited by time. Since it doesn’t create new sessions for source changes mid-session, your session count will likely be lower.

Given this change, your average session time will drastically change too. And remember, average pages per session is no longer measured in GA4.

Bounce rate and engagement rate

One big change is that Google Analytics 4 doesn’t measure bounce rate at all. Instead, you’ll find yourself tracking a new metric: engagement rate.

Instead of only looking at visitors who don’t move to another page on the website, engagement rate also considers the time spent on the landing page. This difference makes engagement rate and bounce rate incomparable.

Google Analytics 4 offers a range of engagement metrics including engaged sessions, engagement rate and engaged sessions per user.

IP anonymisation

Under GDPR, your IP address is considered personal data. In Universal Analytics, you had to actively configure GA to anonymise IP addresses so that you could comply with GDPR legislation.

Related: First-party tracking over third-party cookies

However, with Google Analytics 4, IP addresses are automatically anonymised.

Landing page reports

Another metric missing as we move from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 is landing page reports.

Related: How to measure landing page effectiveness

However, you can easily find out how many times the ‘session_start_ event’ was triggered on a particular page (this is what GA4 uses to trigger new sessions). This is an easy workaround to essentially create your own landing page reports.

App and site monitoring

Mobile app owners rejoice, you no longer have to measure your apps separately from your websites. So with GA4, you can accurately track cross-platform data between your site and app.

Attribution modelling

Attribution reporting isn’t changing much from Universal to GA4.

To view attribution reporting in Google Analytics 4, head to Advertising Snapshot, Model comparison or Conversion paths. Both of these will show you set reports that will help you link your marketing to your sales.

Related: How to set up and track conversions in Google Analytics and GA4

BigQuery schema

If you’re using BigQuery, then you’ll be pleased to hear that GA4 natively connects to it. Previously, it was only available to paying users of GA.

However, the native connector’s schema is completely different from Google’s Universal Analytics schema.

So, you may need to spend some time remapping your GA4 data before you can move it into BigQuery.

Once you’ve done it, running SQL queries should be much easier as data is stored much more neatly.

Data retention

While Universal Analytics stores your data pretty much forever, Google Analytics 4’s data expires after 14 months.

In Universal Analytics, you can choose your data retention, with options: 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months and Do not automatically expire.

But with Google Analytics 4, you only have two options: 2 months and 14 months.

While year on year comparison will still be possible, accessing your historic data will no longer be possible.

However, if you start moving your GA4 data to BigQuery early, then you’ll be able to retain historical data.

And remember, you’ll only be able to access data from the day it was set up. The sooner you get it up and running, the more historical data you’ll have in your reports.

Is Google Analytics 4 better? 

Google Analytics 4 will be better than Universal Analytics. Right now, you might be feeling that GA4 isn’t the best and you wouldn’t be alone. We asked marketers what they thought and they had some issues with Google Analytics 4.

limitations of google analytics 4

A lot marketers criticised the steep learning curve, though this is to be expected with any new marketing tool. A lot of marketers also took issue with the reports available in Google Analytics 4, along with its interfact. 

But it’s important to remember that GA4 is just a website measurement tool at the end of the day. It’s not a marketing measurement tool. 

As you’ll have seen in the features mentioned above, there are gaps in GA’s data capture and reporting that you just can’t find outside of a marketing attribution tool. 

If you’re looking to attribute sales back to marketing, then you’re going to struggle with GA4.

Related: How Ruler attributes sales to marketing

And remember, if you need to plug the attribution gap in the meantime, Ruler Analytics is a valid substitute. Learn more about how Ruler works and how it can support your marketing strategy.

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Google Analytics 4 FAQs

Google Analytics 4 was introduced in October 2020. We suggest getting set up on GA4 sooner rather than later.
If you have less than 10 million website sessions per month, then you can use the free version of Google Analytics. If you have over 10m per month, then you need to pay for Google Analytics 360.
Google Analytics 4 is a new dashboard within the Google Analytics brand. The previous dashboard was referred to as Universal Analytics. These are not the same, GA4 provides a lot of updated reports and tracking capabilities.
Yes, you should switch to GA4 as soon as you can to make sure you have as much data as possible.
Google Analytics 4 is very different from Universal Analytics so there is a learning curve to get over. GA4 does have some limitations when it comes to event and lead tracking; however it does offer more robust reporting.