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

Laura Caveney
10th June 2021

Google Analytics 4 has been out for a while now. So, we decided to check it out and pick out some key differences you need to take note of if you’re moving from Universal Analytics to GA4.

Google Analytics 4 is out there in the world. And for most marketers, getting to grips with it is taking time. Especially since Google Analytics is still available to use.

Update: Google has announced since the publication of this blog that they will sunset Universal Analytics on July 1 2023 meaning you need to migrate to GA4 sooner rather than later.

But if you are thinking of migrating, have no fear, we’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are some of the key differences you need to know before you switch from Universal Analytics to GA4.

Related: Limitations of Google Analytics

Keep reading for our top findings around some key features in Google Analytics 4 compared to Universal Analytics:

1. Reporting interface
2. Measurement model
3. Sessions
4. Bounce rate and engagement rate
5. IP anonymisation
6. Landing page reports
7. App and site monitoring
8. Attribution modelling
9. BigQuery schema
10. Data retention

Let’s get stuck in.

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

So 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.

Read our 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 make the decision for yourself.

Key differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4

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.

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.

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. 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.

Over to you

Even though it’ll take Google some time to fully roll out features into GA4, it’s a great idea to start integrating its data into your reporting.

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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