Google Analytics 4 VS Universal Analytics

Digital Business

Google Analytics 4 VS Universal Analytics

James Norquay

James Norquay

13 Nov 2023

In today’s article we’ll be talking about Google Analytics 4 VS Universal Analytics.

There have been plenty of complaints about Google replacing Universal Analytics (GAU) with Google Analytics 4 (GA4). 

While there are some drawbacks to GA4, I think you’ll find that this is actually a major upgrade. Too many people are afraid of change but this one might be for the best and I’ll explain why.

From Hits To Events

Instead of individual hit types, everything in Google Analytics 4 is tracked as an event. Page views, scrolls, user timings, screen views, all of these are now event-based. GA4 more accurately follows the user’s journey throughout your website.

If you set up debug mode, you can visualize all tracked events for a user inside Configure → Debug View.

It’s able to follow sessions more accurately too. If your user loses their internet connection and then regains it, GAU would count that as two separate sessions. In GA4, it has the ability to pick back up where the user left off.

Overall, Google Analytics 4 gives you more accurate measurements than Universal Analytics.

Custom Reporting

GA4 gives you access to new custom reporting features that GAU doesn’t have.

With these reports, you can create conversion funnels, path explorations, free form diagrams and much more.

To set these up all you have to do is go to the Explorations tab and then use one of the templates provided.

Here’s an example of using the conversion funnel report.

You can get a clear visual of where your users drop-off at specific pages. The funnels are cleaner than Google Analytics Universal and they are interactive. 

You can drill down into specific pages and you can use conditionals in your funnel steps. Funnel steps can be customized by directly followed or indirectly followed, the amount of time in between steps and logical statements.

Reports are now downloadable and shareable with other team members as well.

GAU has funnel reports but not nearly as clean, accurate and customizable as GA4.

Machine Learning & Insights

One of the biggest advantages of GA4 over universal analytics is machine learning.

GAU used Multi Channel Funnels to help show you “assisted conversions”. In GA4, this report is now known as Conversion Paths. Not only is it cleaner and easier to follow but it lets you use a Data Driven Attribution Model (DDA).

Data Driven Attribution model uses AI to accurately assign your conversion credit.

In GAU, these were called Assisted Conversions but in GA4 these are now called touchpoints.

Sometimes visitors don’t convert right away. They might start with organic, go to Youtube, click on an ad and then convert. Each channel is considered a touchpoint. 

How do we know which one had the biggest impact on a conversion?

DDA recognizes patterns to determine which channels hold the most weight.

Instead of using Last Click attribution model in GAU, you can use DDA in GA4 to get a better picture of how your users convert.

Search Console Integration

In GAU, all you have to do is go to Acquisition → Search Console and you can see all your GSC data in terms of landing pages and queries.

Unfortunately, in GA4 there is no search console integration yet. This is a bummer for SEOs.

However, you can just use GSC separately or integrate all your data into one report using Google Data Studio.

Bounce Rate

They did what!?! Yes, GA4 removed Bounce Rate.

In case you didn’t know, Bounce Rate is when a user visits a page and exits before clicking through to another. 

A high Bounce Rate can indicate a low quality page but not always. 

Sometimes the user will leave after they get exactly what they’re looking for.

In GA4, Bounce Rate got replaced by Engagement Rate. An Engagement counts if a user stays on the page longer than 10 seconds or converts. 

In a way, Engagement Rate is the opposite of Bounce Rate. If you’re trying to identify underperforming content, you can just look for pages with low Engagement Rate. 

Dwell Time

Dwell time is arguably an important ranking factor in SEO. Google wants to see that users love your page and that they stay on it for a long time.

In GAU, you had to do some hacky Google Tag Manager tricks to get the dwell time for certain pages.

The reason you had to do all this was because the old Google Analytics calculates average time on page by using the next page view. If there isn’t a next page view, your time on page would be considered zero.

In GA4, Average Engagement Time is a much more accurate representation of Dwell Time.

It only runs the timer if your app screen was in the foreground or your web page was in focus.

When a user exits through the back button, closes a tab or window, refreshes the page, or goes to the next page, that timer stops. 

Final Verdict

GA4 isn’t perfect but it looks like we’re all going to have to get used to it. With GA4, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. 

Some standard reports are missing compared to GAU but I do believe that you get better data collection and more accurate measurements. Also, the Exploration Reports and Conversion Paths are 1000x better in GA4. 

Overtime, as they work out the kinks, people will come around and forget all about GAU.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let us know.

James Norquay

James Norquay founded Prosperity Media in 2012 after working in the SEO & Content Marketing space for over 10 years. Prosperity works on Small to Large eCommerce, Marketplace and many other projects in Australia and the US markets.