In 2023, most eCommerce store owners know what Google Analytics is, if not how it works. But just in case, it’s a web analytics service that helps businesses understand user behavior and website performance. In October 2020, Google launched a new version of its analytics platform called Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It is designed to provide a more holistic view of user behavior across devices and platforms. Universal Analytics is going to be discontinued and defunct by late summer, 2023. We’re going to briefly go into the differences between GA4 and the previous version, Universal Analytics.
Google Analytics Data Collection
The main difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics is the way they collect and process data. GA4 uses an event-based model, which means that every interaction a user has with a website or app is treated as an event. Things that you may not determine as being significant, can be measured as events. Clicking on a button or link, playing a video, or scrolling a page; these are all events. GA4 also allows businesses to collect data from multiple devices and platforms, including mobile apps and web apps.
On the other hand, Universal Analytics uses a session or pageview-based model, which tracks each time a page loads on a website. This limits the amount of data that businesses can collect and analyze, and makes it difficult to track user behavior across devices and platforms.
GA4 works with your site to assign identifiers to your users, then tracks interactions by event as opposed to a session. Let’s say a shopper on their work computer clicks on a paid ad that takes them to your site. They search for product A to research it. Two days later, they visit your site on their cell phone and purchase product A and product B.
Universal Analytics would tell you:
- Two different users accessed your site; one on mobile, one on PC
- One clicked on an ad and the other landed on the site Direct (aka typed in the URL)
- One user looked at the advertised product then left your site, counting as a “bounce”, which negatively affects your ranking
- The other user purchased two products without visiting any other pages. This would not count as a conversion for the ad
GA4, on the other hand, would give a much more accurate account of what happened:
- One user accessed the site from two different devices; one mobile and one PC
- The user clicked the ad to get to the site and completed the conversion by eventually placing the order
- The user also purchased a second item
You can see that the roadmap from GA4 is not only more succinct and true to life, but it also presents a much different story about the effectiveness of the ad and the engagement on the site.
Another major difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics is the way they report data. GA4 provides a more streamlined and user-friendly interface, with a focus on key metrics and insights. The platform is designed to be more intuitive, with simplified navigation and the ability to create custom reports.
Universal Analytics, on the other hand, provides a more complex and granular reporting interface. While it offers a wider range of reports and insights, it can be more challenging for users to navigate and customize. We also need to remember that sometimes, less is more. It can be overwhelming and very easy to get lost in the mountains of data provided by Universal Analytics. A lot of it sounds repetitive and convoluted (Page Views vs. Unique Page Views, Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate).
GA4 can report less data, but more meaningful information than Universal Analytics.
GA4 provides more advanced audience segmentation capabilities than Universal Analytics. With GA4, businesses can create custom audiences based on user behavior, including events and user properties. This allows businesses to create more targeted marketing campaigns and tailor content to specific audiences. For example, the business owner of a specialty shoe company can create one audience segment for shoppers who search for and purchase ballet shoes. They can create another for shoppers who are interested in soccer cleats. That would give the store owner a great insight into how to appeal to those shoppers specifically. The soccer player isn’t likely to care as much about a sale on pointe shoes.
In contrast, Universal Analytics provides more limited audience segmentation options, primarily based on demographics like age and gender, and user behavior on the website. This information can limit your understanding of your audience base.
GA4 Machine Learning and AI
One of the most significant differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics is the integration of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) in GA4. GA4 includes a feature called Analytics Intelligence, which uses machine learning to provide automated insights and predictive analytics. This allows businesses to identify trends and opportunities in their data, without needing advanced analytics skills.
Universal Analytics does not include machine learning or AI features, which can make it more challenging for store owners to produce any meaningful insights from the information.
With the release of Google Analytics 4, the intention is to edit down and trim the fat from Universal Analytics to make it more user-friendly. Instead of being a marketer’s resource for complicated data, it can now also function as an easy-to-understand weekly check-in for the store owner to stay on top of site performance.
While Universal Analytics offered much more in terms of metrics and charts and graphs, they are useless if they can’t be easily accessed or read. In paring down the data and reconfiguring the measuring tools, Google is offering a more accurate look at what’s happening on your site, from a human perspective, instead of a robot perspective.
It’s important to note that Google’s Universal Analytics data will no longer be available after GA4 is fully rolled out later this summer, 2023. Because of that, we strongly encourage you to get GA4 up and running on your site, alongside Universal Analytics, so that by the time GA4 takes over, you’ll already have a good baseline to work with.