Farewell to UA the GA4 era has arrived
As appointed 2 years ago, 1st July meant the end of 11 years of “Universal Analytics”, the longest website traffic statistics database Google provided to webmasters.
A long evolution road since 1995 when “Urchin” was created, and finally purchased by Google in April 2005. Here is a timeline of Google Analytics history:
|Google Analytics Historical Updates||Launched||Discontinued Service|
|Urchin from Google||2005||2007|
|Google Analytics (GA)||2007||2016|
|Google Analytics 4||2020||present|
Why GA required evolutions?
Users evolve,market requirements evolve, code evolves, devices evolve, therefore, an old platform designed to track ABC but not D & E, needs to be revamped. There have been many patches, and improvements, but at some point, if you need to refurbish 70% of your product, better build a new one.
What are the main differences between UA vs GA4?
Main feature is related to the integration of APP tracking together with your website tracking. But let’s spot the 13 most significant changes:
- Different tracking system: While UA was focused on different “hit types” (pageviews, events, transaction,etc.), categorized from there (“event category, event action, event label). GA4 has a more flexible data model based on events and parameters, tracking every user interaction, and allowing users to define the details they want to track on such interactions through Google Tag Manager (GTM).
- Web and App integration Data Stream: On UA you could create different properties for the websites, and apps, but somehow they were all disconnected. And on GA4 you can just create a unique Data Stream, that will gather collectively the performance of your website(s), and/or app(s).
- User Journey Focus: GA4 creates for each user an “User ID”, and allows to group sessions on multiple browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox,etc.) and devices (desktop, mobile, smartTV) and allows you to follow the journey of a unique user going several times through your site/s, regardless the changes on users’ side.
- Automated Tracking: Enhanced Measurement function, allows users to measure a specific type of interaction in addition to the UA “page view”. These include(Page View, Scroll, Outbound Click, Video engagement, File Download, etc.)
- Customizable Reports: The reports on UA were preset, and quite easy to use through filters. On GA4, in order to start, you need to create your customized report, which at the beginning may become a bit challenging. But in the long term, it allows you to combine metrics like never before, change the User Interface (UI), and add permanent filters to show you with one click the exact information you may require to check on a daily basis.
- Define an event as a Conversion: GA4 tracks many different events on your site, and allows you with one click on the “events settings” to mark which ones should be considered as a conversion, and which ones not. While still allowing to create your own conversion events as UA used to do.
- Debugging feature: GA4 includes a debugging feature that allowsyou within seconds to test, if your configuration , or recent changes, are taken in place, or generating your expected results.
- BigQuery Integration: BigQuery integration is (in my opinion), one of the main factors that pushed google to create a new Analytics version, and with BigQuery allows you to combine the information of GA4 with third party data sources.
- FREE explorations: UA offered in its paid version a feature called “Advanced Analysis” which allowed you perform a deeper analysis based on business questions you may have. Now GA4 includes for free the section “Explorations” which replicate the previous UA function.
- Predictive Metrics: In the User lifetime explorations of GA4. You can use predictive metrics based on Machine learning to identify users and their actions which may lead to a purchase or conversion through:
- Purchase probability
- Churn probability
- Predicted revenue
And in the same way predict audiences, like predicted 28 month purchasers, or predicted 7 day revenue, etc…
- Privacy Options: GA4 now does not store IP address information, and offers different privacy options like the possibility of removing a particular user data (in case it’s requested), setting data retention to different periods, and many other privacy options to protect user data.
- Anomaly detection: GA4 calculates the average expected users for any given day, and tracks noticeable changes on standard traffic flows, in order to help you track spikes, or sudden drops, on your standard reports. In some cases it may result in a false positive, however it is convenient, if you are not tracking the site performance, or when analyzing long term data.
- Data collection limits: Normally GA always sets some limits on data collection, and as usual, they expanded these between UA limits, and GA4 limits, find below the most significant limit updates:
|Universal Analytics||Google Analytics 4|
|User Sessions (web data stream)||500||Unlimited|
|Custom Conversion/ Goals types||20||30|
GA4 vs UA Frequently ask Questions
Yes, unlike the previous evolution in 2016, where all Classic Analytics properties were directly migrated to UA, in this case, properties are completely isolated. Google still offers the option to connect your old UA, and the new GA4 accounts. As from 1st July 2023, UA properties are already not collecting data, and from 1st July 2024, all users will lose access to UA platform and lose any data not backed up.