22 Feb 2023

A Comprehensive Look at Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics: What Associations Need to Know


Update: Google announced last year that Universal Analytics (UA) would cease data collection from July 2023, making way for the takeover of Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Read more about this transition in our updated post.

With the rise of data-driven strategies, analytics have become an integral part of decision-making processes for associations worldwide. Google has long been at the forefront of this movement with its universally used Universal Analytics. However, the release of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) signals a new era of data analytics that every association needs to understand. Let’s dive deep into what differentiates GA4 from Universal Analytics and how it impacts your data strategy.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4):

Google Analytics 4, introduced in 2020, is the latest version of Google’s analytics platform designed to provide more valuable insights for businesses and associations. GA4 is geared towards a more privacy-first era, aligning with the ongoing shift in the industry. It emphasizes machine learning to provide enhanced predictive analytics and user-centric measurement.

Key Features of GA4:

  1. Event-Driven Model: Unlike Universal Analytics that used session-based data collection, GA4 operates on an event-based model. This means that any interaction from the user, whether it is pageviews, clicks, or scrolling, can be tracked as an event, providing a more holistic view of the user journey.
  2. Advanced Analysis: With GA4’s Analysis Hub, associations can delve deeper into data and uncover new insights. The platform allows cross-platform tracking, enabling a comprehensive view of user behavior across apps and websites.
  3. Predictive Metrics: Using machine learning, GA4 offers predictive metrics, helping you understand expected user behavior, churn probability, and purchase probability.
  4. Better Privacy Controls: GA4 is designed to adapt to a world with or without cookies. It allows for more granular data controls, giving users an opportunity to handle their data more responsibly.

Universal Analytics:

Universal Analytics has been the mainstay of Google’s web analytics for many years. It provides invaluable insights into website traffic, user demographics, and behavior. While Universal Analytics primarily uses session-based data collection, it does have the ability to track events, but with less granularity than GA4.

Key Features of Universal Analytics:

  1. User and Session Data: Universal Analytics provides robust user and session data, allowing for an understanding of user behavior during specific sessions.
  2. Goal Tracking: This feature enables tracking of specific actions completed by users on your website, providing insight into how well your site meets specific objectives.
  3. Traffic Source Information: Universal Analytics provides detailed reports on where your website traffic is coming from, a crucial component for SEO strategies.
  4. Custom Dimensions and Metrics: While it doesn’t provide the same granular event tracking as GA4, Universal Analytics does allow for custom dimensions and metrics, providing a level of customization to your data analysis.

GA4 vs Universal Analytics: The Takeaway for Associations

So, which platform should your association use? The short answer is: both, if possible. Universal Analytics provides a robust foundation, but GA4’s focus on event-driven data, machine learning, and privacy controls reflect the future of analytics.

Google Analytics 4 provides a more comprehensive picture of the user journey, making it invaluable for associations aiming to improve user experience and engagement. However, as GA4 is relatively new, it still has room to mature, and there might be some gaps in reporting and functionality compared to Universal Analytics.

In conclusion, it’s recommended that associations implement GA4 alongside Universal Analytics, taking advantage of the strengths of both platforms. As GA4 continues to evolve, it’s important to stay up-to-date with its improvements to leverage its full potential for your association’s growth.

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