Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

You’ve surely heard that Google Analytics isn’t just an improvement to Universal Analytics but rather a completely new product. Google will be phasing out Universal Analytics over time. 

But what precisely does that mean? What are some of the new features in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) that distinguish it from Universal Analytics? And why are some marketers so eager to make the transition?

Google Analytics is a service used by around 30 million websites to analyze user behavior better and produce a better user experience. So it’s no wonder that when Google announced the changeover to GA4, marketers and website owners had a lot of questions.

What is the Difference Between GA4 and Universal Analytics?

The New Google Analytics 4 is the next generation of Google Analytics. GA4 is designed to be more scalable and privacy-centric, with higher limits and less sampling. The event-based tracking framework and cross-device capabilities will enable a holistic view of data across websites and mobile apps.

The Universal Analytics versus GA4 comparison below will help you understand some of the high-level differences between what will and won’t be changing with the new Google Analytics. When Google announces the features and functionality in the latest Google Analytics 360 beyond what you’ll get in GA4 Standard, that information will be added to this page.

Google is continually evolving the features and functionality of GA4, and this page will be updated periodically to reflect changes from the latest releases and announcements. 


GA4’s standard reporting interface is more streamlined and simplified than its universal counterpart. GA360 users will recognize GA4’s more flexible “Explore” reporting interface, which was formerly called “Analysis (Beta)” in GA Universal 360.

GA Data Collection

Custom dimensions, metrics, UTM campaign tracking parameters, and enhanced eCommerce won’t change too radically in Google Analytics 4. See below for information on the number of available goals, custom dimensions, and custom metric slots in the new Google Analytics.

Product Integrations

The ability of Google Analytics to integrate with other tools in the Google Marketing Platform is a massive advantage over other analytics tools. Not all product linking options exist in GA4 yet, but the addition of the BigQuery integration with the free/standard version of GA4 is a significant upgrade from GA Universal.

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

Event-Based GA4 vs. Session-Based UA

Let’s start with a session-based model. Universal Analytics uses “cookie-based” tracking. When a cookie is stored in your visitor’s browser, the session begins, and you can monitor user behavior on the internet.

Google Analytics 4 still uses cookies to distinguish different users, including first-party cookies, but it also uses Google signals. Instead of tracking sessions and hits, everything that happens while a visitor is on your web or app is tracked as an event. 

This is why it’s called an event-based model, and this is how the flexibility of GA4 is achieved. This is why it is possible to integrate both web and app data into one analytics tool. 

Of course, you can still see session data in GA4, but it’s not the backbone of tracking hits (and, in GA4’s case, events). I would argue that you can get more insights about sessions as long as cookies are being stored. 

In GA4, you have a difference between user acquisition and session acquisition. You can explore more in-depth which channels bring you first-time visits and which channels get sessions that convert. Both are important in the funnel and should be analyzed separately.

The event-based model might not sound like much, but event-based modeling makes a substantial difference in the value of the information collected. 

The Amount of Bugs Currently in GA4

It would be disingenuous to avoid addressing the number of issues currently being worked out of the GA4. Progress in technology always includes growing pains as the final bugs are worked out.

The good news is that GA4 is progressing more quickly than in prior months. GA4 will be ready, and hopefully near bug-free, before the UA depreciation date next year. 

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