GA4 vs UA - What's the Difference?


Announced in 2020, Google’s GA4 has been consistently relevant news, and soon it’ll be time to say bye-bye to Universal Analytics. Beginning July 1, 2023, UA properties will no longer process data. Since that’s a breath away, there’s no time like the present to get your site set up in a GA4 property. The sooner the better, as it’ll give the system time to collect enough data so you won’t be left in a dark period while the program is still gathering information. If you’re wondering whether you’re set up on UA or GA4, an easy way to tell would be to take a look at your property name. If it starts with “UA-” you’re in need of an update. If it starts with “G-” you’re already on the right track! 

What’s the difference?

The difference between both properties starts with the way data is collected. While UA collects hits, described as data packages that translate a group of user interactions, GA4 data collection is based on events, which are individual interactions like loading a page or clicking a link. Originally named “Mobile + Web”, a top feature of GA4 is the capability of processing mobile app data, along with website analytics. While it is nice to be able to combine the two, you’ll want to make sure you take additional app traffic into account when looking at these overall numbers, or comparing with any UA data you may have.

By using individual dimensions, there’s more flexibility on how you can analyze and track data. GA4 even allows custom events set up either through Google Tag Manager or the create event tool within GA4. Along with the change in how data is gathered and the ability to collect web and app data together, there are a few other updates outlined by Google.

Personal privacy standards

Privacy has been a high priority over the last few years, and Google is taking big strides to stay ahead of the game. GA4 is another step in that direction, with the most notable change being that GA4 will automatically have IP Anonymization enabled (whereas UA required code modification and monotonous setup in order to utilize the feature). Not only that, but there won’t even be a way to turn IP Anonymization off. Originally released in 2022, on UA, this feature automatically deletes or removes the last three to four digits of a user’s IP address, leaving enough information for data gathering, but removing identifying information, so users can be more confident their online privacy is being respected. 

Another noteworthy update is the length of time available to store user-specific data. Previously limited at 64 months, or just over five years, GA4 will have two duration options: two months or 14 months. GA4 also doesn’t allow users to collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII). According to the GDPR, PII is defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person; an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person.” Specifically this includes the following, among other information:

  • name
  • physical address
  • email address (i.e.
  • identification card number
  • location data
  • IP address
  • a cookie ID

Predictive capabilities

With the release of GA4 came another exciting announcement, machine-learning and predictive capabilities. With successful implementation, the system should be able to analyze user behavior and generate future user behavior based on trends. These predictions are made by analyzing pageviews and session duration, along with a plethora of other data points to predict things like purchase probability.

There are some prerequisites to consider before relying on this feature, but the ability to speculate your audience’s needs could be invaluable.

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