Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics (GA3)

Universal Analytics, otherwise known as Google Analytics 3 or GA3, was introduced as a beta in October 2012, it was later released to the public in 2013. Universal Analytics is currently the most used web analytics platform on the internet.

Universal Analytics introduced new tracking codes and tools for websites to utilize, resulting in much more in-depth information about user behaviour. The big difference between Universal Analytics and the prior Classic Analytics was User ID’s. As technology advanced and became more accessible users started to browse the web on multiple devices, Universal Analytic’s key goal was to be able to track users across all of their devices, User ID’s made this possible.

What Is Google Analytics 4?

In October 2020 Google Analytics 4 was launched, in one of the largest updates in years. Universal Analytics was introduced in 2012 and not much has changed since, so the platform was definitely due for a refresh.

To help with the migration, both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are currently available to use, but plans are in place for Universal Analytics to be discontinued in early 2023. So, which version to use right now depends on which one you prefer. In a November 2022 study, it was found that 30% of marketers hadn’t made the switch to Google Analytics 4 yet. But is this because Universal Analytics is better, or because people simply haven’t bothered switching yet?


Why Should You Switch To Google Analytics 4?

Google announced that Universal Analytics is being discontinued on 1st July 2023, so you have to switch before then, and the earlier you do the better. When you have set up Google Analytics 4, you can still use Universal Analytics until it is discontinued, so using both versions alongside each other is the best thing to be doing right now.

Remember, Google Analytics 4 is very new, so a lot of the features haven’t been released yet, features that you would be missing out on if you switch and rely solely on Google Analytics 4. Plus, the data that Google Analytics 4 displays will be different compared to Universal Analytics, I explain why later on in this blog.

We would recommend setting up Google Analytics 4 now and learning how to use it, but you should still use Universal Analytics as your go-to. Later on, when Google Analytics 4 is a more complete platform and the features are further developed, you will be prepared when you are inevitably forced to switch.


The Key Differences Between Universal Analytics & Google Analytics 4


User Interface

When you load up Google Analytics 4 for the first time, you will notice that the user interface is significantly different. Many of the tools and reports that you are familiar with won’t be there, as they have been removed, relocated or replaced.

In general, Google Analytics 4’s user interface is much simpler and cleaner when compared to Universal Analytics. However, it has an updated layout, as Google Analytics 4 is very similar to Fireplace analytics instead (Fireplace is another analytics platform developed by Google).

  • Businesses should not expect to see the same reports that were available in Universal Analytics since Google Analytics 4 is based on a different measurement model.

Don’t forget that Google is still rolling out Google Analytics 4’s features, so not everything is available yet, but also a lot of the reports require manual set-up before they become accessible.

Below is a Google video showing a walkthrough of the new user interface.

Measurement Model

The analytics measurement model determines the business objectives and turns them into trackable KPIs and metrics that evaluate the performance of your website.

This is one of the most significant differences between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, and is the reason that data is tracked differently between the two.

  • Universal Analytics measurement model is based on sessions and page views.
  • Google Analytics 4’s measurement model is based on events and parameters.

Google Analytics 4, every activity a user takes is tracked as an event, these events provide much more detailed information compared to Universal Analytics. For example, if we were tracking ‘page view’ as an event in Google Analytics 4, additional information like the page title, user location, time on page, etc would also be included in the report.

Overall, this is a big positive for Google Analytics 4 over Universal Analytics, It means that you will end up with much more detail on how users are engaging with your website compared to Universal Analytics.



Sessions in Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are another thing that is tracked differently.

  • A session in Universal Analytics is a combination of page views, events, transactions, etc, taken by a user in a given timeframe.
  • A session in Google Analytics 4 differs, as it isn’t limited by time.

Because of this, the total number of sessions and session time shown on Google Analytics 4 will likely be lower than what’s shown on Universal Analytics, but it will be more accurate, so on the whole this is a positive change.


Tracking ID’s

Tracking IDs for Google Analytics 4 have also had a significant change.

  • To set up tracking in Universal Analytics via GTM, you would need to use the tracking ID.
  • To set up tracking in Google Analytics 4 via GTM, you would need to use the measurement ID.

The format of the tracking IDs has changed because of this. The old tracking ID in Universal Analytics looks like this: UA-1111111-1, whereas in Google Analytics 4 they now look like this: G-AAAA111111.


Bounce Rate & Engagement Rate

You’ll be surprised to learn that bounce rate doesn’t exist anymore in Google Analytics 4. Instead, it has been replaced by a new metric called engagement rate.

Google Analytics 4’s new metric considers how long a user spent on the landing page, instead of only looking at users that don’t visit another page like Universal Analytics does. This means that the data reported in Google Analytics 4 should be more accurate at tracking the users’ engagement with the site.

Google Analytics 4’s new metrics include engaged sessions, engagement rate and engaged sessions per user. Because of how different the old bounce rate and the new engagement rate are, the two are incomparable.


IP Anonymization

This is a small change, but a handy one nonetheless. An IP address is considered personal data, under GDPR. In Universal Analytics, you had to manually set up analytics to anonymize IP addresses, in order to comply with GDPR. However, in Google Analytics 4, IP addresses are anonymized automatically.


Landing Page Reports

A popular report on Universal Analytics was landing page reports, this metric was particularly useful for finding out which pages brought the most traffic to your site, and then using this information to optimize these pages.

This metric has been removed in Google Analytics 4, annoyingly. There is however a handy workaround, you can see how many times the ‘session_start_ event’ was triggered on certain pages, essentially giving you the same information.


App Monitoring

The main goal and major difference with Google Analytics 4 was to enable tracking analytics for websites and mobile apps at the same time, both in one place. This wasn’t possible in Universal Analytics, you could only track website analytics.

A new feature in Google Analytics 4 is data streams. Data streams are sources of information that feed into your Google Analytics property. You can create a data stream for websites and Android/iOS apps, allowing you to compare and analyse user behaviour across different platforms.



BigQuery is a useful tool developed by Google, that helps you manage and analyse your data with built-in features like machine learning, geospatial analysis, and business intelligence.

In Universal Analytics users had to pay to connect their analytics accounts to BigQuery, in Google Analytics 4 the connection is completely free.

The schemas are different, so you might need to remap your Google Analytics 4 data before you can move it into BigQuery. Once you have done that, you can access your raw Google Analytics 4 data and run SQL queries on it.


Historical Data

In Universal Analytics, you were able to view the historical data all the way back to when the analytics account was created. In Google Analytics 4, data expires after 14 months.

Universal Analytics had a lot of data retention options: 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months and ‘Do not automatically expire’. Compared with Google Analytics 4’s two options: 2 and 14 months.

This might sound negative, especially if you like to compare data year to year. If you transfer your Google Analytics 4 data to BigQuery, it is still possible to retain your historical data.

This is another reason to set up Google Analytics 4 as early as you possibly can, as the historical data won’t be there if you leave it until the last minute.


Is Google Analytics 4 An Upgrade or a Downgrade?

There are positives and negatives, but overall, Google Analytics 4 will be much better than Universal Analytics. Google needs to stay on top of the ever-changing world of websites, and Universal Analytics isn’t up to the job anymore, a complete overhaul was definitely needed.

At the moment Google Analytics 4 is brand new, and no one enjoys learning how to use completely new software, it is 100% worth it though with all the new features and improvements on the existing features.


WDA Automotive Are Here To Help!

As a business owner, it can be difficult to stay up to date with all of the latest changes in the digital marketing world. That’s where WDA come in, we have been driving business for our automotive clients since 1997.

WDA offers its clients a wide range of tried and tested digital marketing solutions, and because we know that every business is unique, we create fixed-cost, bespoke digital packages tailored to your unique and specific needs. Take a look at our digital marketing services here.

If you would like to learn more or simply just need some advice, give us a call today at 01332 372728 or send us a message via our contact form by clicking here.


Did You Find This Article Helpful?

If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, you should definitely check out our ‘10 Automotive Marketing Trends For 2023‘ article!

Get ready for the new year with some new and exciting strategies! Here’s WDA’s list of what we consider to be the most effective and promising digital marketing strategies and trends to try in 2023!

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