Universal Analytics Vs Google Analytics 4 (GA4): What’s the Difference?

Universal Analytics and Google Analytics are two distinct platforms by Google used by businesses to collect user data from their websites.  

 In today’s measurement landscape, businesses need to navigate new challenges to understand the complex, multi-platform journeys of their customers — all while prioritizing user privacy.

Two and a half years ago, Google  introduced Google Analytics 4  to address these evolving measurement standards and help online businesses succeed. Google Analytics 4 has the flexibility to measure many different forms of  data, delivering a strong analytics experience. It allows businesses to see unified user journeys across their websites and apps, use Google’s machine learning technology to surface and predict new insights, and most importantly, it’s built to keep up with a changing ecosystem.

Without a modern measurement solution, you leave essential insights on the table that can impact your business, so now is the time to make Google Analytics 4 your cross-platform Analytics solution. Google  Universal Analytics  will be phased out over the next 14 months. This means all standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023. Given the new Analytics 360 experience was recently introduced, Universal Analytics 360 properties will receive an additional three months of new hit processing, ending on October 1, 2023.

Moving on from Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics was built for a generation of online measurement that was anchored in the desktop web, independent sessions and more easily observable data from cookies. This measurement methodology is quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, Google Analytics 4 operates across platforms, does not rely exclusively on cookies and uses an event-based data model to deliver user-centric measurement.

And though Universal Analytics offers a variety of privacy controls, Google Analytics 4 is designed with privacy at its core to provide a better experience for both businesses and their users. It helps businesses meet evolving needs and user expectations, with more comprehensive and granular controls for data collection and usage. Importantly, Google Analytics 4 will also no longer store IP addresses. These solutions and controls are especially necessary in today’s international data privacy landscape, where users are increasingly expecting more privacy protections and control over their data.

Starting your Measurement with Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 is designed with your key objectives in mind — like driving sales or app installs, generating leads or connecting online and offline customer engagement.

Here are just a few ways Google Analytics 4 can support your business.

Understand your customers across touchpoints

Get a complete view of the customer lifecycle with an event-based measurement model that isn’t fragmented by platform or organized into independent sessions.

Improve ROI with data-driven attribution

Use data-driven attribution to analyze the full impact of your marketing across the customer journey. It assigns attribution credit to more than just the last click using your Analytics data, and helps you understand how your marketing activities collectively influence your conversions. You can export that analysis to Google Ads and Google Marketing Platform media tools to optimize campaigns.

Measure engagement and conversions with business and compliance needs in mind

With new country-level privacy controls, you can manage and minimize the collection of user-level data — like cookies and metadata — while preserving key measurement functionality.

Get greater value from your data

Machine learning generates sophisticated predictive insights about user behavior and conversions, creates new audiences of users likely to purchase or churn and automatically surfaces critical insights to improve your marketing.

Easily activate your insights

Expanded integrations with other Google products, like Google Ads, work across your combined web and app data, making it easy to use Analytics insights to optimize your campaigns.

And now, Search Ads 360 and Display & Video 360 integrations are available for all customers. This means that any Google Analytics 4 property — standard or 360 — can activate its Analytics data, like conversions and audiences, in Google Marketing Platform buying tools to strengthen campaign performance.

Address your enterprise measurement needs

New sub and roll-up properties in Analytics 360 allow you to customize the structure of your Google Analytics 4 properties to meet data governance needs. This ensures that different teams or partners, like advertising agencies, can access the data they need in accordance with your policies.

Analytics 360 also offers higher limits to meet increasing demand — up to 125 custom dimensions, 400 audiences and 50 conversion types per property. And you’ll have peace of mind with service legal agreements (SLAs) across most core functionality, including data collection, processing, reporting and attribution.

A Deeper Dive

User Counts Differences

Google Analytics 4 is actually based on the User ID method when calculating the user counts. It only considers active users on the website who engages. Universal Analytics implements Client ID and utilizes the number of total users on the site to calculate user counts.


To implement any tracking in GA4 using GTM, we use the measurement ID. In Universal Analytics, we use the tracking ID to set up tracking using GTM. The tracking id begins with GA (GA-XXXXXXX), and the measurement id starts with G- (G-XXXXXX).

Event tracking set up

All recorded events must adhere to the category, action, label, and value when using Universal Analytics. Google Analytics 4 analyzes events differently.

In the case of GA4, more detailed information is provided to an event via parameters.

No event category, action, or label category exists in GA4. But the platform captures four types of events. They are:

  • Automatically collected events
  • Enhanced measurement events
  • Recommended events
  • and Custom events

From the categories listed above, automatically collected and enhancement measurement events do not require any code changes on the website or app. You can enter as many as 25 custom parameters per event, and each custom value can be 100 characters long. For each GA4 property, there is a limit of 500 unique event names.

On the other hand, GA3 permits you to select the length of time between two months and 14 months. Otherwise, there is no other option.

User and event data retention

You can modify the setting in GA3 to 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months, or Do not automatically expire.

Ecommerce tracking

The ecommerce tracking tools offered by GA4 are still in their initial stage. GA3’s eCommerce tracking capabilities are more powerful than GA4.

Cross-device and cross-platform tracking

GA4 is based on app and web and it enables marketers to monitor user behavior across applications and websites and this is not the case with GA3. GA4 provides more reliable cross device and cross platform tracing than GA3.

Custom dimensions

GA4 custom dimensions are different from GA3 custom dimensions. You can set your range of custom dimensions to Hit, Session, User, or Product when using GA3. The event scope in GA4 replaces the hit scope.

The GA4 lets you create a custom dimension in a user scope.

GA4 custom metrics

Unlike GA3, GA4 custom metrics are fixed and not scalable. If you create special metrics in GA3, you can set the scope to “Hit” or “Product.” In GA4, you have only the “Event” scope.

Engagement metrics

GA4 does not have any notion of bounce rate. GA4 reports offer a set of engagement metrics like Engaged Sessions, Engagement Rate, Engaged Sessions per User, Engagement Time, which can more accurately reflect user engagement on the website than GA3 metrics like page views and bounce rate.

GA3 and GA4 Attribution modeling

Through multi-channel funnels and attribution reports, GA3 offers dependable attribution modeling options. In GA4, you can use Model comparison reports to compare how different attribution methods affect the data evolution.

Reporting Interface

GA4 reporting’s view may appear daunting because all of your existing reports and metrics are not present. A few of them have been removed or replaced with something new. 

The Google Analytics 4 reporting is quite different from Universal Analytics. However, it is similar to Google Analytics for Firebase since it is built on Firebase Analytics.

Reporting views

GA3 allows you to create 25 reporting views from GA3. But GA4 standard allows you to create only one reporting view. Instead of filtered views, you can create new audiences or data streams in GA4.

GA4 Debugging

The GA4 reporting view comes with the debug view report, enabling you to view your configuration within the reporting interface. This option is not available in GA3.

IP anonymization

Google Analytics’s IP anonymization tool anonymizes the last digits of the user’s IP address. By default, the IP anonymization feature is disabled in Universal Analytics, and by default, it is enabled and cannot be disabled in GA4.

What Happens Next?

All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023, and 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on October 1, 2023. After that, you’ll be able to access your previously processed data in Universal Analytics for at least six months.

Google Analytics 4 Help and Support

We are here to help you with all your Google Analytics needs. Our team can get you up and running in no time and also train you and your team to save you a lot of time so that you can focus on driving the business outcomes rather than configuring Google Analytics 4.


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