Buddy Paton Aug 16, 2023 11:30:00 AM

Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: Understanding the Key Differences

In the realm of web analytics, Google Analytics has long been a trusted tool for businesses to gain insights into user behavior and make data-driven decisions. As we approach the sunsetting of Universal Analytics (UA) and the emergence of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), it's essential to understand how it differs from its predecessor.

Let’s look at some of the significant differences between GA4 and UA and highlight the advantages and challenges associated with each.

How Google Analytics 4 Differs from Universal Analytics

While Google Analytics 4 is an overhaul of Universal Analytics, understanding these critical distinctions helps us determine the best way to utilize these updates.

Data Collection Methodology

One of the fundamental differences between GA4 and UA lies in their data collection methodologies. UA primarily relies on cookies to track user behavior, whereas GA4 employs an event-based data model. Instead of tracking pageviews and sessions, GA4 tracks events, enabling a more flexible and granular approach to data collection.

This shift empowers marketers to capture and analyze user interactions across various digital touchpoints within a single property. They can get a more comprehensive understanding of how consumers interact with their messaging, beyond simply knowing that they did.

Enhanced Cross-Device Tracking  

GA4 offers enhanced cross-device tracking capabilities compared to UA. As people rely on their mobile devices, users frequently switch between devices during their online journey. UA struggled to provide a comprehensive view of user behavior across devices, often resulting in fragmented data.

GA4 introduces an innovative approach that utilizes machine learning to stitch together user interactions across devices, allowing businesses to gain a more accurate understanding of the customer journey.

Focus on User-Centric Analysis 

While UA focused on session-based analysis, GA4 takes a more user-centric approach. GA4 introduces a concept called "User ID" that enables businesses to track individual users across sessions and devices, providing a holistic view of user engagement.

This shift in focus allows marketers to analyze user behavior, such as churn rates, lifetime value, and engagement patterns, at an individual level rather than merely aggregating data on a session-by-session basis.

Machine Learning-Powered Insights  

GA4 leverages the power of machine learning to deliver actionable insights to businesses. It offers built-in analysis features such as automatic anomaly detection, predictive metrics, and smarter insights based on user behavior trends.

These AI-driven capabilities empower businesses to uncover hidden patterns, identify opportunities, and make data-backed decisions more efficiently.

Enhanced Data Privacy and Compliance  

Data privacy and compliance have become critical concerns in the digital age. GA4 addresses these concerns by providing more options for data control and compliance with regulations like GDPR.

It offers features such as data deletion on user request, simplified data management settings, and enhanced data retention controls. These features give businesses greater control over their data and facilitate compliance with privacy regulations.

Know How to Use GA4 to Your Advantage 

Google Analytics 4 represents a significant evolution from Universal Analytics, providing marketers with a more powerful and user-centric approach to data analysis. With its event-based data model, enhanced cross-device tracking, machine learning-driven insights, and improved data privacy features, GA4 offers businesses a robust analytics platform to understand user behavior and optimize marketing strategies.

While the transition from UA to GA4 may require some adjustment, embracing the new features and capabilities of GA4 can provide businesses with a competitive edge in the ever-evolving digital landscape. McClatchy has the expertise to guide you through working with Universal Analytics, as well as the capabilities to help you develop your marketing and implement your strategies. Reach out to learn more about how McClatchy can help grow your business today!

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Buddy Paton

Buddy is a Media Analytics Specialist with McClatchy. He has over five years of experience in data analytics, with a passion for campaign tracking and storytelling. When Buddy is not at work, he is typically exploring local towns and cities in search of the next great restaurant, bookshop, or coffee shop to add to his list of favorite places. He also loves spending time building Lego with his niece.