- GA4 vs Universal Analytics data will have some disparities because of how the two platforms receive and report data.
- Google Analytics 4 is events-based, which means any interaction that occurs in your website or mobile app will be captured as an event.
- Purchase events should barely have any differences, but Users, Page Views, Sessions, Conversions, Event Count, and Bounce Rate will have some differences.
Google will be dissolving Universal Analytics (UA) in July 2023. Before this happens, we recommend that you slowly integrate the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) into your process so that you can get used to the platform before its predecessor finally says goodbye. In this article, we’ll show you all the differences and similarities in metrics with GA4 vs Universal Analytics.
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Metric Differences Between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics
The main metrics comparable between GA4 and UA are Users, Pageviews, Sessions, Session or Traffic based Acquisition metrics, Bounce Rate, Event Count, Purchases, and Conversions.
Universal Analytics has two User metrics: New Users and Total Users. GA4 will be slightly different — with three User metrics: New Users, Active Users, and Total Users.
The New Users metric in UA shows the number of users who visited your website for the first time. This metric is one of the many ways you can tell if your marketing campaigns and SEO strategies are working. It’s located in the Overview under the Audience report.
On the other hand, GA4’s New Users metric is a bit different in that it shows you the number of Active Users who had no prior sessions on your website. This is one of the metrics that you can immediately see in the GA4 Dashboard. However, you can also find this metric in the Acquisition Overview under the Acquisition in Life Cycle reports.
Active Users are not to be mistaken for Real-time Users. According to Google, Active Users are a primary user metric in GA4. It shows you the number of users who visited your website or application, provided that they have an engagement session or when Analytics collects:
- the first_visit event or engagement_time_msec parameter (website)
- the first_open event or engagement_time_msec parameter (Android apps)
- the first_open or user_engagement event (iOS apps)
GA4 looks at this metric in terms of one, seven, and around thirty days.
Now, there is no Active Users report on GA4 because it already focuses on Active Users. Instead, Google gives you an Engagement Report that will give you data about your Active Users. GA4 will show you the Average Engagement Time, Engaged Sessions Per User, Average Engagement Time Per Session, User Activity Over Time, User Stickiness, and more.
Contrary to GA4, Total Users is the primary user metric for UA. However, this metric has the same meaning for both Analytics versions. It shows you the total number of users that have visited your website.
For UA, you can also see the Total Users metric in the Overview of the Audience report shown as “Users.” Meanwhile, GA4 also shows this metric in the Dashboard and in the Acquisition Overview under Acquisition in Life Cycle reports.
Keep in mind that UA highlights Total Users in most of its reports. Meanwhile, GA4 focuses on Active Users. Therefore, the calculation for this metric can have some differences between the two platforms. Although, depending on how frequently users return to your site, they may still be a little similar.
Pageviews should be more or less the same between UA and GA4. Some differences may still appear based on any filters you set up. For one, GA4 no longer has the Unique Pageview report that UA has. The metric that comes closest to Unique Pageviews is the Sessions metric.
However, for mobile app tracking, UA tracks screen views in a separate property. Meanwhile, GA4 combines both website and mobile app data in the same property. So, if you want to track both website and mobile app data, be sure to consider the additional app traffic into consideration when comparing pageviews between UA and GA4.
As of writing, GA4 doesn’t give you the same filtering feature that allows you to filter a report based on location and demographics. You can, however, still filter internal IP and unwanted referral traffic.
Pageviews on GA4 can be found in the Pages and Screens section under the Engagement report. Although you might have to customize the report to show Landing Pages instead of Page Title and Screen Class or Name if you want to see the performance of specific pages. By default, this report will only show you Page Title and Screen Class, Page Path and Screen Class, Page Title and Screen Name, and Content Group.
To edit the report, all you have to do is click on the pencil icon (Customize Report) in the upper right corner of the screen. From there, go to Dimensions under Report Data and click on “Add dimension” to add the information you want to see.
A Session is the amount of time a person is active on your website or mobile app. If a user is inactive on a page for more than 30 minutes, any action that they perform on your site will be counted as a new session. However, if a user leaves your site and returns before 30 minutes, Google Analytics will still count it as part of the initial session.
Now, between the two platforms, Sessions can vary from one business to another depending on various factors like:
- Filters – in Universal Analytics, the data will vary depending on the filter views you use to exclude data.
- UTMs – if you’re using UTM tagging on your website or mobile app, it will reset the session in UA. This will result in a higher session count in UA compared to GA4.
- Geography – this is relevant for businesses that have a global target consumer base. You will have to consider time zones and how they cross midnight to restart a session.
- Estimation – UA doesn’t estimate the number of sessions — GA4 does. GA4 uses a statistical estimate of Sessions data that your website or mobile app received by estimating the number of unique session IDs. These estimates are actually more efficient in terms of accuracy and percentage error in counting the number of sessions.
In GA4, Sessions is also called the session start event. This event generates a session ID that it will then use for the next events that will occur in that session.
Just like in UA, the session will end if there has been no activity within 30 minutes or depending on the session timeout settings you have placed. Unlike UA, GA4 doesn’t restart a session at midnight or when new campaign parameters occur. However, if a visitor comes back after the session has timed out, it will be counted as a new session.
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The familiar Bounce Rate metric will soon disappear from your reports. Since GA4 became more events-based and action-oriented, it doesn’t make sense to measure inactivity or how many people have been leaving your website or app. Moreover, if you’ve been running social media ad campaigns that use links or UTM links to your website, it will often count as a bounce because some social media platforms — Facebook’s FBCLIDs or Facebook Click Identifiers, specifically — insert their own unique URLs to track outbound links.
Instead, Google introduces a new metric called “Engagement Rate,” which essentially counts the number of engaged sessions divided by total sessions in a specific period. A session is considered to be an “engaged session” when it lasts longer than 10 seconds, had more than one pageview or screen view, or had a conversion event. This is a more useful way of showing you hard data on how your target audience engages with your website or mobile app.
For B2B websites, it’s our expert opinion that your Engagement Rate should be about 63%. Meanwhile, if you have a B2C website, we would recommend something above 70%.
Events are one of the primary data differences in GA4 vs Universal Analytics. The first main difference is that GA4 doesn’t have a Total Events metric. Instead, it’s replaced by the Event Count metric, which has no Category, Action, or Label, unlike UA’s.
For example, if you want a signup event in UA, you can set it up by registering a Sign-Up button for clicks. This event could be categorized as “CTA,” labeled with the destination URL, and set to Action of “Sign Up.”
In GA4, every “hit” is considered an event. For example, if you create a Tag in Google Tag Manager for button clicks and someone clicks on that particular button, the button click event will be triggered (or whatever event name you choose).
Since GA4 is more events-based, all actions that occur on your website are called events. Google even recommends reusing event names many times and just differentiating the events using different parameter values. For example, a button click event might have an event name of “button click” with parameters “product name,” “button ID,” “page location,” and so on.
You can start thinking from a GA4 perspective as early as today instead of trying to model out your UA event structure into GA4 because there will always be disparities in numbers. Comparing event counts between the two platforms will be very counterproductive.
While you can’t really expect all events to match between the two platforms, purchase counts should be very close between GA4 and UA because this event is critical to your data tracking.
It’s best practice to consistently and properly apply transaction ids or the “transaction id” parameter. Otherwise, this could create significant differences in data when comparing GA4 vs Universal Analytics.
Conversions are a bit different between GA4 and UA.
UA supports five goal types: Event Goals, Smart Goals, Destination, Duration, and Pages Per Session. It counts one conversion per session for every goal you set. So, for example, if a user decides to submit a form twice within their session, it will still be counted as one conversion.
On the other hand, GA4 only supports “conversion events,” meaning that every action you want to count as a conversion should be specified as an event. GA4 will count every instance of the event, even if the same event happens in the same session.
Therefore, it’s not possible to replicate UA conversions quite accurately in GA4. Moreover, you can’t duplicate smart or duration conversions using GA4 conversion events.
We hope this article helps you prepare by knowing what to expect when comparing metrics between GA4 and UA. As you transition to the new platform, you might be tempted to compare results just to see how things have changed. We recommend looking at GA4 as completely different analytics software and trying to get used to how it presents data.
However, as a business owner, data analytics is a lot of work, especially when you’re already stretched out between dealing with inventory, logistics, HR, sales, and so much more. Imagine having to do all that and then having to come up with some strategies after analyzing website data.
Here at Win, our Organic SEO Services help our clients with all website analytics needs, from data tracking to data presentation, and interpretation, and providing insightful recommendations based on that data. Our team has successfully adapted to GA4 and has helped clients smoothly transition to GA4 without affecting current data.
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