What is the difference between Universal Analytics and GA4?

If you are a website owner, you may be aware of the importance of web analytics to monitor and improve your website's performance. Google Analytics has long been a popular choice for website analytics, but with Google Analytics 4 (GA4) becoming the only option after July 1 this year, you may be wondering how it differs from the previous Universal Analytics (UA). In this blog post, we will discuss the three key differences between UA and GA4 to help you get ready for the change.

Data Collection Methods

One of the most significant differences between UA and GA4 is how they collect data. UA uses cookies and tracking pixels to collect user data. GA4 still uses cookies, but it can estimate metrics for users that decline them. It does this using machine learning techniques to infer the data for those users. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) also relies on event-based tracking using the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) and Google Tag Manager to collect data.

Data Structure

In GA4, events are the key metric, not page views. Event-based tracking enables GA4 to collect more detailed data, including user interactions with elements on the webpage. However, it may require additional configuration compared to UA's more straightforward data collection methods.

UA uses a hierarchical structure to organize data into accounts, properties, and views. In contrast, GA4 uses a flat data structure, making it easier to manage multiple properties and track data across various platforms and devices. GA4 also collects more detailed data by default, such as scroll depth and engagement time, providing website owners with more insights into user behavior.

Reporting Capabilities

GA4 offers machine learning-powered insights that provide website owners with a deeper understanding of their users' behavior, such as predicting churn rates and identifying potential high-value users. What’s tough though is that there is a learning curve to get the most out of its user interface.

GDPR Compliance

While GA4 provides more detailed data by default, it may also collect more personal data, such as IP addresses, that may not be GDPR-compliant. UA also historically was not seen to be GDPR compliant

In conclusion, UA and GA4 have different approaches to data collection, data structure, and reporting capabilities. GA4 provides more detailed data by default, but may collect more personal data that may not be GDPR-compliant. On the other hand, UA has a more straightforward data collection method and hierarchical data structure but lacks some of the features provided by GA4. But if you’re looking for a GDPR-compliant alternative, Beam could be a decent option. It has the most generous free tier, the more affordable paid options, and comes with features like funnel analysis that no other GA4 alternative has.

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