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What’s the difference between Google Universal Analytics and the new Google Analytics 4?

  • 16-03-2021 11:39 AM
Written by
Nina van Eden

Google's most famous analysis program has launched a new update: Google Analytics 4 (GA4)! This new version of Google Analytics has been available since October 2020, so you can already use it now. There are a lot of new possibilities, but some have also disappeared. In this blog I will tell you how Google Universal Analytics (old Analytics) measures the traffic of your website, how GA4 measures the traffic of your website, the main differences with Google Universal Analytics and whether it is wise to update now.

How does the (old) Google Analytics measure your website?
It is important to know how Google Analytics measures data. If this is clear to you, you will also be able to analyze the data much better. For starters let me briefly explain how Google Universal Analytics (old Analytics) exactly measures the traffic of your website. Because how the new Google Analytics measures traffic is one of the biggest new changes within Google Analytics 4. Google Analytics always collects user data via cookies or via the browser data. Examples of this user data are age, gender and location. This user data is linked to sessions. Sessions are central in Google Universal Analytics, a session consists of viewing pages, performing specific actions or certain events. Universal Analytics collects all this data for you and converts it into usable data.

How does GA4 measure your website?
So, now that it’s clear how the “old” Google Analytics measures data from your website, I will briefly explain how GA4 does this. If you're already familiar with Google Tag Manager, you're in luck, because it makes it easy to learn how to work with GA4. GA4 measures your website in events and parameters, instead of sessions. Now I can already hear you thinking: say what??? Because this is a pretty technical story, I will clarify it via the image below.

As visible  in the image above, Google no longer focuses on sessions, but measures everything as events that follow each other. Extra information about an event is also called a parameter. Hopefully the screenshot below makes it a bit clearer: the event is a scroll on your website and the parameter shows how far that person has scrolled.

As you can see, a scroll is a specific event that takes place on your website. A parameter therefore indicates (in this case) how many percent is being scrolled (extra information), in this case 90%. This screenshot (above) shows how measurements are carried out, not all analyzes in GA4 are displayed like this, take a look at the following screenshot.

As you can see, this is a bit like the old Google Analytics, but you can now see the parameters.

What are other important differences from Universal Analytics?
There are many differences between the new Google Analytics and the old Analytics. I have made an overview with the most important differences:

- The interface

The first difference, which you will also notice, is that GA4 is also designed differently from Universal Analytics. For example, there are many more “icons” displayed in the menu from which you can collect information.

- Manage target groups
GA4 can display target groups much more easily than before. For example, certain visitors who have responded to a vacancy can immediately fall into a certain target group. (Of course you have to edit the settings first.) This was already available in Google Universal Analytics, only this has now changed slightly in GA4. In Google Universal Analytics it was difficult to display this target group and to filter certain characteristics. In GA4 a (self) created target group gets its own dashboard and the most important aspects of the target group are displayed, such as conversions, devices or categories. Which is also very useful (especially if you are a beginner in Google Analytics and you do not know exactly what you are looking for) GA4 provides within target group -> insights, suggestions which data could be important to you. You can for instance view general performance or perhaps dive deeper into demographics. When you have chosen a suggestion you will be asked a question, for example: "How many users did I have last week?" and GA4 answers that question directly. This way you have to search a lot less yourself and Google Analytics helps you with this.

- Format reports
Most reports in GA4 are different. According to Google, they now provide better insight into the candidate experience. For example, there are now other reports available that provide better insight into what visitors are doing on your website.

- No more bounce rate
A commonly used analysis of Google Universal Analytics is the bounce rate: the number of visitors who land on your website and leave without viewing a second page. This insight will therefore be removed.

Is it wise to update GA4 now?
This answer is definitely yes! Why? Because GA4 does not include the data from the “old” Google Analytics. This is because with this update not only the front end, but also the back end of Google Analytics is completely different. As a result, you’ll start all over again with collecting data from your website. So if you only start updating when Google Analytics completely switches to GA4, you’ll miss a lot of data that you cannot analyze, simply because Google Analytics 4 has not yet collected that data. If you update it doesn't mean you will lose your current Analytics. You can still use both versions side by side for the time being. It is not yet clear when Google Analytics will switch completely to GA4. So even if you are not going to use GA4 yet, it is still useful to update Google Analytics in advance.

GA4 can be installed via a tag on the website or via Google Tag manager. You can simply place the new tag for GA4 next to your current Analytics tag in the Google Analytics tab in your OTYS CMS. If you want to place the tag via Google Tag Manager, we will explain how exactly.

Don't panic if all this is not clear to you yet, there will be a follow-up blog to give you more tips about GA4. So… stay tuned!

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