Differences Between GA4 & Universal Analytics

Woman standing in the middle of a half black-and-white, half color photo between June and July, with magnifying glasses on either side
Posted on by Wikimotive LLC
Categories: Analytics Tagged: , , ,

In case you or your marketing team have missed the countless notifications, emails, and articles about it, Universal Analytics officially became a thing of the past on July 1, 2023, giving way to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the latest data measurement tool offered by Google. Whether you just made the switch at the end of the month or you created your properties when the switch was first announced in October 2021, you might have noticed a number of differences between the two platforms regarding the information available and how that may affect your overall metrics. While data collected by Universal Analytics is still available to view for the time being, any new information will only be available through GA4. 

Differences Between UA and GA4

There are several differences right off the bat regarding what you can see and what you’ll be able to report on, which will not only affect any month-to-month reporting you work on but will also significantly impact your metrics year-over-year. 

The data model switch between platforms will have the biggest impact on metrics in your reporting. While Universal Analytics focused more on grouping actions on your website by session or a user’s time active on the site, GA4 is an event-based data model. When you were looking at data in Universal Analytics, you could filter by a variety of preset categories, including sessions, pageviews, unique visitors, acquisition channels, and conversion events. In GA4, there are a number of built-in events visible as soon as your property begins collecting data, with the option to set up custom events to be tracked as well. GA4 allows marketers to log up to 25 unique event parameters to go with each event. The designations used in Universal Analytics (category, action, and label) are discontinued in GA4, which utilizes event parameters that include more information about actions taken throughout the site. 

Key metrics and KPIs you may have been relying on will be counted differently in GA4, from sessions and users to total conversions. While the Total User metric in Universal Analytics counts the total number of new and returning users of your website, the same metric in GA4 counts only the number of unique users. Active users is a new metric for GA4, and it counts distinct visitors who engage with your site, including through page scrolls, page views, and even when the user first opens the site.

If your focus is based on the number of sessions generated on your site in a given month, expect to see some major changes in your monthly reporting. While Universal Analytics automatically restarted a session once the clock struck midnight, GA4 will not generate a new session. Do some of the departments in your dealership utilize UTM codes to track acquisition? GA4 will not begin a new session if the same user clicks on a link with a UTM code attached as it did with Universal Analytics. This change will provide marketing teams with more accurate session counts, but don’t be alarmed if you see your overall numbers drop by comparison. 

Conversions are critical to determining the success of any website, and the way they are calculated has changed in the new data model. While Universal Analytics only counted the first conversion of a type during a single session, GA4 will count each time the conversion is made. For example, if a user on a website utilizing Universal Analytics made a phone call using a clickable phone number but hung up before the call went through and started ringing, then clicked the button again when they were prepared to make the call, only one conversion would be counted. A click-to-call conversion would not be counted for the same user again until a new session began either on a new device or after 30 minutes of inactivity. Using the GA4 data model, the conversion would be counted each time the phone number was clicked, even if it occurred multiple times in a single session, leading to a more accurate conversion count. 

Impact on Data Analysis

With the changes in data collection and interpretation, you may be wondering what this means going forward. Because GA4 is based on events, you get a complete picture of the full customer journey in your data from initial entry through an ultimate conversion point, whether that is purchasing a vehicle online, filling out a key form, or setting up an appointment with your sales team. The event-based model gives you a more thorough picture of how customers move through your website, allowing your team to make optimizations accordingly to ensure they are getting the most from your content and that your dealership is able to get their business over your competitors. 

Rather than focusing on the total amount of traffic your website receives in a given time period, a greater emphasis is placed on how users are engaging with your site, which may be a big shift in the way you are used to looking at your data after a decade of Universal Analytics. Between the changes in how sessions are counted, and the heightened importance of events, there is a reasonable chance that the majority of your reporting will undergo changes to reflect the amount of data now available to you through GA4. Data becoming more user-focused will allow you to see where there are gaps in your current marketing strategy, giving you more areas to focus on when it comes to advertising specific models or services offered by your dealership as well as the information needed to back your decisions up. 

When it comes to reporting on year-over-year analytics, you’ll likely face some discrepancies due to the changes in how certain metrics are counted. While you may face some data loss if you began your GA4 property after June 2022, there isn’t exactly a clean way to compare data between the two models without utilizing different dashboards or marking it on your year-end graphs. However, if you have a backlog of historical data in your GA4 account, you’ll be able to compare year-over-year right in your account.

An important item to note is the change in historical data kept within your property. While you could go back to the beginning to see your initial data within Universal Analytics, GA4 defaults to keeping only two months of data. It is critical to go through your property and update that setting in order to extend your data up to 14 months. Because of user privacy, data will expire at the end of that time period and will not be accessible again.

Keeping Up-to-Date with GA4 with Wikimotive

If you have questions about GA4, your data, and how the switch affects your website, contact Wikimotive today! Whether you just created your property in time for the July 1st deadline or have been collecting historical data for the last several months, we will be happy to go over data and recommend optimizations for your dealership’s website. To get started, set up a consultation with a team member today!