The year is 2023, and there are significant changes in the world of digital analytics. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the only option for Google Analytics users beginning July 1, 2023, replacing Universal Analytics (UA or GA3). Some of us are excited, while others are saddened by the impending deprecation of UA, but it will have a significant impact on everyone. So let’s take a closer look at the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics. Installation instructions are at the end of this guide if you want to get started with GA4 on your own. 

It was known as an “app+web property” when it was first added to the beta. Why use App+Web? Instead of segregating platform visits into separate GA properties, the new property can track both app and web visits in a single Google Analytics property. That App+Web property was rebadged and re-released as Google Analytics 4 in the fall of 2020. (GA4).

If you prefer video, see this side-by-side comparison of Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics. It describes how the two property types look, how to access basic reports, and how they work. Otherwise, keep reading for the full scoop!

What Happened Before GA4?

Google Analytics has evolved significantly since its acquisition by Google in 2005. Google purchased a product called “Urchin Analytics” in April of that year (this is where UTM parameters or Urchin Tracking Modules come from), and it became the classic version of Google Analytics.

The Universal Analytics (UA) platform was launched in 2013 and quickly became the industry standard for tracking. However, UA will be deprecated beginning in July 2023, according to a March 16, 2022 announcement from Google about GA4. Here is Google’s most recent announcement on the subject.

How Does GA4 Measure Users about Universal Analytics?

Data from “cookie-based” tracking enters Universal Analytics. A UA-enabled website sends a cookie to the user’s web browser, allowing the platform to monitor and record web activity on the site in question during that user’s session. The measurement method employs a session-based data model.

GA4 enables “businesses to measure across platforms and devices using multiple forms of identity,” according to Google. It includes both first-party data and “Google signals” from users who have chosen to personalize their ads. And, where cookies are available for tracking, Google Analytics 4 will continue to use them. GA4’s data model is event-based rather than session-based.

In a world where privacy is becoming increasingly important, it’s reasonable to expect those cookies to become less common. It may be a net positive for humanity, but it appears to be a major negative for digital marketers for the time being.

There will be more in the future. If you have a specific question or topic of interest about Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4, please contact us!

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