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Understanding Key Differences Between GA4 and UA


With the emergence of Google Analytics 4 and the sunsetting of Universal Analytics, some digital marketers and business owners may be struggling to make sense of the new platform. GA4 has taken the reins as the successor to UA, marking a significant shift in how businesses gather and interpret crucial data. In this article, we’ll navigate through the intricate landscape of web analytics, dissecting the key differentiators between these two platforms to help digital marketers understand the changes that have taken place. Whether you’re a digital marketer, a business owner, or simply intrigued by the evolving world of data analysis, this article will help you better understand the transformation from Universal Analytics to the new horizon of Google Analytics 4.

Differences in Data Collection and Reporting

GA4 (Google Analytics 4) and UA (Universal Analytics) are two different web analytics platforms offered by Google. Here are some key differences between them

1. Event-Based Tracking vs. Session-Based Tracking:

  • GA4 is designed around event-based tracking, where user interactions on a website or app are treated as individual events. This allows for more granular tracking of user behavior.
  • UA relies on session-based tracking, where a user’s interactions within a single session are grouped together. This can make it more challenging to track individual user journeys across multiple sessions.

2. User-Centric vs. Session-Centric:

  • GA4 focuses on a user-centric approach, tracking users across devices and sessions. It aims to provide a more holistic view of user behavior.
  • UA is session-centric, meaning it primarily tracks user interactions within a single session. It doesn’t natively support cross-device tracking.

3. Event Tracking and Enhanced Measurement:

  • GA4 offers enhanced event tracking capabilities and allows for easier tracking of events like scroll tracking, outbound clicks, and site search without additional configuration.
  • UA requires more manual configuration for event tracking, and some features like enhanced measurement are not as advanced as in GA4.

4. Machine Learning and Predictive Metrics:

  • GA4 incorporates machine learning and predictive metrics to provide insights into user behavior and potential future outcomes.
  • UA does not have the same level of machine learning capabilities as GA4.

5. Data Retention and Sampling:

  • GA4 generally offers more generous data retention periods and reduced sampling compared to UA in its free tier.
  • UA may have shorter data retention periods and more aggressive data sampling in the free version.

6. User Privacy and Data Collection:

  • GA4 is designed with greater consideration for user privacy and provides features for compliance with data protection regulations like GDPR.
  • UA may require additional setup and configuration to ensure compliance with privacy regulations.

7. Reporting Interface:

  • GA4 has a redesigned reporting interface with a focus on user-centric analysis and exploration.
  • UA uses the traditional reporting interface that many users are familiar with.

8. Integration with Other Google Products:

  • GA4 is designed to integrate more seamlessly with other Google marketing and analytics products like Google Ads and Google BigQuery.
  • UA also integrates with these products but may not have the same level of integration options as GA4.

In short, GA4 introduces a more holistic approach to data collection, enabling businesses to gain deeper insights into user journeys, regardless of the device or touchpoint they engage with. The emphasis on event-based tracking, enhanced cross-platform tracking, and predictive metrics empowers businesses to not only understand what has happened, but also to predict and adapt to what might happen next. This transition not only future-proofs analytics strategies but also empowers companies to make more informed decisions, personalize user experiences, and uncover valuable opportunities that were previously hidden in the vast sea of data.

Differences in User Interface

The user interfaces (UI) of GA4 (Google Analytics 4) and UA (Universal Analytics) have some notable differences

1. Home Dashboard:

  • GA4’s home dashboard is designed to provide a quick overview of key metrics, user engagement, and recent events. It offers a more modern and user-centric layout.
  • UA’s home dashboard is typically more data-focused, with tables and charts displaying various metrics. It may feel more traditional in design.

2. Navigation Menu:

  • GA4 features a left-hand navigation menu with sections for “Events,” “Reports,” “Life Cycle Reports,” “Events,” “User Explorer,” and more, emphasizing event-based tracking and user-centric analytics.
  • UA has a left-hand navigation menu with sections for “Audience,” “Acquisition,” “Behavior,” and “Conversions,” focusing on session-based metrics and standard reporting.

3. Event Tracking:

  • In GA4, event tracking is more prominent, and you can easily set up and view events in the interface. It’s designed to provide a comprehensive view of user interactions as events.
  • Event tracking in UA may require more manual configuration and is typically found in the “Behavior” section.

4. User-Centric vs. Session-Centric:

  • The GA4 interface is built around a user-centric approach, which means it’s oriented towards tracking individual user journeys across sessions and devices.
  • UA takes a session-centric approach, which is more focused on analyzing user behavior within a single session.

5. Reports and Data Exploration:

  • GA4’s reporting interface emphasizes exploration and analysis. It offers features like “Analysis Hub” for custom analysis, predictive metrics, and more user-centric reports.
  • UA’s reporting interface is more traditional and may feel data-centric. It provides standard reports for audience, acquisition, and behavior, with less emphasis on user-centric analysis.

6. User Explorer:

  • GA4 includes a “User Explorer” feature, allowing you to track and analyze the behavior of individual users over time.
  • UA lacks a direct equivalent to the “User Explorer” feature.

7. Realtime Reports:

  • GA4 offers real-time reports that provide insights into what users are doing on your site or app at that moment.
  • UA also provides real-time reports, but the layout and presentation may differ.

8. Integrations:

  • GA4 is designed to integrate more seamlessly with other Google products, such as Google Ads and Google BigQuery.
  • UA also integrates with other Google products but may not have the same level of integration options as GA4.

9. User Privacy and Compliance:

  • GA4 includes features to assist with user privacy and data protection compliance, reflecting Google’s evolving approach to user data.
  • UA may require additional configuration to meet the same compliance standards.
GA4’s user interface is designed with a more modern, user-centric, and event-driven approach, whereas UA’s interface is more traditional and session-focused. The choice between them should be based on your specific analytics needs and whether you prefer the newer, more flexible approach of GA4 or are accustomed to the classic interface of UA.


The transition from Universal Analytics to GA4 marks a pivotal juncture in how businesses and individuals harness the power of data to make informed decisions. As we’ve explored the nuances between these two platforms, it’s evident that GA4 brings a fresh perspective to data tracking, offering enhanced user-centric insights, cross-platform measurement capabilities, and more agile adaptability to the dynamic digital landscape. Embracing GA4 not only ensures staying current with technological advancements but also empowers a deeper understanding of user behavior and engagement across various touchpoints. As we bid adieu to Universal Analytics and embrace the new era facilitated by Google Analytics 4, let us venture forward equipped with a sharper analytical toolkit, ready to unlock new dimensions of growth and success in an ever-evolving online world.

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