10 Differences between UA & GA4

Friday, March 31, 2023

As part of our “100 days to GA4” series, we’re looking at the key things businesses need to know and do ahead of the Univeral Analytics sunset. In this blog post, we look at ten key differences between the two platforms.


Written by

Digital Analytics Specialist

  1. Event tracking setup: With Universal Analytics (UA), you were limited to attributing three parameters to an event, but in GA4, you can add up to 25 parameters per event. This means you can collect 22 extra pieces of information per event, providing valuable insights and trends data.

  1. E-commerce tracking: In UA, you had a choice between standard or enhanced e-commerce reports, but in GA4, there is a uniform e-commerce tracking setup. You have more flexibility in the volume of data you can pull through for each transaction, with a limit of up to 27 custom parameters per transaction for each item purchased.

  2. Behavioural modelling: With many browsers now blocking third-party cookies and reducing the analytics cookie session period, GA4 can use machine learning modelling to predict user behaviour and fill gaps in website reports. This is in contrast to the strict “hits” based system used by UA.

  3. Channel groupings: GA4 now allows custom channel groupings, allowing you to group traffic sources to match your specific requirements. However, unlike UA, GA4 requires strict alignment with a pre-set UTM convention - otherwise, channel data will show simply as “undefined”

  4. Attribution: The default attribution model for GA4 is data-driven, using machine learning through your account's data, rather than the traditional last-click attribution model used in UA.

  5. Purpose of the GA4 user interface: GA4 emphasizes customizing the platform to report on the things you want to report on, rather than a long list of standard reports available in UA. This encourages a deeper understanding of the data, but necessarily less breadth of easily accessible metrics for novice users.

  6. Differing session and user counting methods: GA4 counts “users” as instances where a user was active on the site, whereas UA counts users as total users visiting a site, even if they immediately bounced. This may lead to GA4 reporting fewer users in comparison.

  7. Conversion count method: You may see higher conversions in GA4 than UA for similar goals because GA4 counts conversions based on individual interactions rather than users.

  8. Improved testing capabilities: GA4 has a debug view area in the admin section of the platform, allowing you to test events and parameters without impacting live reporting. This is of great benefit when it comes to testing events and e-commerce reporting in particular.

  9. Looker / Google Data Studio (GDS) quota on GA4 reports: When using Looker Studio or GDS to view GA4 reports, there are quota limitations on the volume of data that can be pulled through. This is likely to have a negative impact on sites that receive high traffic volumes, as well as those that use dashboards to visualise a large amount of data.

In summary, GA4 offers greater flexibility and insights than UA, but it requires businesses to adapt to the changes and understand how to make the most of the new features. GA4 offers businesses greater flexibility and insights than UA. While adapting to the changes may take some time, businesses that take the time to understand and make the most of these new features will benefit from a more powerful analytics platform that will help them make better-informed decisions.

If you need support in setting up or optimising our GA4 tracking, please get in touch to arrange a call with one of our specialists. Call: +44(0) 20 7886 8833.