Introduced in 2012, Universal Analytics (UA) has been the backbone of web analytics for many years. The web analytics service came with various new features and capabilities. These included improved tracking of user behavior, offline interactions, and better integration with other Google products. 

In October 2020, Google announced that GA3 will eventually be replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4)—a newer, more advanced iteration of Google’s web analytics service. Therefore, marketers and website owners must switch from UA to GA4 to gain access to their web analytics data and truly understand their user’s journey at every touchpoint.

In this blog, we will explore the differences between both versions in detail so that you have a better understanding of GA4 vs Universal Analytics. 

What is GA4? 

“GA4” is the future of analytics. It offers advanced capabilities, integration with other Google products, AI-driven predictive analytics, and cross-channel data measurement. The latest version of Google Analytics comes with an enhanced measurement ability to track traffic and engagement in both applications and websites within a single property. Furthermore, user privacy is ensured in accordance with privacy laws such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Benefits of Moving to Google Analytics 4 

Google has introduced several new features in its latest version of web analytics. Let’s look at some of them: 

Predictive Analytics: 

Predictive Analytics is one of the most advanced features of GA4. It uses machine learning algorithms to generate predictions about the future behavior of your website visitors based on their previous activity on your website. Using the insights from predictive analytics, you can: 

  • Understand customer behavior: Learn how your customers are interacting with your brand and what actions they are taking to identify areas of improvement. 
  • Improve customer engagement: Identify the most valuable customer segments of your audience and create customized engagement strategies for each segment.  
  • Plan better: Evaluate the impact your marketing campaigns have on your audience, so you can plan and optimize your future campaigns better.  

 Create Custom Reports: 

‘Explorations’ is a new feature that allows you to quickly visualize and analyze raw data in an intuitive way.  

Explorations in GA4

Explorations are a great addition in terms of the following: 

  • Flexibility: Create custom reports based on custom dimensions and metrics relevant to your business. You can create multiple explorations to answer different business questions.  
  • Ease of use: User-friendly design allows anyone to create and share reports. Business users without a technical background can easily use GA4. 
  • Data Visualization: Explorations contain multiple report formats. Create a visual representation best suited to your data requirements to deliver insights to stakeholders effectively. 
  • Collaboration: Easily share custom-built reports with team members and stakeholders to make informed, data-driven decisions.  

Free form exploration in GA4

Create up to 300 Events: 

GA4 automatically tracks the basic events, but you can also create customized events to track user interactions on your website. You can create up to 300 events based on your desired conditions and parameters for different use cases, such as conversion optimization, attribution modeling, etc. 

Track up to 30 conversions: 

You can track up to 30 conversion events. Creating and tracking conversions in GA4 is extremely simple. You can mark an event as a conversion by just toggling.  

Customize Pre-built Reports: 

Google Analytics comes with a set of pre-built tables that can be manipulated based on various metrics and dimensions. You can even save your customized table view. 

GA4 vs Universal Analytics—Understanding the Difference 

Here are six major differences between GA4 vs Universal Analytics. 

 1. Account Structure 

The very first difference between GA4 vs Universal Analytics is the Account structure.  

Universal Analytics 

Account > Property > View 

Universal Analytics followed this traditional structure where a user could have up to 100 properties per account and create up to 25 views per property, which allowed users to create multiple properties and views to see data coming from various streams.  


Account > Property 

In GA4, you have a single, unified view per property. It has a completely different measurement model for data collection. GA4 has introduced a new concept of Data streams, which shows the data flow from your application or website to analytics.  

UA collected data at the property level via a Tracking ID. However, GA4 collects data at the stream level using a unique stream ID. Moreover, each property of GA4 supports up to 50 data streams.  

GA4 vs Universal Analytics

2. User interface

 The reporting interface in GA4 has been updated and is noticeably different from UA. Many reports and metrics have been removed or replaced in GA4, resulting in a smaller number of standard reports that are easier to manage and navigate.   

GA4 also has a modern and user-friendly interface with simplified navigation. The five main collections are reorganized into four collections—Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention—that represent a user’s lifecycle on the website. 

Universal analytics interface

Meanwhile, the user interface of UA looks like this  

GA4 interface

3. App Tracking 

UA required marketers to create multiple views to access data from websites and applications separately. With GA4, marketers can track both website and mobile application data in one view, which is a highly anticipated feature.   

GA4 uses an event-based tracking model for websites, like Google Analytics Firebase for mobile apps. This new capability allows for a unified view of the user’s journey across the website and app, making it easier to integrate data from both sources.   

4. Tracking Model 

GA4 differs significantly from UA in how it captures interactions. UA uses a session-based data collection method, where each interaction in a session is recorded as a separate hit type (e.g., page views, social interactions, events, transactions). In contrast, GA4 uses an event-based method, where all activities and interactions are collected and stored as an event. 

Although events also exist in UA, the method of creating events is different. In UA, creating an event requires an associated category, action, and label. In GA4, creating an event involves providing additional information about the action (event), called parameters. Moreover, GA4 comes with pre-built events for monitoring user journeys and interactions. 

Events in GA4

5. Session Calculations  

When comparing GA4 to Universal Analytics, the session count is noticeably different due to the change in session calculation method. In UA, a session represents the duration of time a user spends on a website. If there are 30 minutes of inactivity, the clock passes midnight, or there is a change in the campaign parameter, UA marks the session as ended and starts a new session. 

In contrast, in GA4, a session-start ID is triggered when a user enters the site, which is associated with all subsequent interactions. The session automatically ends after 30 minutes of inactivity, but changes in campaign parameters or the clock passing midnight do not affect the ongoing session.   

As a result, the session count in GA4 will be lower than in UA. 

How can you Save your Historical Data in UA?

Google does not support the migration of historical UA data into the new GA4 property. The main reason behind this is a completely different model of data collection. The rows in GA4 data are now event-based, while data stored in UA is session-based. The structure of schemas, dimensions, and metrics are also different in GA4 which prevents the reconciliation of data between the two versions. 

Nonetheless, you can migrate your historical data from Universal Analytics into a data warehouse or any other suitable destination via a data integration tool.


Migrate your UA Data with Astera Centerprise 

UA data migration

UA Data migration in Astera Centerprise

Astera Centerprise allows you to extract data from UA without writing any code. You can use our intuitive, drag-and-drop solution to feed your UA data into your desired database destination, including Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, Amazon S3, and Microsoft SQL. With Centerprise: 

  • Use custom-built API connector to extract data from GA 
  • Perform data sorting, data transformation, and calculations based on your requirements. 
  • Map your data in the database destination of your choice for data storage or future analytics purposes 
  • Automate data extraction to save time and effort. 

Download Astera Centerprise free 14-day trial and move your data seamlessly to GA4.

More Related Articles

Sign Up for Newsletter!