Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: What You Need To Know

In the latest Google Analytics update, there have been significant changes to how this powerful tool can be used. In fact, many users are not even aware that they are using Universal Analytics instead of the newer Google Analytics 4.

When a tool releases a new version, it usually replaces the old one with the new one. However, Google did not do this in this scenario; instead, they just switched to 4 as the default for fresh sign-ups. To utilize it, you must first create and install Google Analytics 4 on your website.

This change wasn’t just a minor facelift. Data is collected, stored, and visualized completely differently. All of this change may be inconvenient, but GA4 is far more advanced than the preceding version.

The most important thing you need to know

I’ll offer you the punch line up front because I’m not like other bloggers. If you want to know what else is new, keep reading; otherwise, here’s all you need to know. Consider this your TLDR.

Google Analytics 4 is more sophisticated than previous versions and employs machine learning and predictive analytics. Most marketing analysts do not believe it is yet suitable to entirely replace Universal Analytics. That said, you should set it up as soon as possible and install it on your website alongside Universal Analytics to start taking advantage of all of the benefits.

Until Google Analytics 4 can answer some of the key questions that we can currently only answer from Universal Analytics, you should have both installed on your site. It would be a mistake to just delete Universal Analytics as it still is very useful.

Interested in learning more about the distinctions? Continue reading to learn more! I am only going to highlight a few of the changes and leave the technical specifics to others.

Overall interface

The current version is organized into 5 main sections:

  • Realtime – What users are doing on your site right now
  • Audience – Who is coming to your website
  • Acquisition – How you are acquiring these visits
  • Behavior – What is happening when they land on your website
  • Conversions – What conversions are taking place?

The new version is organized differently and contains completely new reports. The sections are similar with slight differences and are named differently. In Google Analytics 4, the sections are:

  • Realtime – What users are doing on your site right now
  • Acquisition – How you are acquiring these visits
  • Engagement – What is happening when they land on your website
  • Monetization – How you are monetizing the users
  • Retention – How you are retaining users over time
  • Users – Demographics and technical information about the users coming to your site

Overall, they are basically the same general ideas, but more of a focus on over-time engagement and monetization vs. based on the individual visits. This leads us nicely into our next change.

Event-driven vs. session-driven

Universal Analytics has focused on the session: everything the user did when they came to your website during that visit. To get anything more, you had to install and set up Google Tag Manager, which the majority of digital marketers or online company owners are unfamiliar with.

Since Universal Analytics was released, a lot has evolved in the way we interact with things online. We are no longer single-computer individuals or households, but multi-device individuals often operating on various apps.

Now, you can monitor how your users actually interact with website content. This is an important distinction to make as different interactions merit different insights and metrics tracking.

For example, if a user watches all of the videos in your “Learn More” section but does not take any other action on the page, it would be more helpful to know that.

Now you can look at this data to understand what your viewers actually want and why they leave, which is far more helpful than just looking at how many minutes were watched overall.

For anybody who has looked at numbers but didn’t know what to do with them, this is a significant step forward.

Acquisition vs. re-engagement

When assessing how effectively your traffic channels drive conversions, you must choose whether you’re looking at how well you’re bringing in new consumers or re-engaging old customers.

Your conversions will be based on first-touch attribution if you pick the “User acquisition” report. Last-touch attribution will apply to your conversions if you pick the “Traffic acquisition” report.

This is beneficial because we frequently have different “roles” for each of our various marketing activities, and now we may track how well they’re performing. For example, you might see Instagram doesn’t drive new sales for you. However, maybe it does a great job re-engaging previous visitors. This distinction is critical in understanding how we are investing our time and resources as marketers.

Bounce rate vs. engaged sessions

There was a lot of controversy around bounce rate in Universal Analytics because of how it was measured. It looked at the total number of one-page visits divided by the total number of entries to a website.

Fortunately, it has been replaced by new metrics in Google Analytics 4.

The new version of “bounce rate” is “engagement rate” which is defined as a session that spent 10 seconds or more on the site/app or viewed 2 or more screens/pages or had a conversion event.

Time on page vs. engagement time

Another controversial metric was average time on page, due to how it was determined. Because the number was only based on non-bounces for a page, the amount was considerably lower than the actual hits for a page.

Luckily this too has been replaced with a new metric called “engagement time” which is the amount of time that the user actively viewed your content, whether or not they click to another page during the session.


The best thing you can do for your company is to install Google Analytics 4 in tandem with Universal Analytics. This way, all of the data from both platforms will be collected respectively and you can use the one you are familiar with while you learn the new one.

This “set it and forget it” approach also gives Google Analytics 4 some time to be collecting your data, which will make it exponentially more useful when you’re ready to make the full switch.

If you are looking to learn more about Google Analytics and measuring your marketing, we suggest you check out our Measure and Maximize program.