Intro to GA4 Part 2: GA4 vs. Universal Analytics

If you’re someone who has used Google Analytics prior to GA4, below is a quick rundown of key organizing principles in GA4 vs. Universal Analytics.

You should also check out our video that goes deeper into the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics:

Key differences to know

Universal AnalyticsGA4
Page viewsPage views get special treatment in Universal Analytics, but they are just one of many events in GA4. They do, however, get collected automatically when the GA4 configuration tag is implemented.
GoalsGoals don’t exist as such in GA4, but any event in GA4 can be flagged as a conversion with the flip of a toggle. A big drawback of GA4 is that specific conversion events can’t be added as columns in reports unless you link them to custom metrics.
EventsThe way events get handled in Universal Analytics is, frankly, idiotic. UA events are relegated to a clunky, isolated section of reporting, making them marginally useful at best. The event model in GA4 lets you do everything you could do with UA events, in a much more integrated and flexible way.
Enhanced e-commerceEnhanced e-commerce was kind of a bolt-on in UA, and like UA events, most enhanced e-commerce reporting detail is only available in a dedicated section of reporting. Enhanced e-commerce events and checkout steps all have analogous events and metrics in GA4 and are more seamlessly integrated into reporting.
SessionsHow sessions are handled under the hood has changed a lot, but the concept of a session still exists and works similar to UA. GA4 has also introduced various ‘first user’ dimensions that are a valuable complement to session dimensions. The term ‘first user’ didn’t make sense to me the first time I encountered it, but I’ve come to think of it as being short for ‘the first time a user visited a site’. For example, ‘Session source’ shows metrics based on where visitors came from prior to arriving at a site. ‘First user source’ shows metrics based on where users came from when they first visited a site.
SegmentsComparisons have replaced segments. Comparisons themselves are much less sophisticated than Segments in UA, but you can specify an audience as a comparison and audiences can do everything segments could.
AudiencesAudiences in GA4 are in many ways similar to UA, but you can define audiences based on conditionals and sequences based on any event, which means they benefit from the flexibility of the GA4 event model. 

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