Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4: What are the differences?

Google has announced that Universal Analytics (UA) will be replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4), with UA being deprecated in July 2023. There are some significant changes between the two platforms, with some users looking forward to the change, and others not. GA4 will change the way marketers interpret website data, so let’s take a look at the key differences between the two platforms.

Different Measurement Models

One of the major differences between UA and GA4 is their measurement models. UA uses a measurement model which is based on sessions and page views. In contrast to this, GA4 captures every session, page view, transaction, or social reaction as an event. While events do exist in UA, they exist differently in GA4. In GA4, events work with event parameters, which consist of additional pieces of information about the event a user completed. There are some event parameters that are automatically set up, but up to 25 event parameters can be added with each event.

Considering the different measurement models, Google recommends that users to do not directly copy event logic from UA to GA4, as the data will not make sense in the new context. Instead, it is recommended that new logic is implemented, to ensure it fits into the context of GA4.

App Tracking

App tracking is a new feature available in GA4, which will give users the ability to track data from both a website and an app, in the same property. This is possible as GA4 uses the same measurement model as Google Analytics Firewall, which is used for mobile apps, where the measurement model is based on events. This new ability to track apps will make it much easier to compare app data with website data.

Free Exports to BigQuery

Previously, BigQuery exports were only available to Analytics 360 users. However, in GA4, BigQuery exports will be made available to all properties. Raw events can be sent to the platform, and queried using SQL. So, in GA4, as long as the usage is within the sandbox limits, BigQuery is free.

Account Structure

Another major difference between UA and GA4 is the account structure of the platforms. In UA, the account structure consisted of:

  • Account – Property – View

In GA4, the new structure only contains two elements:

  • Account – Property

Additionally, GA4 now collects data through a data stream, which represents a flow from your website or app to Analytics. In contrast, UA collects data at the property level with a tracking ID.

Tags Manager

In GA4, Google Tags Manager is more important than ever. It was possible to use UA without Google Tags Manager, however, it is necessary in GA4. As all goals in GA4 are event based, it is important for all users to understand Google Tags Manager, and how to use it in GA4.

Bounce Rate

In UA, bounce rate was presented as the percentage of users that didn’t view more than one page on a website. GA4 has taken a more ‘positive’ approach to how bounce rate is presented, where it will be presented as a percentage of engaged sessions. Engaged sessions refer to any session that either lasted more than 10 seconds, had at least 1 conversion, or had at least 2 page views.

Session Calculations

The way which sessions are calculated is also different between UA and GA4. In UA, a session ends after there has been 30 minutes of inactivity, or once the clock passed midnight (which results in a new session) or when new campaign parameters are encountered.

GA4 tracks sessions differently. A session will end after 30 minutes of inactivity, the same as UA, however a session can now continue past midnight and is not affected by encountering new campaign parameters.


There are a lot of changes in GA4, and the way marketers track website data will change. It is time to start learning the ins and out of GA4, to make sure you are ready for the changeover.

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