What is GA4?

Connor Henman, Performance Marketing Manager - Driver #139 Connor Henman, Performance Marketing Manager - Driver #139

It's time for an upgrade. One that will change the way you operate your app, website and reporting networks for good. From July 2023, Universal Analytics will no longer process new data in standard properties and as a result, all Google Analytics users must make the switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Although still in its infancy (and as with anything in its infancy, it still has substantial room for improvement), GA4 will eventually become the home of all your data, so it's in your best interests to make the switch from Universal Analytics immediately, to ensure you understand the nuances of GA4. The question remains, however, just how useful is GA4 and how does it compare to Universal Analytics?

Key differences between Universal Analytics and GA4?

UA collects and reports data using a session-based approach, which groups user activities into time periods. GA4 properties, on the other hand, employ a more flexible, event-based architecture, which allows for more accurate reporting and the transmission of extra data to Google Analytics with each interaction. This extra data includes important information such as value of purchase, page title, and user location.

Each user interaction is transmitted to Google Analytics as a standalone event in this model, which means it is not confined within a session like events are in UA attributes. As a result, each event delivered to GA4 can have up to 25 extra event parameters, significantly more than the current four Universal Analytics permits (Category, Action, Label, Value).

Goals vs. Conversions

The traditional GA 'Goals' have been renamed 'Conversions' in GA4 - a change which may seem minor at face value, but having the differentiation between Events and Conversions has always been a major benefit of Universal Analytics. Furthermore, GA4 will support a total of 30 conversions, extending the current limit by ten.

Where UA allows goals to be set up depending on duration, destination, events, and a custom set up (Event Category =), GA4 only accepts events-based conversions. Therefore, any page view goals must first be sent to GA4 as an event before being utilised as a conversion. Whilst simpler, this presents itself as a further limitation of GA4.

What does GA4 look like?

Another significant difference in GA4 is the presentation of data. Originally, GA separated data into many tabs per reporting segment, displaying data in topic-specific tables - the Real-Time reports, for example, were split into six divisions. GA4 has compiled all of this information into a single overview area, with widgets displaying each piece of data.

You can compare more metrics linked with events by clicking on the scorecards for more information. This improved structure replaces the table-heavy Universal Analytics interface, making it easier to discover major trends and abnormalities in your data. In both UA and GA4, link sharing and PDF download for some reports are available for this purpose.

Notably, GA4's homepage is now fully customisable, and it replaces the UA's 'Dashboard' feature, with significantly fewer restrictions on scorecard size, form, and placement.

User Identity

Google Analytics uses identifiers called Identity Spaces to track users across devices and platforms. This enables GA to connect user activity on one device/platform to activity on another, giving it a complete picture of the customer journey.

Universal Analytics attempted cross-device reporting with their User ID property however, it was difficult to correlate this data with data from other Analytics properties or deduplicate data collected across both the User-ID and conventional UA properties.

Device ID is the only Identity Space that UA may utilise to effectively link users across devices. By unifying and deduplicating interactions across all accessible platforms and devices, GA4 creates a more complete view of your customer's journey and engagement with your site across all available platforms and devices.

GA4 Identity Spaces

User ID: You can import data into GA4 and use it to improve cross-device reporting if you build your own User IDs for signed-in users. You must generate persistent IDs for your users and include the ID in the data submitted to GA4 to use this functionality.

GA4 can correlate data acquired with a specific user on your site using data from Google Signals (where a user is signed into their Google Account and permits this information to be taken).
Device ID: For websites, Device ID is based on the user's browser cookies, whereas for apps, it is based on the app-instance ID.

GA4 looks for User ID first, then Google Signals, and finally Device ID if no other data is present when processing data. A single user journey for all data associated with the same identity would then be available to construct. GA4's cross-device reporting is significantly more robust than Universal Analytics, which allows one user to appear as a different user on each device or platform.


GA4 user data can be used to construct audience lists, which can subsequently be linked to Google Ads or Search Ads 360 and utilised for ad personalisation in Google Ads Search campaigns. You can construct audiences based on user behaviours and attributes, but you can only target the most recently used device for each User ID. You can create audiences based on specific events or event parameters, allowing you to target visitors based on their interactions with your site as well as user characteristics like geography.

Can I use a dual setup?

Both Universal Analytics and GA4 can be used simultaneously by marketeers. As of now, organisations with Universal Analytics sites can continue to use it, right up until July 2023.

Marketeers will not be required to upgrade to the new version of Analytics yet, but any new properties or accounts will be set to Google Analytics 4 by default. Many businesses may want to construct a new version of the Google Analytics 4 property using the App + Web property setup so that data may start to populate and so that they can get used to the new UI and understand how data is displayed.

GA4 migration

Despite all of GA4's advantages, analysts and marketeers who are accustomed with previous versions of Google Analytics will likely find the transition to GA4 tough. This is due to the fact that GA4 is a complete rewrite of the Google Analytics you're used to, with notable changes including:

  • Many of the standard reports that marketers have grown accustomed to have been eliminated or replaced.
  • "Medium" and "bounces" are no longer used as dimensions or measures.
  • The methods for planning your implementation and adding tags are also rather diverse.

How do I migrate to GA4?

To learn more about the new Google Analytics 4 property or how to use data for a professional digital marketing strategy, please contact us. The cab engine team has been trusted to migrate its clients' Google Analytics to GA4 over the past 12 months. We can help you not only migrate but also completely understand the new nuances of this brand new platform.

The implementation of GA4 is absolutely crucial to both website and performance activity. Find out how we can help you with both.