Understanding the Differences Between Google Analytics and GA4

Irene Wanja Jan 03, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Google Analytics (GA) has been the cornerstone of digital data collection for web and app analytics for years, however the game has changed with Google’s release of new version GA4. This improved version builds upon the successes and lessons learned by its predecessor to create an even more robust platform for gathering insights about user trends.

As a business owner or digital marketer, it is important to understand the differences between Google Analytics (GA) and its newest iteration, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Both are powerful tools for data analysis, but GA4 offers ecom businesses owners a more advanced and unique set of features. Let’s take a look at the key differences between GA and GA4: 

What is Google Analytics? 

Google Analytics (GA) is a popular web analytics tool that is used by millions of businesses to monitor the performance of their websites. With GA, businesses can track user behavior on their websites, understand the demographics and interests of their users, measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, track website visitors across different devices, analyze page load times, and more. It is the most widely used web analytics service on the internet, with over 30 million active websites using it. 

What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4)? 

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the newest version of Google’s web analytics service. It was released in October 2020 as an upgrade to the traditional Google Analytics platform. The main difference between GA and GA4 lies in the underlying architecture; while GA is based on the concept of “hits” or individual page views tracked by cookies generated by browsers, GA4 uses machine learning algorithms to make data-driven decisions about user behavior on websites. This allows businesses to gain more detailed insights into user behaviors, such as how users interact with content on different platforms (e.g., desktop vs mobile), what type of content drives engagement or conversions, etc. Additionally, it also enables businesses to track events like purchases or downloads more accurately than with traditional analytics platforms. 

Main differences between GA and GA4 

The primary difference between GA and GA4 lies in the core architecture. While both allow businesses to track user behavior on their websites effectively and gain valuable customer insights, there are some key differences between them. Let’s take a look!

Improved data collection

The traditional version of GA uses a JavaScript tracking code that is placed on your ecommerce store to collect data about your website visitors. This tracking code is used to send data back to the GA servers, where it is processed and made available to you in the GA dashboard. 

GA4 on the other hand uses a different method for collecting and processing data compared to the traditional version of GA. GA4 uses a machine learning model to collect and process data, which allows it to process data in real-time and provide more accurate and granular data. 

The machine learning model used in GA4 is trained on a large dataset of anonymized website traffic data from a diverse set of websites. This model is then used to process the data collected from your website, allowing GA4 to provide more accurate and detailed insights about your website traffic.

Enhanced data privacy

Data privacy is an important consideration for many organizations and individuals, and Google has designed GA4 with data privacy in mind. GA4 allows users to control how their data is collected and used, which can help users feel more confident about using the service. One way that GA4 helps to protect user data is by allowing users to control which data is collected and how it is used. 

For example, GA4 allows users to set data retention periods, which determines how long data is kept before it is deleted. This can help to ensure that data is not retained for longer than necessary. GA4 also provides more transparency about how data is used. It includes a feature called “data governance,” which allows users to see how their data is being used and to make changes to data collection settings if desired. This can help users to understand how their data is being used and to make informed decisions about their data privacy. 

In addition to these features, GA4 is compliant with various data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in California. These regulations help to ensure that user data is handled in a way that is respectful of users’ privacy rights.

Event tracking: Increased flexibility for tracking user actions

Event tracking is a feature of GA4 that allows you to track specific user actions on your website. These user actions, called “events,” can include a wide range of actions, such as clicks on specific buttons or links, form submissions, page views, and more. Events can be custom-defined, which means that you can choose which actions you want to track. This allows you to track the events that are most important to your business and to gain insights into how users are interacting with your website. 

To track events in GA4, you will need to use the GA4 tracking code on your website and define the events that you want to track. This can be done using the GA4 interface or by using the GA4 API. Once you have set up event tracking, you will be able to see data about your events in the GA4 dashboard. This data can include the number of times an event occurred, the average time it took for an event to occur, and other metrics that can help you understand how users are interacting with your website.

User-centric analysis

GA4 provides a more user-centric view of data, which allows you to see how individual users are interacting with your website. This can be useful for understanding user behavior and improving the user experience because it allows you to see how users are interacting with your website over time, rather than just seeing aggregated data about all users.

For example, with a user-centric view of data, you can see how individual users are navigating your website, which pages they are visiting, and which actions they are taking. This can help you to understand what users are interested in and how they are using your website, which can inform your decision-making about how to optimize your website.

GA4 provides several tools to help you analyze user data, including the ability to create segments of users based on specific criteria and to create custom reports that focus on specific user actions. These tools can help you to get a more detailed understanding of your users and to identify trends and patterns in their behavior.

Integration with other Google products

GA4 is integrated with other Google products, which can help you get a more comprehensive view of your data. These integrations can be very useful for businesses that use multiple Google products, as they allow you to see how your data from different products is connected and how it is being used.

One example of an integration with GA4 is with Google Ads. By integrating GA4 with Google Ads, you can see how your advertising campaigns are performing and how they are driving traffic to your website.

Another example of an integration with GA4 is with Google BigQuery. Google BigQuery is a cloud-based data warehouse that allows you to store, process, and analyze large datasets. By integrating GA4 with Google BigQuery, you can access your GA4 data in BigQuery and use SQL queries to analyze it. This can be useful for businesses that want to perform more advanced analyses of their GA4 data.

Wrap-Up

As you can see, GA4 offers several improvements and new features compared to the traditional version of GA, making it a better choice for many ecommerce businesses. Note that it is generally recommended to switch to the latest version before the set deadline on July 1st, 2023. If you need help with the migration, we at Build Grow Scale can help you make the switch to GA4 so you won’t miss a beat in gathering correct and insightful data from your ecommerce store. Get in touch with us today!

Irene Wanja

Irene Wanja is in charge of analyzing usability data at BGS. She spends her time with your content applying her understanding of how users interact to improving user experience, which is her specialty. She is passionate about software and technology and loves working on clients' businesses to improve clarity, efficiency, and user satisfaction.

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