Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics – What is the difference?

Digital Marketing
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In the later part of 2020, Google introduced the latest version of Google Analytics –version 4 (GA4). GA4 will be replacing GA3 or more commonly known as Universal Analytics – the preferred analytics measurement tool that entrepreneurs from all sectors of the global economy rely on to keep tabs on the overall performance of their e-stores and official websites. The tentative deadline put forth by Google when it will stop all support for GA3 is July 1, 2023. 

Hence, it is natural for all users of GA3 to feel confused as they would have to migrate to GA4. The purpose of this post is to state the basic differences between GA3 and GA4 along with some alluring benefits of the latter compared to the former.

Here goes – 

What is GA3?

GA3 or Google Analytics version 3 has been the go-to web analytics tool for entrepreneurs and digital marketers from all over the globe.

The first version of Google Analytics was introduced by the tech giant way back in 2005. Back then, Google acquired a tech company that used to offer web data analytics services. The name of the firm was Urchin Software. Back then, web analytics was a complicated process and most entrepreneurs and would be digital marketers had a hard time wrapping their heads around the subject.

After two years since Google acquired Urchin Software, the tech giant released V2 of their version of a web analytics tool. This tool came with brand new and convenient features that allowed business owners and website managers to share and find relevant business-critical data.

Fast forward to the later part of 2012, Google introduced the V3 of their web analytics tool. The same was christened Universal Analytics. This tool became the norm for entrepreneurs, website managers and digital marketers. The tool enjoyed a monopoly over other analytics tools as it offered performance-oriented and never-heard-before features like – 

  • Custom dimensions
  • Custom metrics
  • Online data sync
  • Offline data sync
  • Multi-platform tracking
  • Simple configuration controls, etc. 

What is GA4?

GA4, the latest iteration of Google Analytics was first christened as App+Web Property back when the tool was in its beta days.

Why is that?

The tool has the innate ability to track the overall performance of both web visits and app visits at the same time. This allows users to enjoy convenience as they can get the features of two separate tools packed into one. At the same time, Google can manage and provide support for a single tool instead of two separate tools thus allowing the tech giant to maximise profits and minimise overhead costs. It is a win-win for all.

Google released the ready-to-deploy version of App+Web after renaming it into Google Analytics 4 (or GA4) in the later half of 2020.

Basic differences between GA3 and GA4

The basic differences between GA3 and GA4 are as follows – 

Both have different models of data measurement

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The primary difference between GA3 and GA4 is the measurement models of these two tools differ from one another.

Here’s some insight – 

The measurement model used by GA3 relies on the number of times a page in question is viewed as well as the number of sessions.

What is a session?

A session is just a fancy term for the interaction between the landing pages of a website and a visitor within a specific unit of time. A session can contain data about multiple landing page views, transactions (in case the website in question is an e-store) as well as events when the user chose to click on the CTA button.

On the other hand, GA4 relies on a measurement model that is based on parameters and events. According to experts at Google, an event for GA4 could be any interaction between the website/app and its visitors/users.

What is the outcome?

The outcome is simple – all types of hits that digital marketing experts and website managers viewed in GA3 will be translated into events in GA4 thus eradicating confusion and reducing the learning/transition phase from the outgoing version to the latest version of GA by many folds.

Differences in terms of sampling

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The standard version of GA3 is known for heavy sampling. This means that when managers of websites that get heavy online traffic will get a sampling notification when they request the tool to combine metrics and dimensions for the same as these two data types cannot be retrieved from pre-aggregated data tables.

Why sampling is used by GA3?

Well, GA3 uses sampling as a means to let Google balance out its ability to run calculations for complex analytical reports without using up excessive resources of its data centres.

The outcome of sampling is that often GA3 will offer results that will not represent the actual overall performance of the website/app it is monitoring.

GA4, on the other hand, uses UI restrictions and an event-based data calculation model that works in tandem with sampling thus allowing the latest iteration of Google Analytics to show results that represent real values in terms of the overall performance of a website/app the tool is analysing.

Fake data monitoring and removal will be the norm

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GA3 often suffers from data accuracy as it is unable to distinguish between fake and real data. This innate flaw results in instances where the analytical data GA3 shows contain data from spam referrals. Ill doers can exploit this flaw and alter the analytical data of a business website/app using Measurement Protocol. 

The outcome is simple to understand – business managers and digital marketers will be presented with false data. Or in simple words, one will not be able to understand in time that their website or e-store is performing poorly hence, all the necessary steps will not be taken on time which will ultimately hinder the growth and profits of the enterprise in question.

The latest iteration of Google Analytics, version 4 comes with the innate feature where one cannot alter the analytical data as GA4 pairs its Measurement Protocol hits with a secret key. This key will be visible only in the interface of the tool that will be accessible to people with authorisation.

The outcome is simple – hits that are paired with valid keys will be able to send analytical data to a GA4 property thus effectively enforcing fake data monitoring and removal on the fly!

Users will get a free connection to BigQuery

GA4 offers its users a free connection BigQuery.

This feature was also available previously but was limited to users of the premium version of GA which is known as GA360.

What is BigQuery?

BigQuery provides quick queries of complex and very large data sets in no time. If one is familiar with the concept of sampling whenever they tried to create complex data segments in GA then they can benefit from this feature as Big Query is a third-party partner of Google that takes data out of GA and allows GA users to run queries of the data sets without worrying about wasting a lot of time through sampling.

Google Analytics 4 will offer more refined and detailed cross-device reporting services

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Unlike GA3, GA4 will offer users a detailed and refined Cross-Device Reporting feature. The benefit of cross-device reporting is that one will be able to organize data across multiple devices. This will further allow the user to get a better understanding of how interactions, sessions and TouchPoints are interconnected.

Why GA3 did not offer a cross-platform reporting feature?

Well, GA3 uses a different approach when it comes to recording user interactions. GA3 uses session-based tracking whereas GA4 uses event-based tracking – details about the same have been enunciated in the sections above.

Additional benefits of GA4

There are many other benefits in store for the users of GA4 and some of the most compelling ones are as follows – 

  • GA4, unlike UA, is capable of measuring and unifying user interaction data.
  • GA4 is also capable of eradicating duplicate user interaction data that will help entrepreneurs to have a clear idea about the user journey when customers pay a visit to a business website or e-store.
  • GA4 is capable of adapting to the changing dynamics of the business environment thus allowing the tool to offer end users impressive privacy and security.
  • GA4 is developed to offer end users actionable insights that can be used by business managers to boost the online presence of their respective ventures. GA4 uses advanced Machine Learning to sift through business-critical data and deliver the relevant data points that can be readily implemented by entrepreneurs at their convenience.


The support for Universal Analytics will come to an end from Google on July 1, 2023. Hence, entrepreneurs who rely on GA3 should stop using the tool and start using GA4 as soon as possible for the best results.


Avdhesh Sharma

Avdhesh Sharma

Co-founder of inclusivity. Enabling Businesses through #Digital #Transformation

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