Choosing Universal Analytics over Google Analytics 4

Data Analytics

In the second half of last year, Google released the long awaited Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the 4th version of the popular web analytics platform and the successor to Universal Analytics (UA, which confusingly was the 3rd version). Formerly known as the “App + Web” property before it was officially launched, GA4 aims to provide a more modern analytics snapshot by allowing for websites and apps to be tracked in the same property utilising the same metric, better reflecting the trends of today’s internet.

While GA4 is likely to be the better approach for analytics in the future, there are some teething issues that should make you pause before switching your setup away from Universal Analytics. The main of those concerns is compatibility: GA4 is not backwards compatible with UA. Under the hood, GA4 has changed the structure of the data model / analytics that it accepts, doing away things such as Event Categories / Actions / Labels / Values and instead just having Event Parameters that you can specify yourself. In doing so, the data you send to either UA or GA4 will not be compatible with others. So why is this important? Change takes time and moving away from Universal Analytics could take significant time and man hours, depending on your analytics setup.

The other issue with switching to GA4 also revolves around its strength: its flexibility. In merging app analytics with web page analytics, GA4 treats everything as an “Event”, even regular page views. While this gives you better flexibility to tune your analytics configuration to your specific needs, it also means that there’s less features and reports out of the box. Not only do you have to configure the data capture, but you also have to rebuild your reports.

If you have the developer hours on hand and are willing to learn the new paradigm, then switching to GA4 should be fine. But if you’re a small company or you’re relying on various WordPress plugins or CMS integrations for your Analytics setup, many of them may not be updated to accommodate GA4’s new data requirements. If this is the case, then you should just resort to using Universal Analytics. Similarly, while there is a deluge of articles, blogs and how-to’s for the new GA4 from the typical places, there may not be any for the specific tool, plugin or set up that YOU are running. So if you’re not entirely confident in dealing with the technical side of analytics, then maybe consider just using Universal Analytics (or consider hiring a digital agency, like us!).

Unfortunately, Google has made it a little difficult to set up a UA property, obscuring it since the launch of GA4.

To create a Universal Analytics property, create your new property like below:

Then click Show advanced options:

Here you’ll have the option to either create both a GA4 and a UA property, or just create the UA property. Feel free to create both, though you may have to set up two different snippets and analytics configurations if you want to take proper advantage of both.

And there you have it, access to an entire universe of analytics and more. While it feels good to be an early adopter of new technology, you’re always running the risk of it not working the way you want it to and Google Analytics 4 is no exception. When it comes to something as important as your analytics, sometimes the battle-tested ways of Universal Analytics are still the best. But if you’re still unsure, then you can always get in touch with us and we can take a look at setting up your analytics.

Reminder: Google UA Historical Data to be Deleted in July 2024