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

Following are the main differences between Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics (GA3):

  1. Reporting Interface
  2. Measurement Model
  3. Tracking IDs
  4. Event Tracking set up
  5. Event Tracking Automation
  6. User and event data retention
  7. E-commerce Tracking
  8. Cross-device and cross-platform tracking
  9. Attribution Modelling
  10. Custom dimensions
  11. Custom metrics
  12. Debugging
  13. Engagement metrics
  14. IP Anonymization
  15. Reporting views
  16. Big Query
  17. Advanced Analysis Reports

#1 Reporting Interface

Google Analytics 4 compared to GA3
At first glance, the GA4 reporting view may look intimidating as many of the reports and metrics that you have been familiar with are not there. They have either been removed or replaced.

You are going to see different sets of reports in your GA4 view and you are not going to see many reports. This is because many of the reports are generated only when you start tracking events.

The reporting interface of the GA4 view looks similar to that of Google Analytics for firebase (because GA4 is built on firebase analytics). But it is quite different from any GA3 reporting view.

#2 Measurement Model

GA3 (aka Universal Analytics’) uses the measurement model which is based on sessions and pageviews.

Whereas, GA4 uses the measurement model which is based on events and parameters. In GA4 even a ‘pageview’ is considered as an event.

#3 Tracking IDs

In order to set up any type of tracking in GA4 via GTM, we use the measurement ID.

Whereas, in order to set up any type of tracking in GA3 via GTM, we use the tracking ID.

If you have set up a GA4 property with a web data stream, then your measurement ID begins with the characters ‘G-’.

For example G-SV0HS12BXZ

If you have set up a GA3 property then it uses the tracking ID (and not measurement ID) and this tracking ID begins with characters ‘UA-‘.

For example UA-1509844-8

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#4 Event Tracking set up

The events are tracked differently in GA4 than in GA3.

When you are using GA3, all the tracked events must follow the category-action-label-value schema:

This is not the case with GA4 which provides much more flexible event tracking setup. In the case of GA4, additional information is supplied to an event via parameters:

#5 Event Tracking Automation


A GA4 property has got the ‘enhanced measurement’ feature built-in which allows automatic tracking for certain types of events (like scroll tracking, video tracking, exit tracking, site search tracking, etc) without any additional coding/tagging.

This is something not possible with GA3.

#6 User and event data retention

Through the ‘User and event data retention’ feature, you can set the amount of time for which Google Analytics retains user-specific data (i.e. data that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers) for an inactive website user, before automatically deleting it.

In the case of GA3, you can set the amount of time setting to 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months or ‘Do not automatically expire’:

But in the case of GA4, you can set the amount of time setting to either 2 months or 14 months. There are no other options available:

#7 E-commerce Tracking

The e-commerce tracking capabilities provided by GA4 are still in their infancy. They are nowhere as powerful as e-commerce tracking capabilities provided by GA3.

Because of this reason alone, GA4 is not yet ready for commercial consumption.

#8 Cross-device and cross-platform tracking

In the case of GA4, both the web and app data use the same schema. Whereas in the case of GA3, this is not the case.

Because of this reason, GA4 provides much more robust and reliable cross-device and cross-platform tracking than GA3.

#9 Attribution Modelling

GA3 provides powerful attribution modelling capabilities via multi-channel funnels and attribution reports. Such attribution modelling capabilities do not exist in GA4. This is yet another powerful reason why GA4 is not yet ready for commercial consumption.

#10 Custom dimensions

In GA4, custom dimensions are created differently than in GA3.

You create a new custom dimension in GA4 by creating a new custom event parameter.

If you are using GA3 then you can set/change the scope of your custom dimension to ‘Hit’, ‘Session’, ‘User’ or ‘Product’.

In the case of GA4, it is not possible to set/change the scope of your custom dimension. A GA4 custom dimension has only one scope and that is ‘hit’ scope.

You can not create a custom dimension with the ‘session’ scope in GA4. However, there are workarounds for creating custom dimensions with ‘user’ or ‘product’ scope.

If you want to create a custom dimension with ‘user’ scope in GA4 then create ‘User properties’.

If you want to create a custom dimension with ‘product’ scope in GA4 then use item parameters (‘item_category’, ‘item_category_2’, ‘item_category_3’ etc).

#11 Custom metrics

In GA4, custom metrics are created differently than in GA3.

You create a new custom metric in GA4 by creating a new custom event parameter and by specifying the unit of measurement.

If you are using GA3 then you can set/change the scope of your custom metric to ‘Hit’ or ‘Product’.

In the case of GA4, it is not possible to set/change the scope of your custom metric. A GA4 custom metric has only one scope and that is ‘hit’ scope.

#12 Debugging

The GA4 reporting view provides the debugView report through which you can validate your analytics configuration from within the reporting interface. This is something not possible with a GA3 reporting view.

#13 Engagement metrics


GA4 reporting view provides a new set of engagement metrics (Engaged Sessions, Engagement Rate, Engaged Sessions per User, Engagement Time) which can much more accurately track users engagement with your website/app than the pageviews and bounce rate metrics used by GA3.

Note: There is no concept of bounce rate in GA4.

#14 IP Anonymization

Under GDPR, an IP address is considered as personal data.

Google Analytics tracks and stores the IP addresses of your website users in order to report on geolocation data. However, GA does not report on IP addresses in its reports.

If your privacy policy or local privacy laws prevent the storage of full IP addresses then you can use the IP anonymization feature to anonymize/mask website visitors’ IPs.

When you anonymize visitor IP, the last three digits from your website visitor’s IP address are automatically dropped/deleted.

In other words, the IP anonymization feature sets the last octet of IPv4 user IP addresses and the last 80 bits of IPv6 addresses to zeros.

For example, if a website visitor has a public IP of 12.214.31.144 then as soon as the IP data is received by the Analytics Collection Network, Google will anonymize/mask the IP to 12.214.31.0

If you are using the GA3 property then you have the option to enable or disable IP anonymization.

The IP anonymization is disabled by default in GA3.

However, if you are using a GA4 property then the IP anonymization feature is built-in, is enabled by default and you can not disable it.

#15 Reporting views

If you are using GA3, you can create up to 25 reporting views per property. But in the case of GA4, you can use only one reporting view.

Currently, there is no option to create additional views in GA4.

However, there are workarounds available. You can create new ‘Audiences’ or ‘Data Streams’ and use them in place of filtered views.

#16 Big Query

GA4 comes with a free connection to Big Query. So you can access the raw GA4 data and can run SQL queries on it. In the case of GA3, only GA 360 customers can use this feature.

#17 Advanced Analysis Reports

The reporting view of the GA4 property comes with a new set of reports called ‘Analysis’ which let you do advanced analysis.

Following are the various advanced analysis reports:

  1. Exploration report
  2. Funnel Analysis report
  3. Path Analysis report
  4. Segment Overlap report
  5. User Explorer report
  6. Cohort Analysis report
  7. User Lifetime report

In the case of GA3, only GA 360 customers can use this feature.

Other articles related to GA4 (Google Analytics 4)

#1 Google Analytics 4 Intro

  1. What is Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – The Apps + Web Property
  2. How to upgrade to Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
  3. Google Signals for GA4 – How to see gender, interest and age data in Google Analytics 4
  4. Understanding Measurement ID in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)
  5. Google Analytics 4 training and tutorial

#2 Google Analytics 4 Integration

  1. How to connect GA4 (Google Analytics 4) with Google Data Studio
  2. How to connect GA4 (Google Analytics 4) with Google Ads
  3. How to connect GA4 (Google Analytics 4) with BigQuery

#3 Google Analytics 4 Events

  1. How to set up event tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)
  2. How to set up Custom Events in GA4 via Google Tag Manager
  3. How to setup enhanced measurement tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)
  4. All Events Report in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
  5. How to create user properties in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

#4 Google Analytics 4 Conversions

  1. How to set up conversion tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)
  2. How to import conversions from GA4 property to your Google Ads account

#5 Google Analytics 4 Ecommerce

  1. How To Set Up Ecommerce Tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)

#6 Google Analytics 4 Specialized Tracking

  1. How to set up cross-domain tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)
  2. How to set up site search tracking in GA4
  3. How to set up scroll tracking in GA4

#7 Google Analytics 4 filters

  1. What are data filters in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
  2. How to create and test a new data filter in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
  3. How to block internal traffic in GA4 (Google Analytics 4)

#8 Google Analytics 4 Advanced

  1. Analysis Hub Google Analytics – How to use the Exploration Report in GA4
  2. How to use Debug View report in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
  3. Introduction to Measurement Protocol in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – Version 2
  4. How to create a remarketing audience in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
  5. How to create a custom audience in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
  6. How to build comparison (Advanced segment) in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

#9 Google Analytics 4 Reporting

Frequently asked questions about Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs Universal Analytics

Is the reporting interface of GA4 different to GA3?

The reporting interface of the GA4 view looks similar to that of Google Analytics for firebase (because GA4 is built on firebase analytics). But it is quite different from any GA3 reporting view.

Many of the reports and metrics that you have been familiar with in GA3 are not there. They have either been removed or replaced. Most of the reports in GA4 are generated only when you start tracking events.

Does GA4 use the same measurement model as GA3?

GA3 (aka Universal Analytics’) uses the measurement model which is based on sessions and pageviews.
Whereas, GA4 uses the measurement model which is based on events and parameters. In GA4 even a ‘pageview’ is considered as an event.

Are tracking IDs the same in GA4 as GA3?

No, a GA3 property uses a tracking ID that begins with the characters ‘UA-‘. For example UA-1509844-8

In order to set up any type of tracking in GA4 via GTM, we use the measurement ID. A GA4 property uses a measurement ID that begins with the characters ‘G-’. For example G-SV0HS12BXZ

Does bounce rate exist in GA4?

There is no concept of bounce rate in GA4.

GA4 reporting view provides a new set of engagement metrics (Engaged SessionsEngagement RateEngaged Sessions per UserEngagement Time) which can much more accurately track users engagement with your website/app than the pageviews and bounce rate metrics used by GA3.

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