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Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics for Ecommerce

Thumbnail for article: Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics for Ecommerce in 2021

If you’ve played around with Google Analytics recently, you’ve likely realised that there are in fact two very different options for setting up and managing your tracking analytics. 

There’s Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – the new default which Google will suggest do you when setting up a property – and there’s the older Google Analytics 3 (also known as Universal Analytics or UA). 

What’s the difference between these two options? Which is better for your business? We’ll try and go over all this and more in this quick article. 

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: What’s the Difference? 

As you may have gathered from the names, Google Analytics 4 is just the newest version of the Google Analytics suite. 

It’s set to replace Universal Analytics over time, with Google giving priority to supporting and developing new features for GA4. 

As of right now, both are still perfectly viable options – and there are reasons to use either, or both we’ll cover later. 

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: How Do They Work?

The main difference in how GA4 works vs UA is that in GA4 every single action, including page views and users, is tracked as an “event”. You have a lot of control over which events are tracked, and how, through the configuration. 

UA, on the other hand, tracks users across “sessions” and predetermined metrics. You can still add custom events – but it’s designed to gather most of the data you’ll need “out of the box”.

GA4 is designed to lessen issues with user duplication – since it tracks events on an individual basis there’s less chance of “double counting” than if you go by sessions. 

One user can have multiple sessions on your site – but GA4 tracks each individual event the user takes and tries to collate them. 

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: How Does Reporting Work? 

The major, obvious, difference when looking at GA4 vs UA is that the reporting interface is completely different. 

Much like the tracking – GA4 is designed with customisation in mind. This means they have some basic reports set up by default – but for anything more in-depth you need to set up custom reports for yourself. 

This is a good and bad thing – you’re much less likely to get irrelevant data, but you also need more technical know-how to use GA4 effectively than UA. 

Why Stick to Universal Analytics? 

If you’re already using UA, switching to GA4 may be a hard sell for you. And it may not be one hundred percent necessary right now.
As things stand, UA has a much more comprehensive set of features than GA4, which is still under development. 

Eventually, GA4 is designed to be able to do everything UA can, and more, but right now it’s not there yet. 

So that’s the main reason you might want to stick with it: because you’re used to it, or you want a tracking system that works better “out the box” with less configuration required. 

Why Use Google Analytics 4? 

The biggest reason to switch to GA4, in our opinion, is to start gathering data. 

The data UA gathers is different from the data GA4 gathers – for the reasons we covered above – so your UA data won’t port over into your GA4 profile.

This means that if you intend to use GA4 eventually, and you probably will, you need to set up GA4 tracking now in order to start gathering historical data to work from. 

The other reason is the increased customizability – creating tailor-made dashboards for your business that avoid duplicating users as much. 

In essence, because you want to be an early adopter – or because you want to get in ahead of your competitors. 

Conclusion – Should You Use GA4 or Universal Analytics for Ecommerce? 

It’s up to you.
As we covered – GA4 is set to be the future of Google Analytics. By adopting it now, you’re future-proofing your tracking strategy and getting in on the next best thing before your competitors. 

On the other hand, UA is still a lot easier to use and manage – and GA4 may not have all the tracking features you need (yet). 

As with all things, you should decide what’s best for your business going forwards – if you think you can afford to wait, or if you want to be ahead of the curve.


If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, check out more e-commerce marketing content on the inSyte blog or listen to the inSyte Podcast.

This article was brought to you by Syte.

We’re a specialist e-commerce and lead generation digital marketing agency dedicated to driving up your bottom line.

If you need any help running your digital marketing strategy, including tracking, feel free to reach out with the form below or check out our case studies page to see what we’ve been able to do for our clients.