Get ready for GA 4 or find a Google Analytics alternative.
What is happening?
Universal Analytics is being discontinued and will stop tracking in July 2023.
If you want to have year-over-year tracking, you’ll need to set up GA 4 tracking by July of this year.
Your UA data will disappear (some SEOs say three, some say six months after that date).
*Hint* I’d recommend using a tool like AnalyticsEdge to download all of your existing Universal Analytics data at scale from Google Analytics.
To find out more about what you will get with GA 4 (what to be excited about), the negatives, what features you are going to lose, how to ramp up with the interface and/or alternatives to Google Analytics for your site, check out my resources below.
Here’s the good news
The good news is that Google Analytics 4 allows you to do the following:
- Report unsampled data.
- Store all of your raw data in Big Query for just the storage cost of Big Query.
- It will add all of the search engines for you (vs. having to add them manually).
- It nicely combines app and web browser activity so you can see the entire user journey.
- No goal limits and you can measure backward. You can also create funnels and it will apply it to the data retroactively.
- You can delete events if you hit your threshold.
- Out of the box you can track scrolling, outbound clicks, site search, etc.
- The explore functionality gives you access to predictive analytics. Like purchase and churn probability.
- The Google Ads integration includes retargeting your audience based on the predictive analytics mentioned above.
- You can view the time between interactions.
- You can create custom audiences like, “blog post readers who purchased within the day”. You can use that audience as a segment. You can also turn that audience into an event without development support.
- User paths have been re-built and you can see pages or events before any conversion.
- Additionally, GA 4 is privacy-centric and is designed to work with or without cookies. It uses first-party cookies which allows them to be compliant with GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Keep in mind that some browsers currently don’t support third party cookies anyway (like Apple’s iOS 14 change which resulted in more than 80% of iPhone users turning off tracking. It also resulted in small business advertisers abandoning Facebook due to the impact on the effectiveness of its advertising. You can listen here to a great 411.)
- Instead, GA 4 is structured around tracking users with an unique user ID which you create in Google Tag Manager.
Here’s the bad news
- None of your UA data will be imported over to GA 4. You start collecting GA 4 data the moment you install the GA 4 tracking.
- The user interface is challenging (in fact, on April 7th they added report suggestions to the search box at the top of Analytics to help you find information.) If it had a good UI, I don’t think they would need this function.
- The labels for metrics have changed. For instance: Pageview was a hit and it’s now an event. Views are now “data streams”. And custom dimension now means “please publish the parameter values so that I can see my custom parameters for events in the reporting interface”.
- Your ability to export reports is limited as it’s really meant to be used with Google Data Studio and you can only export simple reports if you’re not porting the data to Google Data Studio.
- Currently, you cannot use Roll-Up Reporting with Google Analytics 4 properties.
- GA 4 requires much more effort in its set up to have reports that you can easily use.
- There are known issues with the Google Analytics module that (at the moment) won’t let you install the GA 4 tag for Drupal 7.
- You’ll need to pay for Big Query usage, though your “stream of data to Big Query is free). This is not a huge cost for small sites, but still — not free.
Ok. Hopefully at this moment, you’ve begun to realize that ramping up on GA 4 will take more than five minutes. No worries! I have a set of learning resources for you below.
Learning Google Analytics 4
If you need a crash course in GA 4, I’ve compiled the following resources:
- Universal Analytics vs GA 4 Comparison
- Krista Seiden’s Guide to setting up a GA 4 Property
- Simo Avava’s Event Tracking in GA 4 Guide
- KS Digital’s Mastering GA 4 Course (Pricey, though I have a coupon for you: $200 off any KS Digital GA 4 course using code SAVE200 (valid until April 15, 2022!)
- Real Time Reporting in GA 4
- Conversion funnel visualization report setup in GA 4
- Free GA 4 course on LinkedIn Learning
- Dana DiTomaso’s Class on LinkedIn Learning and her advanced class here. (Sidenote: Did you know that most library cards will give you access to LinkedIn Learning’s courses for free?)
- Brie Anderson’s GA 4 YouTube Playlist
- Webinar on how to migrate your old UA events to GA 4
OK, so why is Google giving us so little notice to switch?
Some have hinted that this announcement is a sign that Google is rushing the product to market over privacy concerns, is abandoning the freemium model or its support of small businesses, as most small businesses will need to spend a large number of hours or spend $ to set up the new GA 4.
Let’s just review a few of the most recent EU legal challenges.
European Union’s Digital Markets Act Adopted
The EU finalized its Digital Markets Act aimed at Big Tech companies (Google, Meta, Apple, Amazon and a number of smaller platforms). It creates new rules for so-called gatekeeper platforms that include restrictions on combining personal data from different sources, mandates on allowing users to install apps from third-party platforms, prohibitions on bundling services, and a prohibition on self-preferencing practices. More here.
I’d recommend reading this post on the legal disputes in Europe over GDPR + Google Analytics and what that may mean for US companies using the product. Additionally, here’s Google’s response to an Austria’s data protection authority rule that a web publisher needed to remove Google Analytics from its site. In addition, Sephora and Decathlon have been mandated to remove Google Analytics from their French domains.
Additionally, citing new regulations, Google is shutting down Google Conversational actions feature in eight countries; Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, and Sweden. Read more here.
Perhaps these latest legal developments are behind Google’s quick announcement of the end of Universal Analytics?
Do you feel like this transition is too much work and you just want something easier? I have options for you:
Google Analytics alternatives
If all of this seems like too much work, here are the alternatives I’ve pulled together that are worth looking into:
- Fathom Analytics
- Plausible Analytics
- Cabin Analytics (this one will help reduce your website’s carbon footprint)
- Matomo Analytics
- Piwik Pro
- Heap Analytics
I have not tested any of the above, and none of them have the native integrations into the rest of the Google products (Ads, Adsense, etc)
A note about the future of web analytics tracking, regardless of which path forward you choose:
Tracking is getting harder, not easier and the analytics tool you use won’t fix that. Between ITP (Safari, Firefox), ad blockers, etc — people do not want to be tracked, so you’re making decisions based on less data. Look at trends, not absolutes.
One thing is for certain, you have to evaluate & decide and make your web analytics transition a priority between now and July 2023 regardless of which you choose.
Need help figuring it out? Drop us a line.