Google Analytics 4 - The Story So Far
Google Analytics has long been the go-to option for website activity tracking – it's relatively easy to implement, has a wealth of tools and features and it is reliable. For many years the main offering has simply been known as Universal Analytics (UA) but in 2020 Google announced it was changing its analytics offering to Google Analytics 4 (known as GA4).The new version was available shortly after the announcement, with UA being stopped this year. The timeline was meant to see all data collection into the old UA stopped in July, but many site owners could see data still being collected into their old UA accounts earlier this month.
This came as a surprise to many, but a welcome one, as there has been some negative feedback about GA4, mainly around the user interface. Many users have complained that it is slow and clunky and while some of this concern may just be due to people not liking change, performing some functions does take longer due to addition of several lengthy drop down menus. Accessing drill-down data from graphs and reports in UA used to take a single click, but this pathway has been removed in GA4, necessitating the setup of different reports to see that same data. Effectively, it is taking longer to find the same information and people are questioning why this structural change was made at all.
Data lag and discrepancies have also been reported, with the lack of same-day and real time data frustrating to many marketers and site owners who want to track the impact of time-sensitive ads, email campaigns and even push notifications. It is possible that as UA is fully mothballed, that processing power will move over to GA4 and make things faster, but that remains to be seen.
The features in UA and GA4 are different, with a more one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't actually serve the wide range of people using the analytics tool. Some people want fairly basic overviews of page views, length of visit and bounce rate (if you're running a website for a voluntary group, for example, you're not interested in user journeys and conversion rates) while other users need all the bells and whistles, with user journeys, cart abandonment, attribution and every other piece of data you could ever need at their fingertips.
In time, bugs will be worked out and perhaps the tool will get faster as that processing power finally leaves UA, but it is off to a shaky start for some. We also think that in time, the way GA4 collects and presents information will influence the way marketers use data and that there will be some wins to be had. When you're faced with a new, steep learning curve everything you learn along the way will be of use. Yes, there may be a lot to get to grips with but it could change the way we think about data for the better.
One thing to be thankful for is that in the development of GA4, Google has created an analytics tool that abides by data protection regulations and which does its best to provide useful insights without relying on the use of third party cookies. As the landscape changes around data collection and processing it is helpful for business owners and website managers to know that the tools they use aren't inadvertently leaving them on the wrong side of the law.
UA will likely have stopped collecting data when this is published, but it will only be available to view for another ten months, with access to all UA accounts disabled on July 1st 2024.This means data has to be exported and analytics full shifted to GA4 (or another tool) by then in order to be able to use that information for comparisons and other reporting. We will keep monitoring the industry reception to GA4, and we'll keep on learning too.
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