Google announced that Universal Analytics will stop processing and recording data starting on July 1st, 2023 for standard (free) accounts and July 1st, 2024, for enterprise accounts. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the most recent version of Google Analytics. All businesses are strongly encouraged to transition to GA4 accounts if they haven’t already.
With that being said, we have started exploring Google Analytics 4 and are here to report on the pros and cons you should be aware of. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- How Does Google Analytics Work
- What is GA4?
- Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics
- Google Analytics 4 Pros
- Google Analytics 4 Cons
How Does Google Analytics Work?
Simply put, Google Analytics (GA) is a platform that collects data from websites and apps to provide insights for your business. It uses tracking codes and systems to gather data as users visit and interact with the website or application.
The platform automatically displays valuable metrics through its reporting tools as it collects data and other information. GA also allows users to create custom reports to help businesses understand what’s working. The features included with GA enable marketers to improve their advertising ROI.
Google Analytics integrates with most major websites and applications to fit the needs of nearly any type of business. As an accessible data analytics product, it’s the best on the market and essential for companies worldwide to utilize. It tracks critical metrics, including page views, conversions, revenue, and more. To start using and collecting data through Google Analytics, start with verifying your property.
What is GA4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4 for short) is the latest version of Google Analytics. It combines data from both apps and websites for a better understanding of the customer journey. It used to be called “App+Web Property” when it was first added in beta.
Google announced that the free Universal Analytics properties will stop processing data starting on July 1, 2023. For enterprise (paid) versions of Universal Analytics, the deadline is extended to July 1st, 2024.
What Happens After July 1 to Your Universal Analytics Property?
Analytics users were encouraged to create GA4 properties for their websites now to capture at least a year’s worth of historical data upon the deprecation date. If you haven’t created your GA4 property, transition as soon as possible! Once the deprecation date passes for both free and enterprise versions, users will be able to access historical data that was recorded prior to that, but no new data will pass through and record in Universal Analytics.
Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics: What’s the Difference?
One major difference between Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics is that GA4 is event-based whereas Universal Analytics is session-based. Event-based reporting allows GA4 to be more flexible and accurate with its approach to data collecting and reporting. GA4 can also capture granular data, such as time as a user-interaction.
For instance, websites can now track when a site visitor started to watch a video, or when a customer started and completed the checkout process.
Our Take on the Pros and Cons of Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 Pros:
1. Easy to Implement
Creating a GA4 property is simple when doing so through Google Tag Manager (this is still the preferred and recommended practice). Google Tag Manager has its own configuration tag for GA4 that functions like the global site tag and fires first on every page.
2. Event-Based Data Improves Conversion Tracking
GA4 enhances goals and conversion tracking to be more flexible and granular. As mentioned above, GA4 tracks interactions providing more accurate data on site visitor activity. GA4 also allows for more robust types of conversions to be tracked.
The number of conversions that can be recorded in analytics for each property has increased up to 30. In addition to that, unused goals (conversions) can be archived to free up another slot rather than having to override an existing one if you wanted to track a new conversion.
This is especially great for businesses that run limited campaigns (season, quarterly, etc.). Instead of overriding an existing limited campaign goal to report on a new conversion, you can archive the limited campaign goal which will push it towards the bottom and not count it as part of the 30 limit as long as it’s unused.
And as mentioned earlier, Google Analytics 4 can capture time as a metric (Time-Per-Action). For example, when did a site visitor start filling out a lead generation form versus when they completed filling it out?
3. Enhanced Measurement (Brand New Feature)
Enhanced Measurement is a new feature in GA4 that tracks pageviews for SPAs (single page apps). You may have encountered an SPA as a website that features few but long, detailed webpages. Site visitors can interact with the pages but the URL will not necessarily change or reload with every interaction since it’s all one page. GA4 can now capture and report on that data whereas Universal Analytics had its limitations in doing so as a session-based reporting system.
4. Access DebugView from GA4
GA4 has the ability to show the DebugView directly in its platform so you can monitor if events created in Google Tag Manager are firing properly along with parameters associated with each event. DebugView gives you details for each parameter so you can create event goals more accurately and troubleshoot them for any issues preventing the event from firing properly.
While you can access the same thing via Google Tag Manager in a separate window, being able to monitor this within GA4 simultaneously can be helpful.
Pro Tip: Disable your ad blockers if you find that data is not coming through. Ads blockers sometimes block this from working properly.
5. Build Funnels from Scratch
While Universal Analytics also allowed users to build conversion funnels, the capabilities were not as comprehensive as they are in Google Analytics 4 and were limited. You can build in-depth funnels from scratch with GA4 to capture granular information. It’s also a powerful way to measure time.
For example, GA4 has the capability to incorporate time into standard measurements to help you better understand how long it takes site visitors to complete a desired action. For example, you can track how many people visit a website’s contact page after entering the site from a blog post, and it will tell you the number as well as how long it took for the site visitor to navigate to the contact page from the blog article.
6. Free Access to Enhanced Integrations
The integrations and links (found within the Admin section) are much more sophisticated and enhanced, and are FREE for businesses using both standard and enterprise accounts. It’s no longer a luxury afforded to enterprise Universal Analytics accounts. Now both standard and enterprise GA4 accounts can access integrations including:
- BigQuery (contains unsampled data and opens up the ability to conduct advanced reporting—predictive analytics, forecasting, trending, etc.)
- Google Optimize (Optimize allows you to use Audiences at no additional cost — it was only available to paid UA members)
- Google Merchant Center
- Google Search Console
- Google Ads
- Ad Manager
7. Custom Audiences Automatically Connect to Other Integrations
Creating a custom audience in GA4 automatically publishes to all other connectors like Google Ads, Optimize, etc. You no longer have to recreate each Audience in each connector because it automatically connects, thus saving you valuable time!
8. Integrate Your GA4 Property with Google Adsense
You can now integrate your Google Analytics Property with your Adsense account. With the ability to create 400 links per property, this integration will provide more data quickly for your Google Ad campaigns. If you appreciate the ability to manage several different platforms all in one place, this update is for you.
This update automatically imports Google Adsense data into the Google Analytics platform. This means you can see the effectiveness of both your organic and paid advertising campaigns on the same platform. You can then analyze the data, create reports, and make decisions based on real-time organic and paid efforts results.
Google Analytics 4 Cons:
1. New Interface Comes with a Learning Curve
The dashboards and standard reports look different from what we have all grown accustomed to in Universal Analytics and how to navigate to them. A left-hand menu is still used to navigate to various sections of the reporting tool, but everything is captured as an event (or a conversion).
Standard Reports (aka Engagement Event Reports) are also not as flexible with what you can do as they are in Universal Analytics (i.e. advanced segmentation and audiences). Users are now limited to two items: event name and secondary dimension. A third dimension or filter for multiple dimensions cannot be added to the standard report, and there is no advanced search feature either.
In addition to that, some of the links are not easily found. For example, IP Filters used to be accessible directly within the Admin section. In GA4, this feature is nestled within a couple of folders: Admin + Data Stream + More Tagging Settings.
2. Cannot Create ‘Views’ in the Free Version of GA4
Universal Analytics allowed users to create multiple Views within the same Property. Many website owners or webmasters did this for organization and testing purposes. For large websites that captured vast amounts of data, filtering out certain data points and reports into separate views made it faster to load the reports as well as easier to digest and analyze.
This was also a common practice when it came to running tests on the site. A Testing View could be created as well as a separate Master View that would not be affected with skewed data from the testing.
The enterprise version of Google Analytics 4 allows users to create Roll-Up Properties and Subproperties, but this feature is not enabled for the tool’s free version at the moment.
What is a Roll-Up Property?
What is a Subproperty?
This is a property in GA4 that gets its data from another property. It’s typically a subset of data gathered from the source property showing more specific or filtered data points. It functions independently from the source property so you can add or remove users, remove data, or create events and audiences that won’t impact the source property.
3. Property Limits Still Exist
GA4 has set limitations on the number of properties users are allowed to create (just as with Universal Analytics). For the free version, users are allowed to create up to 25 registered user properties within a single property (the numbers are set to be higher for enterprise versions but we do not know what the cap is for those yet).
A word of caution: If you choose to create a GA4 property within the same account used to create other Google Analytics properties, all of those properties share the same limit and can max it out faster than if you were to create your Google Analytics 4 property under a different account.
You may need to create multiple accounts, or can work with your partner or Google Support to increase your property limits (as an enterprise client).
4. Thresholds Applied to Standard Reports
Standard reports have shown thresholding in GA4. With the standard (free) version of analytics, the sampling limit is set to 500K sessions at the property level (this will likely be a higher limit with enterprise accounts). Thresholding means it’s not showing all the data—it removes unique IDs and very low volume rows from the reports. Having more data streams increases the likelihood of sampling occurring in reports.
Be Proactive with Google Analytics 4
As the deprecation deadline gets closer, we expect Google to release more documentation on upcoming features and educational resources to help businesses better understand how to use GA4. It’s a vital tool for all businesses and SEO professionals to gauge how well their websites are performing and how effective their marketing efforts are.
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