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Google Analytics 4: drawbacks and limitations—is it worth sticking around?

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The free version of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics, is the most widely used web analytics solution. The platform is so popular that it dominates 86% market share, making Google the market leader. But even though many consider Google Analytics the standard, there are reasons to ask if it is the perfect choice for your marketing setup—especially since Google announced the sunset of Universal Analytics.

On July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits, forcing users to switch to its successor, Google Analytics 4. While this may seem like a natural progression, marketers should not be fooled.

The learning curve will be steep—Google Analytics 4 is almost an entirely new platform and still developing. On top of that, Google Analytics risks losing the users’ trust due to gray areas around the likes of privacy and data ownership.

With a privacy-focused future ahead, now is the time to seek alternatives that better balance data collection with compliance. With a proper analytics platform, marketers make your data collection as it should be: predictable and sustainable. After all, marketers and analysts want to process user-level data while building trust with their visitors.

In this article, we will dive into the issues with Google Analytics 4 from a user perspective and from a privacy and compliance standpoint, so you can make an informed decision before switching platforms.

User perspective: Google Analytics 4 is a step in the wrong direction

 Google Analytics 4 introduces an altered reporting and measurement technology that is neither well understood nor widely accepted by the marketing community.

From a user experience perspective, many find GA4 challenging to navigate. But beyond that, there are a host of challenges with the feature sets. Let us dig deeper into those limitations: 

There is no simple way to migrate your data

 Migration is a complex process and should be planned carefully. Unfortunately, Google Analytics 4 does not make it any easier. Without data or tag migration, all historical data from Universal Analytics will not be transferred to the new platform.

The challenge only grows with the organization’s size—you can have hundreds of tags to move. So, if marketers must start collecting data from scratch, they might as well switch to a new analytic software.

Not-so-intuitive user interface

The most prominent challenge marketers and analysts will likely encounter with Google Analytics 4 is the unfamiliarity with the new interface.

A new dashboard has several immediately apparent differences from what marketers are used to operating. Hit types are essential to how Universal Analytic properties handle all stats. Hit types include page hits, event hits, eCommerce hits, and social interaction hits.

GA4 doesn’t have any concept of a hit type like Universal Analytics uses. Everything in Google Analytics 4 is categorized as an “event.” This is a huge difference.

In order for marketers to have success on the new platform, they will have to adapt quickly to maintain the same momentum they had with this previous platform.

Limits on custom dimensions

A custom dimension is an attribute that marketers can configure in their analytics tool to dive deeper into their data. It gives the option to pivot or segment this data to isolate a specific audience or traffic for deeper analysis.

GA4 indeed allows for custom dimensions to segment reports, but there is a strict limit. You can only have up to 25 user-scoped custom dimensions and up to 50 event-scoped custom dimensions per property.

Lack of custom channel grouping

Channel groupings are rule-based groupings of marketing channels. When customized, these groupings allow marketers to track the performance of those channels efficiently.

Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 does not allow you to create custom channel groupings in the new interface. Instead, marketers will only be able to use their default channel groupings.

Motivations behind the short deadline

 The deadline Google has left the analytics community to act is startling. There are many speculations as to why this might be, including:

  1. Google may have been disappointed with the speed of adoption for Google Analytics 4 and decided to act decisively.
  2. Google circumventing some of the legal heat that Universal Analytics is facing in the EU.
  3. Google wanting to cut costs and rid itself of technical debt associated with thousands of websites with legacy solutions installed. Since GA4 is designed to support Google’s advertising network, it guarantees more revenue than the competition.

Now there is a concrete deadline to make the switch, marketers will need to decide whether they want to start adjusting to Google Analytics 4 or start afresh with a new platform.

Privacy and compliance: Google Analytics 4 has a long way to go

If a company operates in multiple countries, marketing teams will need to be aware of the numerous challenges resulting from the obligations of both local data privacy laws and international regulations.

Data protection legislation constantly changing and tight security regulations only complicate things further. Reading the tea leaves, we believe GA4 will not last long in Europe. Here’s why:

Google Analytics violates European law

Google makes it difficult to collect data in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which aims to restore control of personal data to users and customers. The regulation requires you to obtain explicit consent when processing personal data. Failure to comply with this provision can result in hefty fines or even prosecution.

The recent decision of the Austrian Data Protection Authority (DSB), states that the use of Google Analytics constitutes a violation of GDPR. This means that organizations engaged in gathering, storing, and processing data about EU citizens have to adjust their policies and introduce serious technological changes to be GDPR-compliant.

There is no clear guideline where the data is connected through Google Analytics

A Google guide implies data is transferred to the closest Google Analytics server hub. However, the data may be stored in a geographic location that does not have adequate privacy protection to the EU.

Newly introduced features in GA4 partially address this concern by allowing the first part of data collection (and anonymization) on European servers. However, data can, and most likely will, be sent to the U.S.

 The future of marketing requires users’ consent

Whether it be the data quality, tool limitations, lack of privacy-friendly features, or transparency in handling data, we believe marketers will likely consider switching platforms.

Piwik PRO excluds the privacy and compliance issues associated with Google Analytics, allowing marketers to collect data predictably and sustainably. The user interface and feature sets are similar to Universal Analytics, so marketers and analysts feel at home when switching to our platform.

If you would like to learn more about Google Analytics alternatives or get more information on the Piwik PRO Analytics Suite, visit piwik.pro.

Still undecided? Check out our article on addressing the concerns about switching to an alternative analytics solution and the analytic mindset you should be taking: Switching from Google Analytics—here’s what you need to know.

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