Point & Counterpoint: Why you should give GA4 a chance
There is a lot of negativity out there when it comes to Google Analytics 4. I get it. It’s a new product that looks, feels, and works differently from what we’re all used to in Universal Analytics. And as many readers would rightly suggest, it’s still missing features.
All that being said, I’m here to offer an unpopular opinion: GA4 is actually a great tool. Not only that, it’s a lot more resilient for the future (think privacy, cookies, scaled data models).
I want to address some of the bigger image issues facing GA4 today. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest complaints and counterpoints to why you should go all in on Google Analytics 4.
Point 1: Universal Analytics is just fine, no need to rock the boat.
Counterpoint: Actually, Universal Analytics itself is over 10 years old (released in 2012), and is built on the same code base as Classic Analytics (ga.js, circa 2007) and Urchin Analytics (urchin.js, pre-2005 acquisition by Google). This code base and product are OLD. Most of the software you are likely using has undergone significant changes and updates over the years, and your Analytics tool should too. The fact is, Universal Analytics just wasn’t built for the internet that we have today. It won’t do well with new privacy regulations, cookie-loss, etc. We need a tool that is purpose built for the internet of today and tomorrow.
Speaking of privacy, GA4 has recently launched several new data controls & no longer stores IP data. This is great news. Is it the solution to all our GDPR worries? No, probably not. But it’s moving in the right direction and the GA team is clearly working very hard on this to build controls and solutions that will work within the law and help GA users continue to be able to use Google Analytics as they see fit. These new controls live under Admin > Data Settings > Data Collection > Location and device data collection.
(Image: New location and device collection controls in GA4)
Point 2: GA4 has a lot of missing features.
Counterpoint: GA4 is getting better everyday. Is it perfect? No. But perfect is the enemy of good, right? Since its initial beta release in 2019, GA4 has continued to add new features and improve, and the pace of innovation is speeding up. Here are just some of the things launched in the past few months:
- Subproperties & rollups (360 customers only)
- GMP integrations – now free for all customers
- New UTMs – woo woo! More campaign parameters to add!
- Landing Page dimension – yessss!
- New privacy settings – more granular controls
- and there is a long roadmap to come…
Digging in on one point that is especially important for SEOs: GA4 finally has a landing page dimension! While there isn’t a built in landing page report, you can easily build one using the new customization features we’ll cover in the next point 😉
To see all the ways that Google Analytics 4 is similar or different from Universal Analytics (aka GA3) on a feature by feature basis, and what is still to come on the roadmap, check out this side-by-side comparison guide.
Point 3: The New UI is awful, I can’t find anything in there!
Counterpoint: Don’t like it? You can change it! For the first time ever in Google Analytics history, you can modify not only the left hand navigation, but also the reports themselves. This is something that Digital Analysts have been clambering for for years, and something you could actually do in SiteCatalyst (throwback to what is now Adobe Analytics) since at least version 14, probably earlier (for context, Sitecatalyst v14 launched in 2009).
Here are a couple examples of what you can do with UI and report customizations:
- Don’t like the report graphics? I personally hate the scatter plot graphic, so in most of my reports, I’ve removed it.
- Want to make a report collection in the navigation just for the Marketing team so they have a quick and easy way to access important reports? You can do this.
- Are some metrics or dimensions in a report not relevant to your business? You can remove them.
(Image: Editing a report)
(Image: Custom report collections showing “Krista’s Faves” and “Marketing Team”)
Point 4: I hate the new data model. Sessions should rule everything!
Counterpoint: The new data model is actually pretty great. Universal Analytics relied on sessionization and this caused a lot of issues in scalability of data and caused things like sampling in the UI. GA4 uses an events & parameter data model, similar to many other product analytics tools. In this model, everything is an event, even a pageview is an event. This data model offers a lot more flexibility and structure.
For example, an event in Universal Analytics was a unique combination of 3 dimensions (category, action, and label). You could end up with hundreds or even thousands of these events, and if the implementation was done over time or by more than one person, it likely lacked consistency in the structure or hierarchy of the event data. GA4 streamlines this data model into recommended and custom event & parameter names, and differentiates the events themselves by the values collected, allowing a much more streamlined and structured implementation.
I asked one of the Digital Analytics industry’s most knowledgeable experts, Simo Ahava, what he thought about the new data model:
“What I most like is how open-ended GA4’s data model is, there’s a flexibility with the model that UA never had. UA was always handicapped due to the prescriptive semantics. Events *had* to be collected with category, action, label, and value. This led to a very static data table that suffered from technical debt and a sampling problem that got worse the more detailed your data collection was.
With GA4, you have freedom to choose what to collect, and how to collect it, and it looks like the reset of the data model makes the platform faster, more scalable, and more responsive to queries.”
Google Analytics 4 is a radical change from what we’ve all grown very accustomed to, and I can’t guarantee that the transition will be perfectly smooth. GA4 is a completely different tool that you will have to invest in and learn, but if and when you do, I’m betting you’ll come to appreciate the new things it brings to the table and how it will help you scale for the future.
(This article was originally posted on Search Engine Land with some minor tweaks)