[July 5th 2023 Update] As of this month, GA4 has been sunsetted. What's more? Sweden has recently announced a comprehensive ban of Google Analytics due to security concerns. The Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection has cautioned users against the use of GA as a result of privacy risks posed by the U.S. government. This makes Sweden one of several European nations to have elected to ban Google Analytics in recent months.
It’s official — on July 1st, 2023, GA4 will permanently replace Universal Analytics (GA3) as Google’s primary marketing analytics platform. While ga4 vs universal analytics (ua) is still hotly debated, the general verdict emerging within the marketing community is that ga4 falls short in several, fundamental aspects. Criticism ranges from ga4’s exceptionally unintuitive UI to limitations around ga4 events, event parameters, and reporting mechanisms. The following article lists out a few of these major drawbacks to highlight why it may be time for B2B marketers to consider ga4 alternatives.
I usually can find my way round any piece of software quickly. But Google Analytics 4 is making me cry...
I've never seen a tool upgrade that made simple things sooo complicated :face_palm: Non-tech business owners were already struggling to use it. But now they have NO chance.
Gill Andrews (@StoriesWithGill)
The most pressing issue with migrating to GA4 is that the platform is not ready for independent use as of yet. Several bugs continue to persist, third-party integrations are scarce, and many features, including core ones like internal filtering, continue to remain under development. To be fair, ga4 is likely to squash these issues by the time it's standardized in 2023. But at the moment, ga4 is a half baked product.
How to set-up GA4? Well, the logistics of migrating to ga4 isn’t all that straightforward either. While former universal analytics users have the option to upgrade for free, this facility is not available for all ua properties. Depending on your Google Tag Manager implementation, setting-up GA4 can take significant time and effort (depending on developer bandwidth) — in some cases, as long as a month!
A big change from UA to ga4 is the shift away from sessions and pageviews. Hit types like page views, social, transaction, use-timing, and more have been consolidated into a single measurement property on ga4 — events. Familiar metrics like average session duration and bounce rate have been stripped as well. The latter is an especially jaring loss because it’s a valuable metric for marketers to understand and compare landing page performance.
Standard reports have also taken a hit in google analytics update from UA to ga4. For instance, acquisition reporting on UA had as many as 30 standard reporting techniques. This included useful features such as traffic acquisition reports and source/medium reports. Unfortunately, ga4 has adopted only 10% (just 3) of its predecessors standard reports! One explanation for this is that ga4 is transitioning from a full fledged marketing analytics platform to a solution that enables you to capture and transport data elsewhere for further analysis.
Universal analytics offered 4 types of goals — session duration, page/sessions, destination, and event. Conversion goals could easily be configured, for example, a “thank you” page could be tagged as the destination to measure form-fill conversions, in a matter of seconds. Because ga4 misses out on this “destination” goal type, ga4 requires tedious, manual GTM configurations to set-up “form-fills” as a conversion goal. In fact, Zack Duncan from the Root and Branch Group found that it takes around 16 minutes (along with adequate knowledge of GTM) to configure submission tracking on GA4 (as compared to a minute on UA). This is a major limitation for B2B SaaS websites and marketers as a significant proportion of leads come through demo form fills.
Other Ga4 mechanisms have also faced significant backlash for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with event collection limits. As a rule, ga4 will not log events, event parameters, and user properties that exceed these limits:
While these limits may suffice for early-stage teams, event collection on ga4 will almost certainly become an issue once the organizations starts to scale and garner complex events on relatively high-traffic websites.
What’s especially concerning is that on ga4, distinctly named events and user properties can not be deleted/updated if you’re close to hitting their limits. In addition, ga4 heavily restricts character length on event and user names and values. For example, ga4 will truncate page names to a maximum of 300 characters. So, if your landing page has a url longer than 300 characters (which is far from uncommon), it will consider only the first 300 characters and perform attribution and analytics based on that. This could also mean that the entirety of the UTM may not be sent to google analytics servers, which in turn means a significant loss in data.
Credit where credit is due — ga4 has taken a big step in the right direction by eliminating data sampling for standard reports. The keyword here, however, is standard. Advanced reporting (explore, advertising, configure) on ga4 continues to sample data under certain conditions. These advanced reports include core techniques like funnel exploration, path exploration, user explorer and more.
A drawback of unsampled data analytics on ga4 is the processing time. Standard ga4 claims up to 24 hours of processing time for intraday reporting and as much as 48 hours for complex features like multi-channels funnels and attribution modeling. To put this in perspective, Factors.ai delivers standard reports near instantly and will require at most 24 hours (half that of ga4!) for multi-touch attribution reporting.
While on the topic of data, it’s worth mentioning that ga4 offers data-retention for up to 14 months only. What’s more? XL properties are limited to a measly 2 months! This can be of great hindrance to B2B SaaS marketing analytics — wherein customer journeys can easily stretch across a couple of years.
As of today, GA4 supports only 2 scopes for custom dimensions: event scopes and user scopes. This is two less than UA’s custom scopes which covered session and product dimensions as well. What’s worse is that the pair of custom dimensions offered on GA4 are heavily limited (even with GA360!). Here’s how the limits break down for standard GA4:
If you reach the ceiling on these custom dimensions, unfortunately your only option on ga4 is to archive infrequently used dimensions and hope for the best.
This article explicitly covers a non-exhaustive list of shortcomings with GA4. Other concerns include useability, privacy-risks, lack of third-party integrations, and challenges at scale. While Google Analytics has dominated the marketing and web analytics space for years now (mostly because it’s a free tool), its limitations are starting to catch up with it. With dozens of robust Google Analytics alternatives emerging from the market, now is the time to replace ga.
Factors is an end-to-end marketing analytics and revenue attribution platform that goes above and beyond the likes of Google Analytics to help you make sense of (and optimize) your marketing efforts. Here’s how Factors compare to Google Analytics.
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