So, Google finally listened to the widespread panning and hatred regarding the introduction of Google Analytics 4. Not that they responded in quite the way we would have hoped, though.

If you’re frustrated by the fact that Google apparently doesn’t give a damn, you’re not alone. Even as someone that lives and breathes digital marketing, I find it baffling that the change is coming whether we damn well like it or not. Then again, a quick look at petrol prices and increased National Insurance (and to a lesser extent Core Web Vitals) confirm that GA4 isn’t the only thing we’ve just got to get on with in 2022. Brilliant…

Yep, that early year optimism lasted long didn’t it? Anyway… Let me explain the key differences between Universal Analytics (UA) and Google Analytics 4, why so many people hate it, and the timeline of UA’s pending retirement. 

Google Analytics 4: People REALLY Dislike It

“GA4 sucks because of an interface that isn’t intuitive”, “Google Analytics 4 feels like it is built only for big companies and not the average SME”, “GA 4 is the worst thing to hit the web since vinegar and coconut oil”. It’s safe to say there has been a lot of backlash aimed at Google Analytics 4 since it launched in October 2020. 

Does it deserve the widespread negativity? Absobloodylutely, in my opinion.

It’s not just a case of getting used to a User Interface that abandons the popular solution used in Universal Analytics. The UI problems make it difficult to access and navigate to basic features that many small business owners will utilise – and not only for SEO purposes – but there are other issues to consider. Some of the most telling differences (let’s be honest, downgrades) from UA are;

  • It’s overcomplicated – I struggle with the complexity and can only imagine how annoying it is for less experienced business owners.
  • Behaviour flows are no more – it was probably the greatest feature of UA. So, obviously, that’s been removed. Brill.
  • It’s built for big eCommerce – need confirmation of this? The much-promoted machine learning predictive behaviour only works if 1,000 people trigger an action over the course of 7 days.
  • No more bounce rate – instead, GA 4 opts for engagement rates, which use an algorithm to deliver results. Again, it’s a useful feature for big companies but most small website owners would be better served by the simple bounce rate metric.
  • It’s less integration-friendly – love the third-party add-ons you’ve previously used? I’ve got some bad news. Many features are no longer compatible.

People don’t like change, but the disdain felt for the switch to Google Analytics 4 is more than teething problems. It has been 18 months since the platform was introduced, which has been more than enough time for bugs to be removed and users to acclimatise to the service. It’s still hated.

Mildly Annoyed? It Gets Worse

A lot of people have tried – and I mean really tried – but struggled to adapt to Google Analytics 4. But if you’re thinking about reverting back to UA, you may wish to look away now…

Google has announced that UA will be fully removed on Jul 1, 2023. Oh, and if you’re thinking “hey, that gives me 15 months” – woah there. You’ll actually want to make the jump in the next three months so you can still do YoY comparisons, otherwise you’ll be experiencing the non-joy of data discontinuity once next July rolls around. Ouch.

Can’t Stomach It? Try GA4 Alternatives

The harsh reality is that you will probably need to end your affiliation with UA. However, if you truly can’t stand the thought of using Google Analytics 4, there are plenty of alternatives on the market. Here are six of the best;

  • Matomo, which also lets you import your Google Analytics data if you’ve tried and failed to embrace GA4.
  • Woopra, which integrates well with Google Ads, Google Drive, and a host of third-party solutions.
  • Stat Counter, which is particularly effective for detecting click fraud and identifying issues with your path to conversion.
  • Fox Metrics, which uses SQL to access your data and tracks all the regular customer data points you could expect.
  • Clicky, which offers a free service that’s particularly useful for sole traders and individuals as well as microbusinesses.
  • Heap, which is focused heavily on product analytics rather than pure marketing analytics to help you understand client habits.

So, what have we learned? Well, Google does what Google wants. And while it is possible to find alternative solutions, you’ll need to think carefully before moving away from GA 4. Yeah, sorry about that. Hopefully things can only get better. Let’s just have fingers and toes crossed that the Analytics Academy will be updated soon with GA4 specific tutorials – because I can’t for the life of me see how people can adapt to this fully Events-based malarkey without it.